A Turkey Hunter's First Shot
Walea tracks his birds all year. He does this on foot and in his truck, driving by flocks, chatting to them, as if to a neighbor. At home, he practices his calls until his wife and two daughters implore him to stop.
“There was a time when I had a call in my mouth twenty-four hours a day,” he says. “There is still a call in my pocket three hundred and sixty-five days a year.”
Walea reckons he never stops thinking about turkeys. Where they roost. Where and when they feed. Their patterns and preferences. Such dedication has its rewards. Walea is the world’s best at certain calls. He can putt, yelp, cluck, purr, and squawk with ease. A master of nuance, Walea doesn’t simply imitate a hen, he inhabits one, the calls intricate verbal filigree.
He imagines what the hen is feeling when she wakes, with the feather ruffling and morning clucks. He intuits when she is ready to leave the nest, to feed, to scuffle for attention, to get busy. He can even play several parts, the dominant hen or the upstart girl trying to usurp territory. All About Eve, wild turkey style.
Walea speaks the language with such fluency, he actually converses with the birds. And it is this as much as anything that makes turkey hunting so compelling. You talk with the animals. More than that. You seduce the animals. You draw them into your company.
Turkey hunting is nothing if not a romance. The goal is to pretend to be a hen convincingly enough that the most dominant—and presumably delicious—gobbler will come to you, flush with expectations of intimacy. The trick is not only to sound like an actual female turkey, but to sound more alluring and irresistible than the whole flock of females already hysterically trotting around the gobbler like tween girls at a Justin Bieber meet and greet. You have to be, quite literally, the bird in the bush. And the whole courtship needs to happen within a short window of time, before the gobbler exhausts himself on the ready hens and decides strutting over to you isn’t worth the effort. Which, as anyone who remembers junior high can attest, can be a right painful experience. And again, what makes turkey hunting unique. Nobody gets rejected by a deer. It takes a turkey to break your heart.
“I am no one’s last call, I will tell you that,” Walea says firmly.
It is 5:30 a.m. and Walea and I are padding into the woods. We are dressed face to foot in camo—turkeys have exceptional eyesight—and traveling light. Walea with $2,000 worth of custom-made calls in his vest. Me with his 20-gauge Benelli M1 Super 90. No scope.