A Turkey Hunter's First Shot

Peter Frank Edwards
by Allison Glock - February/March 2012

A newbie goes into the spring woods after a turkey and finds out what it means to take a bird

This is Walea’s favorite time of day. His meditation. His meaning. The world just waking up, one creature at a time, no witnesses save us two. These are the hours that buttress Walea, keep him “a happy man.”

“You hear the flying squirrels peeping. You’ll hear a screech owl once or twice. The first little birds to chirp are the redbirds. Watching everything come alive. I love that.”

As the woods go from silence to symphony, Walea briefs me on his turkey hunting code. He doesn’t believe in runnin’ and gunnin’. “I do not like people running up on my birds,” he says firmly. Nor does he suffer chatterboxes, fidgeters, whiners, bad shots who proclaim they are great shots, folks who disrespect the bird in any way, folks who don’t know a hen from a jake, folks who waste the kill, or folks who trophy hunt. Walea shoots only mature gobblers, birds that have lived well and long and whose futures point toward painful and protracted deaths. The longbeards he takes, he eats.

“The idea is to commune with nature,” he explains. “To appreciate what God has given.” Indifference is not part of the code.

We settle behind a small cluster of short palm fronds. Walea looks up, watches for crows. “Crows,” he explained earlier, “will spot a turkey and pick on him. They dip down, mess with his head. Wanna find a turkey, find a crow.”

After a bit, Walea’s performance begins. He commences clucking, plays the part of a newly risen hen, flying from the nest, pecking for breakfast. Almost immediately, he is rewarded with a full-throated, hair-raising gobble. The conversation has begun.

It turns out to be a long, long, long chat.

Easterns, any turkey hunter will confirm, are the hardest birds to hunt. They are skittish. Clever. Discerning. Picky. For several hours Walea and the gobbler communicate. The longbeard comes as close as thirty yards. But he doesn’t commit.

“Stay still,” Walea whispers. “The patience will beat him.”

Also me.

“There are a lot of great callers out there,” Walea said the day before. “But what I’ve grown to realize is you have to sit tight. The gobbler knows you’re there. He remembers there’s a hen out there he hasn’t bred. You have to wait him out.”