S is for Southern

Turkey Hunting: A (Humorous) Primer

The joys and pains of trying to bag a gobbler

Photo: Image of Male Wild Turkey: Courtesy of the National Audubon Society

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from the G&G book S Is for Southern: A Guide to the South, from Absinthe to ZydecoA compendium of Southern life and culture, the book contains nearly five hundred entries spanning every letter of the alphabet.

The way to hunt turkeys is to rise about the time you would otherwise be going to bed, and dress yourself in camouflage from head to toe, including hat, gloves, face mask, and snake boots. Some guys wear sunglasses with camo frames and even lenses (violating all sorts of laws of optics and nature). Arm yourself with a shotgun that shoots watermelon-sized patterns at sixty yards. This can only be achieved by using a special “turkey choke,” such as the BlackOut, UnderTaker, or Jelly Head. Ideally, you will have roosted birds the night before. This means you’ll have scouted the area and actually seen the tree into which the birds flew to spend the night. Ideally, you will also have identified where they’re most likely to head—usually an open space like a meadow or a field—and can set up to intercept them there. Since you failed to do either of these, simply slip through the woods until you hear gobbling or stumble across an area that “feels” like it might attract turkeys. Choose a broad-trunked tree and take a seat at its base. The tree breaks up your outline to the sharp-eyed wild turkey and keeps you from falling over backward when you doze off. Turkey hunting doesn’t have to involve long periods of inactivity, but it tends to.

Sit there for hours or until all feeling has left your lower body, whichever takes longer. If you wish, select from the wide variety of turkey calls—box calls, friction calls, diaphragms originally made of condom latex, gobble tubes, etc.—and make any of the dozen or so of the bird’s known vocalizations. I’ve never found this to make the slightest difference, but it passes the time. It’s also a good way to attract the attention of other hunters, who may think you’re a real turkey and come try to shoot you. Some turkey hunters contend that this increased danger keeps them alert. (Incidentally, if you do see another turkey hunter, shout to him but do not move. Moving is a good way to get mistaken for a turkey.) Around noon, attempt to stand up and restore blood flow to your lower extremities. Make your way back to camp. When your friends ask how you did, say, “Well, I was all covered up in ’em. I mean, thick as ticks on a dog’s back. Gobblers in front, behind, left, and right. They had me pinned down, but they were all henned up and wouldn’t come in.” Your friends will nod, express sympathy, and say they’ve had the exact same experience. This is complete bullshit.

I’ve actually killed quite a few turkeys, but always while being guided by someone who knew the area, understood how turkeys will most likely react in a given situation, and knew how to call to them and get them to approach. Basically, all I did in any successful turkey hunt I’ve taken part in was pull the trigger when told to and then pose heroically with the bird. I call this “baby-in-the-car-seat hunting,” for the approximate skill level it required of me.

I shot my first turkey from a pop-up blind, sitting on a small folding chair with my gun barrel sticking out of one of its shooting ports. I had to lean slightly uphill, I remember, because the blind wasn’t pitched on flat ground. About an hour after sunup, my guide successfully called in two toms. “Shoot the one on the left,” he said. “Aim halfway up his neck.” I did, but in the excitement of the moment, I’d forgotten about the recoil of a three-inch 12-gauge turkey load. Before the pellets had left my gun barrel, I had left the chair and was flying backward inside the blind, fully horizontal, like a camo flying carpet. And thinking, “Wow! I just killed my first turkey!”

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