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The Reluctant Participant

The Reluctant Participant

Opening Day is Upon us

Opening Day is Upon us

A few decades ago I became keenly aware that there are two types of folk who spend their days afield in the spring. There are those who hunt turkeys and then there are turkey hunters. The difference may not be so keenly obvious to those who hunt turkeys, but to those who are turkey hunters the differences are legion.

The fellow who tells all of his buddies that he hunts turkeys is the casual participant. They awake on opening morning, and unless it is a weekend with nothing else to do, they consider going turkey hunting. After arriving at their location, they slam the car door hoping to draw a gobble, set up make a few calls and hope that a suicidal tom appears. If nothing happens in the first two hours, they head home to mow the lawn. Conversely, the outdoorsman that fancies himself a turkey hunters has not slept for eleven months in anticipation of opening morning. They have dreamt of long bearded birds wading through oak ridges. Gobbles echoing from the distance, heart racing as the majestic bird moves closer. The turkey hunter is different than other hunters. His pursuit is almost personal. It is one that for many began months ago if not the previous spring.

Turkey hunters are peculiar in many ways. Methods, techniques and even motives are tightly held secrets. Some turkey hunters have even been called rude when in fact they are secretive. Seldom sharing the keys to success outside of the commonly known tactics that only work on jakes or two year old birds.

Personally, I began my career as someone who hunted turkeys. It began many decades ago in the heart of South Carolina’s piedmont. Needing something to do during the month of April, I began telling those who would listen that I was hunting turkeys when the truth was that I had never even seen a wild turkey. Opening day of my fourth season a transformation occurred. As I sat against a giant pine tree somewhere in Edgefield County, I witnessed a fully mature three year old gobbler strutting within ten yards of my position. I say there transfixed and forever changed. I knew that I had nothing else to do but to sit and watch as he paraded in front of my awaiting Remington 12 gauge shotgun. As he emerged from his promenade I killed my first South Carolina turkey – I was seventeen and forever changed.

Over the next thirty three years few days of April have passed without me in the woods listening, chasing, challenging and learning from these wary game birds. Since that encounter, I have been fortunate enough to experience hundreds of birds during the hunt. And of these many encounters, I can attest to one thing that I assure you is that no two turkeys are the same.

Sure similar tactics may work from time to time. Soft calling will kill some birds, but so too will loud aggressive calling. Turkeys love raspy hen sounds and soft sweet pure sounds. I have killed turkeys using one piece box calls, two piece box calls, and laminated box calls, slate, glass, aluminum, aluminum cans, soup cans, scratch box, trumpet calls, wingbone, tube calls, diaphragm of every cut you can imagine. I have even killed turkeys using grass to call them and even my natural voice. If it can be done, I have tried it. I have killed them with bow and arrow and shotguns of most every gauge. I have done it every way I can imagine, with the exception of muzzle loader or cross bow – because I do not own them.

Becoming a turkey hunter was something that just happened, It was not something I sought to become, it occurred over many efforts of trying to kill wily old toms. It was something that got into my soul, into my persona that I could not leave them alone. Now as another April is waning, it is apparent that this disease is nothing that will ever be cured. It can be temporarily satisfied, but it cannot be cured. It is a desire to be face to face with what is arguably the wisest of all game animals. So as April emerges, once again, I will cash in most of my vacation, every weekend and most evenings. My family may even come looking for me when I don’t return in a reasonable amount of time. The sight and sound of a mature turkey has transformed many a hunter. As I say to anyone who is going for the first time; “be prepared for your life to change.” Because when it is all said and done, when you have the chance to see and kill a mature wild turkey, you are forever changed.