Turkey Hunter to Turkey Hunter: Learning from Others

After I finished my lunch with a turkey hunting buddy today, I broke open the fortune cookie on my side of the table and it read: There are lessons to be learned by listening to others. That was kinda’ eerie, because I’m not superstitious, don’t believe in horoscopes, Ouija boards, or fortune cookies. But I was in the middle of writing this story and it goes hand-in-hand with what’s on my mind.

People pay a lot of money for a good education these days for children, grandchildren, or themselves. Books, meals, supplies, and tuition costs are higher than ever—not to mention dorm and housing. For most people, the money to pay for this is either borrowed or saved.

A good education in turkey hunting, on the other hand, cannot be bought—with money anyway. This education is paid for with experiences, which can be either good or bad. For the record, I intend to further my turkey hunting education from all my good encounters and outcomes, but I think it’s true that we can and do learn from mistakes.

And you don’t have to own all the experiences that endow your turkey hunting education—you can accept donations from others.

I’ve been toting turkeys across my shoulders for 35 seasons, and I have a sack full of encounters with the Eastern wild turkey. I’ve got stories that will make you laugh, cry, and scratch your head in amazement at the dumb things done. But my education is not complete—it’s been limited, because there are just so many experiences that one hunter can have.

In my youth and after I thought I had become a ‘seasoned’ turkey hunter, I tended to hunt alone. I didn’t share stories or hang around other hunters. To me, it was a one-man game. I offered no contributions to others, nor did I seek any counsel or camaraderie with other turkey hunters.

A little over a decade-and-a-half ago, I started bringing my daughter Anna to the woods with me. I realized that there was more to the sport than collecting a shoebox full of beards and spurs for myself and that my formal education in the subject matter was far from complete. Since that time and renouncing the life of a turkey hunting recluse, I’ve discovered a marvelous thing: I can learn by listening to other turkey hunters. I started seeking out and talking to other hunters and made a lot of new friends. I’m now part of a small group that share stories—both good and bad. My buddies have shared many tales that are burnt in my brain and I’ve contributed stories of my own, so they’ve learned a little on my nickel. All of our educations are fast approaching an advanced degree, or so we think.

Here is a story for you, it was bought and paid for by me, around 20 years ago. It was expensive, but it’s free today for you—for the advancement of your education.

On a cool and clear April evening, I quietly made my way through a section of big open hardwoods, the kind that is full of white oaks, red oaks, hickory scattered on the ridges, and beech mixed near the drainages. You can see a country mile. Slipping up to a huge red oak on the barbed-wire fence row, I found a big tom out in the green-field all alone and 80 yards away. Yep, today is my day, I thought.

I eased back behind the tree, pulled my face mask up and peeked out the right edge looking through the rusted barbed-wire at the tom. I hit my diaphragm mouth call, Yelp-yelp-yelp-yelp-yelp. The big gobbler broke into a full strut, made a half-circle, and turned walking my way with his once ghost-white head now turned pale blue and decorated blood-red. He was quickly coming.

Slowly, I moved back behind the huge oak. I slid far enough back, positioned myself on both knees, and pointed my 12 gauge straight at the tree with plenty of room to swing right or left. Surely the tom would make his way out to one side or the other and I would blast him. The tree was enormous—I suppose that it would have taken three grown men to reach around it. And the fence, being present for decades, had gown a quarter of the way into it on the side opposite of me.

Thirty seconds passed and there was no sight of the tom. One minute went by and I still could not see him. Two minutes passed—nothing in sight. The big oak was my cover but was hindering my view. I dared not to look around the tree as three minutes went by.

Eternity set in as I lost track of time. My gun was getting heavy and I had to make a move—he had to be close. Yelp-yelp-yelp, I softly called. Gobble-gobble- gobble-gobble-gobble, the old tom thundered and the ground seemed to shake. He was on the other side of the tree, much too close.

I tightened my grip on the gun and kept it pointed at the center of the tree, but I was shaken. This wasn’t part of the plan. Thirty seconds and nothing happened. One minute passed and still nothing. My gun couldn’t stay still, Cluck-cluck-purr, I quietly called.

Suddenly the gobbler popped out to the right, he was coming under the bottom strand of barbed-wire. I desperately swung my shotgun and squeezed off a shot, Boom. My heart sank as the turkey flew off to the left across the field and out of sight. I didn’t see him again that season.

There is no need for you to cry for me; this was a long time ago and I am over it, for the most part. The lesson I learned from this was valuable, though. I haven’t used a large oak as a blind like this since that day. I always try to sit with my back to a tree that’s wider than my body when possible. I hope you’ll do the same.

If you’ve been turkey hunting very long, you have your own history of stories and experiences already under your belt. If you’re new to the sport, you may be lacking in a good education.

Veteran hunters, rookies, or somewhere in between—we can all listen and learn from each other. Experienced hunters can learn from other experienced hunters who are willing to swap stories. New turkey hunters can learn from seasoned hunters, no doubt. Remember this: veteran hunters can learn from the new guys on the block as well. They can bring something brand-new to the table you’ve never considered and listening to their stories may bring back to mind old mistakes you made while new to the sport.

Seek out other turkey hunters to friend. You should already have a few in mind. If not, walk around the turkey call section at your nearest sporting goods store, because you’ll find other hunters there. You can also find fellow turkey hunters online, and that can be fun. But what works best for me is a face-to-face sit-down with friends over a good cup of coffee.