Sportsman’s Quest: How to hunt the elusive wild turkey

As the wild turkey season comes to an end, it’s time to reflect on the challenges and state of this unique sport.

Like fly-fishing and sheep hunting, turkey hunting has developed a cult following much larger than our meat-hunting forefathers could have imagined.

The Wild Turkey Federation (WTF) has the largest membership of any single animal conservation group in America. It is larger than the elk or duck groups we may be more familiar with here in the West, but east of the Rockies and in the South there is no comparison.

Along with the turkey cult following comes a number of traditions, including what to wear and how to attract birds. Full camouflage with face paint, the latest decoys and game calls are considered necessary and their methods of use, with extensive practice, is required.

With this comes an attitude of superiority, like with fly-fishing, where all other methods of harvest are frowned upon or discounted.

Yes, wild turkeys have an excellent sense of vision and hearing which makes them a challenge. I, for one, have only succeeded once in my three attempts at the sport.

Then there is the other side of the story as told to me by Jason and Jordan Bedard, the sons of my good hunting pal “Buck” Bedard, a retired three-star Marine Corps general. This is their alternative story.

The rest of the story

“When my brother and I were invited to go spring turkey hunting in Kansas, we were a bit timid to accept. For years, our father and his friends went on and on about the difficulties of hunting the three-foot birds. Tales of sitting against trees until your back hurt and your muscles atrophied were only tempered with talk of not being able to get the gun up fast enough before the birds would spot you and scamper off into the deep woods.

Then there was the mystical ability to call in the birds that my brother and I had no clue about. We were stunned with the number of box calls, slates and tools that we would have to master in order to get ourselves a shot.

To top it all off, we were lectured on correct shotgun loads and choke selections that made our heads swirl. Always being game for a new adventure, we acquiesced and accepted the challenge. Boarding a plane with the feeling that we were being delivered into the impossible, we got ourselves some head masks and headed east.

We bagged four turkeys in less than two hours. Two doubles, all toms, no jakes. Now, let us tell you how to turkey hunt.

First and foremost, don’t get enough sleep. Instead, spend the night before the hunt with everyone in camp telling stories and jokes that make you laugh until your stomach feels like it is going to jump out of your body. The harder you laugh, the better you will shoot. That is our experience.

In the dark of morning, pile as much stuff as you can into your turkey vest and pretend you know how to use it. Slates and boxes stuffed into this pocket, your flashlight and rangefinder in that pocket. Oh, don’t forget that mouth call in its own case, that you don’t know which way to put in your mouth, keep that over there. Hand warmers? Check. Lighter? Check. Shells? Got it. Face mask, hat, gloves and thermos? Yep, you are ready.

Drive in the dark to your blind, preferably a place you have never set foot and then get dropped off with only vague directions to the blind. Something on the order of “Just head west and look for the pink tape on a tree and then turn into the woods. You can’t miss it.” Sure, but with no sun, good luck finding west in the dark.

When you finally find the blind after a half-hour of beating through the trees, stuff your sweating body into the three-foot space and hunker down. Now, get your heart rate down and quit laughing at the ridiculousness of the whole situation. Seriously, quit laughing. Like trying to stifle giggles, this will be hard. But we are hunting turkeys.

Get comfortable. You are going to be here for hours before the sun comes up (anything worth hunting requires this step). Quit giggling. We already said that. Now, as you sit looking through tree branches into the pitch black go to sleep. Seriously, take a nap for the next 90 minutes and then wake up at your leisure to a field full of turkeys.

Pick up your gun and count quietly to three and then you and your brother blast a double each. High five each other as hens and jakes do their best “the sky is falling” impression, running this way and that. Within 30 seconds, the field will be quiet again.

Uncurl yourselves from the blind. Gather your birds. Enjoy the sunrise and start planning on how you are coming back to do this next year. Then go tell everyone you know how to turkey hunt.”

Hey, it worked for them and it’s their story. As my father always told me, “I’d rather be lucky than skilled anytime.”

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