Either it is hard or I am just no good at it. I tend to think it is the former, but I have been wrong before. This past weekend I decided to head out to my family’s property in Mississippi for the last weekend of the Spring Turkey Season 2018 and see if I could finally drop the hammer on a thunder chicken all by myself. I decided to skip the luxuries of staying in my truck tent near water and electricity and instead went for the backcountry hunter feel by camping out deep in the property on a sand bar. Once I arrived to the property, I hitched my trailer with all my gear to the four wheeler and headed off to my base camp. After cutting through a couple downed trees with my Stihl ax I made it to my sand bar that I would call home for the next few nights. Under the light of the full moon I set up my tent and laid my head down to the sound of the forest.
The Sound of Spring Mornings
I awoke to the sound of my alarm playing the familiar sound of “The Ceiling” by a band I recently stumbled upon called The Wild Feathers (do yourself a favor and check them out). The full moon was still shining brightly at 4AM and illuminated my bowl of cheerios as I ate it. After two bowls, a Starbucks cold coffee (I need coffee no matter what temperature) and a quick gear check, I drove my four wheeler back out of the creek bed to start my hunt.
I should start this out with a brief introduction to what exactly turkey hunting is and how I go about doing it. I have very limited experience turkey hunting and even less doing it by myself. I have been turkey hunting a few times with my uncle and he showed me the ropes, but I am by no means even an intermediate turkey hunter. The easiest way to describe turkey hunting is that you walk through the forest until you hear a male turkey gobble, get in as close as you can to him and then use a combination of calls to lure him into shooting range. Sounds easy as hell, but after this weekend I can tell you that doing it solo with lets just say, zero experience, I can tell you it’s not.
Mornings in the forest are something you need to experience. Every animal is waking up and falling into their routine for the day. There are just so many sounds that it is almost hard to process it all. The birds are chirping, the squirrels are barking, the owls are hooting and this in turn gets the turkeys to gobble. From what people have told me this is what is known as a “shock gobble” and it is basically a reaction from the turkey to being suddenly shocked by a loud sound. People have been known to get turkeys to “shock gobble” by imitating an owl hooting, a crow crowing or even by slamming their car door shut really hard. It’s amazing that these birds aren’t extinct with how they give away their position to predators. After listening to the sounds of a beautiful spring morning I decided that I couldn’t hear any turkeys and it was time to start moving around the property to try and entice a gobble from a lonely Tom.
Sore Feet and Rapid Heartbeat
I must have walked 2 to 3 miles before I heard a turkey gobble. My game plan basically consisted of putting on foot in front of the other for about a hundred yards, stopping to catch my breath (the terrain in Mississippi is steep in places and the forest is thick) and then lightly making a few “clucks” and “yelps” with my box call. I will admit, after the first hour I was about ready to throw in the towel. As I made my way down a creek circling back towards my base camp I heard a gobble off in the distance. I knew that this Tom must have been far away so I didn’t really pay attention to him. I made it about another couple hundred yards and heard what I will assume was the same turkey gobble and he sounded like he was in my backpack. I actually couldn’t believe what I was hearing so I let out a series of yelps with my box call and during the third note he cut me off with a thunderous gobble. I had this Tom fired up or as some people put it, he was hammering.
This is where I may have made a mistake due to wanting to document this hunt with my camera gear. I have been told time and time again, through friends, relatives and podcasts that you need to move in close to the turkey and when you think you are close enough, move one tree closer. I did the complete opposite of this. I knew that there was an open field about 30 yards in the opposite direction of this turkey and it would provide a good spot to film him coming in as the sun was rising overhead and the early morning dew starting to create a layer of steam rising up into the air. I figured that it was only 30 yards and he would be in that field with me within the hour. I threw out my two decoys, set up my camera in the direction the tom would be coming from and settled in against a tree. In my opinion the set up was flawless, but the turkey didn’t seem to think so.
Topography. It’s something that I think about a lot when I am deer hunting. The way the hills, creeks and hollers come together creating funnels or barriers, the thickening and thinning of certain sections of the forest or the steepness of hillsides. All of these things dictate how animals move and perceive danger or safety. It was something that I didn’t think about when it came to turkey hunting and in the end it was probably the deciding factor on why I couldn’t seal the deal with this tom. As soon as my back rested against the trunk of a tree I let out some yelps with my box call and got an immediate response. This turkey was on the move and headed in my direction. For the next hour I could hear him gobbling and getting closer, but at one point it seemed like he came up to a wall and stopped moving. He would continue to gobble, but he had done enough walking and was expecting me to make the final moves towards him. Being both stubborn men neither one of us moved for the next 30 minutes and then I finally gave in and made my way through the woods to him.
As the crow flies I guessed that this bird was held up about 100 yards away from my setup. Between us was a creek and a deep ditch with steep sides, I started to understand why this gobbler didn’t want to finish the trip to the field I was in. I kept my head on a swivel looking for the characteristic red and blue head of a turkey and crept through the woods to the creek. Every few steps I would make a cluck sound with my mouth call trying to sound like any other 200 lb bird walking through the forest, I figured it couldn’t hurt. This turkey was still gobbling even as I made my way to him. I got into a position and setup my decoys while making as little noise and movement as possible. Five minutes after getting settled in I let out a series of calls. Silence. My heart sank as I knew that I had been busted. I got one tree too close and most likely he saw me and took off running up the hill.
It’s not all about the harvest
I love being outdoors. Just ask my wife and she will tell you that when she can’t find me inside, she only has to look out towards the back of our property and I’m there with my camera pressed against my face observing nature. I can’t help it. I find nature to be fascinating. It’s why I like hunting so much, not that I am harvesting these animals, but that I am outdoors observing these animals for days on end. Occasionally I do harvest them, but I can assure you I don’t take it lightly or enjoy it. I honestly feel a connection with nature when I am hunting. These animals are running free, no fences, no feed plots to fatten them up and they aren’t herded to slaughter. I am the predator and they are my prey, it’s as natural as it gets. I only take what I will eat and waste nothing.
Much of the rest of my weekend turkey hunting was spent walking through the forest, listening for turkeys, following their tracks, assessing the size and sex of the bird based on footprint size or scat shape (yes there is a difference). I didn’t harvest any turkeys, but I gained a lot of knowledge and appreciation for the spring forest.
On the last day I decided to cut my hunt short after getting busted by another bird and head to a little town called Rodney. Located a little over 10 miles from my property, it is the first place my American roots on my maternal grandfather’s side of the family were planted.
My Great great great grandfather and grandmother were born in Germany in the Black Forest region and immigrated to America somewhere in the early-mid 1800’s. He and his wife settled on a little Mississippi River port town named Rodney and started a business. They had kids and their kids had kids and so forth which is why I am able to write about them today, but it was one of their son’s that has had the biggest impact on my hunting and outdoors life. My great great grandfather bought a little over 660 acres of land in 1905 that has been in my family ever since. For over 100 years my family’s bloodline has walked these hills and hollers, swam in these creeks and chased wild game. Before that Civil War battles rang out in earshot and Native Americans and early settlers used the Natchez Trace only a few miles away from our property to traverse the frontier.
I, along with some family members, hunt and explore this property these days. It was the first place I ever went deer hunting and where I learned to crash a three wheeler. Yes, I meant to say crash because that’s exactly what I did. It’s a rugged piece of property with no potable water or electricity. When I go there for a weekend of hunting I bring a tent and all the usual camping gear to rough it. When I hunt, I have to use the terrain and wind to my advantage, not a corn feeder. It’s a place where besides the occasional timber harvest, it’s as natural as it gets. I’m sure my great great grandfather didn’t think how impactful this property would be for future generations. It has brought financial support (through timber and oil & gas revenues) and has provided a place to explore/hunt in the natural world.
I returned to the town to see if some of the old buildings made it through the winter snow and the spring thunderstorms. My great Aunt’s store was still standing and the old gasoline pump was still intact, glass and all. The Rodney Church dedicated in 1835 still looked great thanks to some renovation efforts of volunteers. Being that it was Sunday, I went inside and sat down in a pew to reflect. Sometimes I wonder if my great great great grandparents were like my wife and I, always shuffling our kids in at the last minute as the choir sang, taking a seat in the back to not disturb anyone. Or maybe, like us, they sometimes had to sit up front because no one ever seems to want to be in the first row at church.
Either way places like this town and the forest I hunt feel like home to me. I’ve always been a fan of history and more so the history of my family and this country. Sometimes hunting is hard, but that’s only part of it. The other part is reconnecting with nature and in my case, reconnecting with my roots. I’m already looking forward to next spring’s turkey season and hoping to fill my tag this time.
-The Family Outdoorsman