The Wild Turkey

Lyle Johnson
The gobbler that gave his life after a valiant battle of wits.

The wild turkey is one of the most revered species in the outdoors as it concerns hunting. Good fortune can always play a part in any endeavor but it takes great preparation and a skill level above most to be successful in a turkey hunt.

The wild turkey has always been recognized as table fare since the Pilgrims’ time as Native Americans taught the early Americans how to hunt them. The wild turkey had its spot in the first Thanksgiving and the bird somehow found its way as the centerpiece of Thanksgiving Day dinner all across America.

The tradition is still carried on today with one exception. Over 99% of the turkeys consumed on that holiday are purchased at a supermarket; all 46 million of them for Thanksgiving. But its history is not limited to being a food source. During the founding of our nation, a six day decision making process about our national bird took place.

Benjamin Franklin listed his opinion about the subject in a letter to his daughter, Sarah Bache on January 26, 1784, criticizing the choice of the Bald Eagle as the national bird and suggesting that a turkey would have made a better alternative. “For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral character. He does not get his Living honestly.”

I have witnessed this character trait of the Bald Eagle on more than one occasion. But the best example was in Valdez, Alaska in 2013. At the advice of a local, my wife and I were directed to a waterfall to watch for Grizzly bears. The tide was very low and the bear action was non-existent so we turned our attention to all the action on the tide flat.

There were lots of bald eagles in the trees overlooking the flat that were watching a multitude of other eagles in the shallow water. The sea gulls doubled the numbers of the eagles so we anticipated watching the eagles outwit the gulls getting the fish. To our surprise those majestic eagles just waited for the gulls to catch the fish and like the thieves they really are, they stole them from the gulls.

“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For in Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America... He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on,” stated Franklin in the letter.

There is nothing quite as majestic looking as a male turkey in full strut or a hen turkey protecting her nest or brood of younguns’. That’s what makes turkey hunting the popular sport that it is.

The game is played in spring when mating season is in full swing for the big birds. The females call with a cluck, cluck, cluck signifying their location to the males that usually answer with the easily recognizable gobble, gobble, gobble and it’s on.

I have never personally hunted for turkeys. I love to fish in the spring so I used that as an excuse but really I already have enough hobbies and didn’t want to add another. I have filmed my co-host on Ascension Outdoors TV, “Goosie” Guice on several hunts that were not successful; that has been the extent of my turkey hunting until this past weekend.

A good friend, Rick Kogler has some property in Angie, La. just north of Bogalusa near the Mississippi line. Rick informed me and “Goosie” that his place was full of turkeys and nobody really hunted them. So I bit the bullet and the Ascension Outdoors team headed northeast to give it a try.

We drove up on Friday night so there was no opportunity to do any scouting. We headed to a location on the advice of “Jeff” where lots of turkeys have been seen. The decoy was set in place and we took up a spot that kept us hidden while Goosie started his magic on his calls, mimicking a female turkey looking for a boyfriend.

We got some response from several gobblers but they were really too far to bring them in. So a decision had to be made; stay in the recommended spot or relocate closer to the birds that were gobbling. We chose to move and get a little closer to all the action.

After the move, the turkey that was the closest one in the bunch stopped gobbling. But the other 3 or 4 birds gave us a concert for the next hour that was something I’ll always remember. They were still too far away so we decided to wait it out for the one nearest us and see if we could get him in.

Half an hour later, Goosie gave him a soft cluck, cluck and he answered. He looked at me and said, “He’s ready. He’s going to come in.” We repositioned a little to get a better advantage and turned our attention to the direction he called from.

About 10 minutes later, there he came. I could see that bright red head coming our way through the bushes that had us hidden from his sight. He was walking at a brisk pace, then took off running our way, slowing down right before he came out in the open.

It was a classic, by the book hunt that took about two hours. Setting up, moving closer to the bird, then fatefully his desire to meet up with a receptive hen turkey did him in. One shot from my trusty Remington 1100 with a #6 copper coated turkey load shell dropped him in the dusty road.

My first turkey and my heart was beating a hundred miles an hour as the hunter along with the caller celebrated for a couple of minutes still sitting on the ground. We got up to continue the celebration, collecting our bird and placing the tag on one of its feet. The gobbler sported a 9” beard and ¾” spurs.

A very worthy opponent gave us his best shot but on this day the hunters came out on top. Not only did I enjoy the fruits of our effort but on Sunday after church a fresh batch of thinly sliced turkey breast lightly dusted with flour and fried for lunch topped off a great weekend in Angie, La.

Until next time, have fun in the outdoors, be safe and may God truly bless you!!

Lyle Johnson is a freelance writer and President of the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association. He can be reached at reelman@eatel.net