I didn’t know a dang thing about turkey hunting… I only knew that I wanted to do it. I was on a mission to fast track my knowledge and it is an understatement to say that I was completely amazed at what I did not know. I thought the beard was the red fleshy part of the turkey’s neck… that is where a beard would be, right? I thought all turkeys said gobble gobble. But no, Tom turkeys say gobble gobble and females yelp and purr
I did not know you could only hunt Toms in South Carolina and I did not know that only male turkeys strutted. All of the photos I ever saw of a turkey strutting were those cartoonish pictures of the first Thanksgiving. Wild Toms have those incredible mahogany colored feathers, only to sport the ugliest bald head with those red and light blue splotches; the head does not match the rest of the bird! The head truly has red, white, and blue colors and maybe that is why turkeys almost became our national bird back in the day but lost out to the mighty eagle.
The rules are strict… no elevated blinds and no baiting. Full camouflage is needed and these birds have amazing eye sight. We arrived in our ground blind before daybreak and set up waiting for the birds to come out of their roosts high in the trees along the river in St. George SC. We were second time hunters at Deerfield Plantation having bagged my first deer there in December 2013. Our guide Whup is one of the most colorful guides and my best description of him would be of a Santa Clause from the Deep South instead of the far North Pole, dressed head to toe in camo. He expertly called the turkeys that morning but the weather was cold and the Toms were content with their hens. The hens had not started to nest yet so the Toms were still strutting and the hens were more than happy to oblige. After the morning hunt and enjoying a beautiful southern lunch at the lodge, we regrouped. The owner offered us a hog hunt that afternoon thinking we would not have much luck with afternoon turkeys, but we decided to persevere and go back out after turkeys.
Our afternoon hunt started around 2:30pm and we were set up in a food plot about 35 yards wide and 75 yards long where there was plenty of grass. My husband inquired about the large truck parked in the field close to the woods and our guide told us it was still there from all the work that was required after the intense ice storm broke so many trees and limbs, and that they were still removing debris. We raised a concern about the truck as we had read that turkeys are keenly aware of their surroundings and are alerted to changes in the environment. He said not to worry as it had been there for over a month and the turkeys were used to seeing it. Little did we know that this truck would play a major role in how our afternoon hunt would unfold.
Our guide left us and was to come back at 7pm to pick us up. As we settled in the blind, we were laughing at the huge director chairs we had in the blind and felt like we were tail gating at a football game. We were in full camo and ready to shoot a bird. Hours went by and we could not get a bird to answer our calls. We were joking about just how quiet it was…not a bird, not a squirrel, not a nat. We started to get punchy and started making owl sounds and anything to entertain ourselves. We munched on beef jerky and were starting to think that the day was about to be over for hunting. Nearing 6:30pm, we decided to start packing up and the last thing to pack was my 20 gauge over under, a not that expensive Russian made gun I’d had for several years, now mostly used for dove hunting. I asked my husband if we should unload the gun. He said no, we should wait just a few more minutes.
Suddenly, with only a hand motion, my husband put up the quiet sign and motioned with 2 fingers that there were two birds that entered the field below the truck, far out of range. With hopes that they would come our way we observed them for a few minutes and realized that now there were 5 birds… two of which were Toms. Unfortunately, they were moving away from us instead of towards us. At this point if we had been seasoned turkey hunters, we would have admired them from afar and let them enjoy their afternoon feed, but we are type “A” personalities which gave rise to the following incredible events:
My husband, also being a turkey hunting novice but having hunted all his life, suggested that we stalk the turkeys by getting out of tent and moving into the woods behind us to get closer to the birds. My husband had been on 3 African safari hunts in teenage years and had hunted big game so I think he was drawing from those experiences when he made the suggestion to stalk these birds. I quickly determined that we needed to call the lodge to let our guide know that we saw birds and we were making an approach to hunt them. We did not want him to scare the birds away on his return in that noisy 1999 Suburban truck.
We slowly crept out of the blind and into the woods, and carefully stepping unison, made our way through the woods about 80 yards in lockstep, making sure each step matched each other… the woods were full of dead limbs so I was nervous about making too much noise.) We lost all contact with the birds and were looking to get closer to the truck that had been left in the field, thinking we could use it for cover.
Once we made it out to the edge of the field we could see under the trucks wheels and to our amazement, the birds where still there. My heart was pounding with excitement. It seemed impossible that we had gotten that far. Now the next step was to get within range and wait for the birds to turn their heads away from us or to lower them down in the grass to eat. We moved our position by the truck and took another look to see where the birds were. We scaled our way down to the woods side of the truck as close as we could and got good cover in the wheel well as the truck bed was in a raised position. Our hearts were racing and now we were within 30 some yards of the birds. Amazingly the birds were still all there but they were becoming a bit nervous. Seconds passed and the 3 hens started moving off towards the woods. The two Toms stood there on high alert, then started making their way towards the woods as well, so I knew that the chance of a successful shot would only last a few seconds. There was about 6 feet between the edge of the truck and the edge of the woods so at best there was 4 or 5 foot shooting lane. With it being that narrow, what was to happen had to be quick. My husband motioned for me to take the shot. The first Tom left the field and the other bird was even bigger. I pulled the shot. He went down. We went crazy… we had done the impossible; stalked a turkey, my first turkey and my first shot, and it was a trophy bird… 20lbs, 10.5 inch beard with 1.5 inch spurs!
I have to say that it was an amazing experience that had it all… nature at its best and a successful hunt for the elusive turkey. Needless to say, I am now a fanatic. I think about turkey hunting all the time and am honing my calling skills looking forward to the next season! My turkey was enjoyed in a beautiful okra gumbo and was absolutely delicious.