Approaching 150 and Twenty Years of Turkey Hunting: Part 1

When my dad and I pulled up to the mouth of that old logging road before daylight in 1993, no one imagined the transformation that was going to take place on that early April morning. This was the year that a mere fourteen-year-old boy was turned into a turkey hunter. As we opened the truck door on that historic morning, we immediately heard a turkey gobbling close by. The sleepiness of a typical teenager was quickly replaced with the excitement and rush of energy that only a gobbling turkey can bring. The most sugar and nutrient filled energy drink can not come close to the shot of adrenaline that a single gobble from the king of spring can bring. The gobbler was roosted on the opposite side of a narrow strip of cutover that was only eighty yards wide. We slowly moved up the edge of the cutover. The turkey was thundering off at what seemed like every sound that was made on that Mississippi morning. Luckily the gobbler liked the sounds I was making on an original Eddie Salter mouth call and from my dad’s homemade box call that his dad had made. The turkey strutted across the cutover and up to about thirty yards from our position. I put the bead from my old model 12 Winchester shotgun on the gobbler’s head and fired off. I remember my dad telling me, “You got him, you got him!” I will never forget that picturesque moment in time as we walked back up that old logging road to the truck with my long bearded gobbler on one shoulder and my dad’s arm around the other.

The memory of my first turkey is forever etched into my heart. The rush that I experienced that day is what has kept me coming back to the spring turkey woods for the past 20 years. Since that time I have transformed even further. I have gone from a turkey hunter to a turkey extremist. As much as I love to deer hunt, it does not hold a candle to the passion I have for hunting and harvesting turkeys. There is just something special about having that close encounter with the majestic king of spring that gets my blood boiling. Since that unforgettable hunt in 1993, I have been fortunate enough to be able to hunt and kill turkeys in several states. From the turkey rich hardwood bottoms and pine hills of the Deep South, my home turf; to the Big Horn Mountain range of the snow covered Rockies, and the wooded Catskill Mountain range of the Appalachians, which I have found a second home. And I cannot forget to mention my new favorite place to hunt, the Midwest. States, such as Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri are absolutely loaded with turkeys. I have had many memorable hunts in all these regions of our great nation. From watching gobblers take a 100-yard death roll down a steep mountain bank in Pennsylvania and Wyoming; to having to shoot a gobbler in Kansas out of the air in self-defense after I him missed on the first shot. Every time I think of these hunts, and many others like them, I thank the Lord for the opportunities He has given me and the success that He has granted me.


This series of articles will hopefully sum up twenty years of turkey hunting by using the 2012 season’s hunts mixed in with some memories from the past to tell the story. Also, I will be pursuing another milestone in turkey hunting, my 150th gobbler kill. It is going to take close to the limit from each of the four to five states that I plan on hunting this year. A tall order, but one that is possible if I can swing it with a very busy work schedule. Hopefully twenty years of hunting experience will aid in making the time I have count. But if I do not achieve my goal of 150 you can bet I will have hunted as hard as I could in attempt to do so all the while enjoying every experience the Lord allows me to encounter in the turkey woods.

The Turn Around Spot Gobbler
One of my turkey kills this year (2012) in Mississippi transpired in somewhat of a unique way. I started the day before daylight on the edge of a cutover in some thinned pines to await the morning’s first gobble. As light began to fill the sky, a distant gobble rang out from over a mile away. Then another distant gobble was heard from another direction, but still not in the block of land where I was hunting. For the next ten minutes or so I could hear four distinct different gobblers, all on land that I can hunt, but none of them where I hoped they would be. Finally I walked back to the truck and drove across the public road up a timber company road toward two of the gobbling turkeys. I did not drive very far in fear of possibly spooking one of the gobblers so I walked very slowly toward where I had heard them last, listening as I walked. I finally reached the top of a big hill in some very open young pines with hopes of pin pointing the location of one the gobblers. After listening for a few minutes, much to my surprise, I could hear three gobblers spread throughout this 500-acre block of young pines that desperately needed thinning. I then picked the middle turkey out and headed toward him. With the woods so open I didn’t get as close as I would have liked in fear of him seeing me. I sat down on the edge of a small food plot that was about 200 yards from the gobbler and started calling on a new H.S. Strut mouth call that Eddie Salter personally sent me. For the next thirty minutes the bird answered every call that I made, but did not move a foot from his position. I took a chance and crawled up about fifty yards where two logging roads intersected. I positioned myself where I could see up and down both roads, and where I could see down the hollow in front of me toward where the gobbler was. I did not call for about fifteen minutes, hoping the bird would make a move of some kind towards me. The bird did not gobble any since I moved so I called again with him immediately answering me. The turkey was still in the same spot. However, after that gobble I knew exactly where he was and what I needed to do to kill him.


There is a Time to Call and a Time to Crawl
This is where experience and knowing your property can pay off. For years gobblers have been using this one place for a strut zone, and when they get there, for whatever reason, you cannot call them away from it. He was strutting and gobbling in a place we call the “Turn Around Spot”. It was an old log-loading zone from where the timber company had first cut this block of woods. Also It was where three logging roads came together, one of which is the main road into this property. I knew that the road to my right curved around the ridge and came out into another road, which came out into the turn around spot. So I quickly made my way down the road to where it intersected with the other road. From there I began my 150-yard crawl to the turn around spot.

Another thing those twenty years of turkey hunting experience have taught me is that some turkeys in certain situations can not be called up. It is not about your calling ability, it is just the fact that the gobbler is in a place where he wants to be and he doesn’t want to leave. Many times he will stay in that place for hours until a hen comes to him. This gives you three choices: stay put and hope a hen will lead him to you, leave and try him again later, or crawl up and kill him. I know that “crawling turkeys up” is not as politically correct as “calling turkeys up” in the turkey-hunting world. Believe you me, I would much rather call one in instead of having to crawl through the mud and the muck in order to harvest a bird. However, this sport I love is called turkey hunting and not turkey calling, and if you rely solely on your calling skills to kill a turkey you will be doing a lot more calling than killing.

Use the Terrain to your Advantage
One of the good things about log loading zones is that large piles of dirt and debris will be pushed up in places around the loading area. This was true about the turn around spot. There was one large pile of dirt that was on the edge of the road I was crawling down. I knew if I could keep the dirt pile between me and the gobbler I would be in business. I knew this because my cousin, Austin, tried a similar maneuver in this same spot a couple of years ago. He, on the other hand, walked up to the turn around spot and the turkey spotted him before he spotted the turkey. So I crawled up to the bottom edge of the pile and called softly, hoping I did not spook the bird. The gobbler answered right back giving me a fix on his location. He was straight out in front of me around forty yards or so. I eased up to the top of the log pile and there he was in full strut. The bird never knew I was in the world as I laid him on his back. The muddy belly, hurting knees, and sore hands were all worth it as I draped that big ole gobbler over my shoulder.


Do not be afraid to try something out of the ordinary. Just be sure to take as many safety precautions as needed to do so. Crawling up on turkeys on public land and other heavily hunted areas my not be a good idea. However, if you know your land and how it lays out, crawling up on that old gobbler may be the only way to kill him. Oh and by the way, to those hunters out there that think this is unethical; it is not as easy as it sounds. I can not tell you how many times I have crawled through cow mess, snake filled creeks, and poison ivy to pop up and not see a turkey in anywhere. But the times it has worked and I was lucky enough to harvest that old bird that I have hunted all year, it is as good of a feeling as calling one in.

Learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others. Know the land and how the terrain is laid out. Pay attention to the patterns of the turkeys on your hunting land. Be prepared to do something different in your hunting approach. These little life lessons in turkey hunting are what twenty years of chasing long beards have taught me. If you will do these things, I will guarantee you will be eating more turkey nuggets this year.

Oh and by the way. That was my 140th kill with just ten more gobblers to go. Please come back to our website here at Tecomate for part two in this series for more hunts, hunting strategies, and updates on my personal goal of 150.

As always, God Bless and Happy Hunting.

Posted by Mark Newell 

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