Spring Eastern Turkey Lessons: Listen to Your Guide
Whether your turkey hunting guide is a paid professional or a lifelong friend allowing you to hunt the family farm, heed the tips and advice offered when chasing crafty Eastern gobblers on unfamiliar property
Bagging an Eastern tom turkey can be challenging; listening to words of wisdom from hunters familiar with the area will increases chances for success. (Jeff Phillips photo)
There are ostensibly two ways to hunt wild turkeys during the springtime.
The first is to do what I do best in my home state of Texas when chasing the native Rio Grande gobbler, the keyword here being chasing in my run-and-gun style of turkey hunting.
The second method of hunting spring longbeards is to sit very still, call quietly and sparingly, all while exercising the longsuffering patience of Job.
A few springs ago, I had the opportunity to test out the latter strategy when I ventured back East for the first time to chase the legendary Eastern longbeards of the South Carolina low country.
Close to the birthplace of modern turkey hunting, I was on a piece the subspecies' lush southern ground, turf owned by Pete and Sandra Simmons of Buck Run Hunting Lodge (www.buckrun.com) near Estill, S.C.
Talk about a clash of turkey hunting cultures – Mr. Run-and-Gun from Texas, meet Mr. Low-country Job from the Palmetto State.
What I quickly gathered upon my arrival is while a strategy of extreme patience may be considered old school by some of today's energetic young turkey hunters, the timeworn method of sitting still and calling hardly at all has proven itself for decades in the swamp country not far from the Atlantic coastline.
The strategy itself hails from an era gone by in the first half of the 20th century when longbeard sightings – and killings – were about as scarce as well-liked politician these days.
Don’t forget to pattern your turkey hunting shotgun.
Take, for instance, the wise instruction from South Carolina's first poet laureate, the late Archibald Rutledge.
Rutledge, who lived from 1883 to 1973, was a died-in-the-wool turkey hunter and deer hunter who wrote deeply from his heart about his considerable outdoor adventures while chasing gobblers and bucks near his McClellanville family home.
In his story Big Toms in Big Timber, Rutledge penned the following words many years ago:
"Turkey hunting takes more downright patience, more prone silentness than any other game I know. A turkey is the kind of a cavalier who has to be waylaid, and a man must assume the pose and the silence of the Sphinx to waylay him."
Get the picture? Plant your backside and be prepared to stay awhile.
With all of that in mind, after dinner the first evening in camp, our hunting plans were carefully laid out for the following morning.
"Lynn, you need to understand that even though we have some of the best turkey hunting in South Carolina, we're also having a strange season this spring with not much gobbling activity," Simmons said.
"These birds that we hunt here in the low country are incredibly tough to hunt – they're some of the oldest remnant populations of Eastern turkeys left in the country.
"And that means that you're going to have to be extra patient, you're going to have to sit very still and let these birds come to you and you'll have to be in a position to get your shotgun up if a shooting opportunity arises."
No problem; put me in coach.
The next morning, paired up with the National Wild Turkey Federation's Brian Dowler, I ventured into the coastal plain forest under the cover of darkness, trying not to make so much as a peep on a very still morning.
After a brisk walk, we reached our listening post and paused to see what the coming day would bring.
That's when I discovered patience wouldn't be my only challenge in these mixed woodlands of water, live oaks with Spanish moss, palmettos and short-leaf and long-leaf pine trees.
Not to mention a few temperamental Eastern diamondbacks and cottonmouths thrown in to keep things interesting.
Given the incredibly thick flora covering the forest floor, it wasn't long before realizing I was also going to have a bit of trouble hearing these wise old birds sound off.
"Did you hear that bird gobble?" Dowler whispered.
"Uh ... no," I responded.
"There he was again," Dowler quietly hissed.
Again, I heard nothing.
While I do have a slight hearing deficit in one ear due to a childhood illness, I've never had much trouble hearing loud-mouth Rios back in Texas.
But these South Carolina gobblers strutting around with their Eastern PhDs? That's another story.
After a fruitless morning of trying to work two far-away toms refusing to play the game, we licked our wounds and headed back to the truck, eventually finding our way back to camp where Sandra Simmons had another mouthwatering meal waiting for us.
Looking for wild turkey recipes? Check here for our top 10 most popular.
When you come to Buck Run – also home to some of the best deer hunting in the Southeastern U.S. each fall – you had best check your diet at the door.
As Pete and our crew laid out battle plans for the afternoon hunt, my eyelids began to grow heavy and a nap was soon in order.
Apparently it was a good nap because while I was sleeping a boisterous thunderstorm lit up the woods and pelted the sandy soil with a tropical downpour that would do any Carolina hurricane proud.
After waking up, Pete had a plan and was soon dropping me off at the edge of a field where he had seen a gobbler or two come out of the timber while strutting their stuff.
Before he turned me loose, Simmons seemed to be looking for something as he scanned the forest floor.
"Lynn, do you see that tree and bush right there together?" he asked.
"I want you to get right up into the middle of that and sit tight and be ready to slowly raise your shotgun up if a gobbler comes into range."
Roger that, as I grabbed my gear.
As Pete drove away, I began to take a closer look at where my guide had instructed me to hide. No poison ivy, but plenty of uncomfortable branches that would make sitting uneasy and shooting a bit of a challenge.
So what did Mr. Rio Grande man from Texas decide to do?
To search for another tree – like that one over there – that looked to be a bit more comfortable and easier to hunt from.
For the next hour or so, all seemed well in the turkey woods.
The trees had stopped dripping, the evening was pleasant, the Thermacell was keeping the mosquitoes at bay and I was exercising great patience and restraint as I called to the unseen Eastern toms of the property.
But at some point during the following hour as I softly worked my Cody Holei One-Sider box call and a slate call given to me years ago by Eddie Salter, I began to grow fidgety as one side of my bohonkus began to cry out for a shift in weight distribution and a little relief.
After fighting the urge to reposition my frame for some time, I finally relented and began to slowly move my left hand a scant three or four inches to the ground to brace myself.
Can you say busted? I can, because in less time than it takes to write about it, that exact moment in time was when Mr. Johnny Gobbler decided to noisily vacate the South Carolina forest that he had stood quietly upon just a second earlier some 20 yards behind me.
Later, as I glumly told my tale of woe to Simmons after he picked me up, Pete grinned and asked a simple but pointed question.
"Why were you sitting over there instead of where I had told you to sit?"
As I tried to explain my faulty reasoning, he slowly shook his head and reminded me that I had violated an unspoken rule of all hunting camps -- ALWAYS listen to your guide.
"Lynn, the reason that I told you to sit right there is that the gobblers that come into this field are pretty cagey and that tree and its cover gives you the chance to move a little bit or get your shotgun up and poke its barrel through the leaves without being detected," he said.
"And the angle it provided would have been perfect for any bird coming out of the trees."
Unfortunately, lesson learned.
The hard way, I might add.
A lesson taught as only a wise old Carolina lowcountry longbeard can teach it.