As Arkansas turkey season has come to an end, I have been reminiscing on the past seasons, wondering if I will ever get a bird. I’ve messed up my fair share of turkey hunts, whether it be public land or private. I’ve been hunting turkeys since I was just a little girl and throughout all the years, I have yet to harvest one. I know, right! Some would joke and say, “Oh, so, you’re one of those professional turkey hunters, not killers, huh?” And that may very well be true but each and every year I am just as excited as the year before to chase some birds.
You see, it’s not the harvest that brings me back year after year. If that were the case, I would have given up long ago. It’s so much more than that. It’s the calm spring mornings and the connection with the wilderness. It’s the scouting with my Papa or sister and the early morning texts from mom saying she’s closing in on one. It’s the new grass popping up out of a prescribed burn and the early morning conversations about life. The actual act of harvesting a bird isn’t what keeps me going or coming back to it year after year, but rather it’s the experiences. It’s the stories that will be shared long after I’m gone and perhaps the lessons learned along the way.
When I was quite a bit younger, my Papa took me to this public land area that his father used to take him. We arrived about an hour before daylight to get situated. Papa seemed confident there would be a bird there so a little while into sitting, he pulled out his box call that has more notches on it than not, and what do you know...there was a gobbler just right over the ridge from us! We slowly moved down to a spot that would give us a better chance at him. After many calls back and forth between the two, we finally laid our eyes on him! Oh, goodness was that bird beautiful! His beard hung the ground and he was strutting right in the middle of an old road! He started drumming and my heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest! This was my first time experiencing this! And then suddenly, as we were watching this gobbler, we caught a glimpse of something in the background behind him. IT WAS ANOTHER HUNTER! I immediately was convinced that they saw us. I thought to myself, “How could they not see us!” But it didn’t matter because they had their eye on the same gobbler and showed no sign of backing out. I was upset and felt like they should be the ones to back out since we were the ones that have been chasing this bird all morning. But Papa immediately said, “Let’s slowly back out of here and go find another one.” I was disappointed but as we headed to a new location, Papa explained to me that no turkey is worth getting shot over and he was right. I still to this day wonder if that person got that turkey and honestly, I hope they did. I learned a lot that day, even without a bird to brag about. I learned that pride is more concerned with WHO is right. But humility… humility is more concerned with WHAT is right. I walked out of those woods that day wiser than my years.
Two turkey seasons ago, my sister and I had done some scouting on our family’s property and found a nice gobbler. So, when the season opened, we hit the ground running! The first few days, we couldn’t close in on him but a week in, we finally felt like it was going to be the morning! I wanted to film, and she wanted to shoot but I took my own shotgun just in case…you just never know what may happen out there. My sister hit her call and I swear it was like we were on top of him! We got situated on our stomachs behind a water bar and waited. He was coming right to us. We couldn’t see him, but we could hear him walking in the leaves. We waited and waited, and before we knew it, thirty minutes had passed but still nothing. Jessica hit the call and he gobbled back so we stayed put. She hit the call again but this time he didn’t respond, we heard an unfamiliar sound but didn’t think much of it. We were confident he was heading our way! Papa had always told us, “When a turkey stops responding after hitting hard to your calls, he is more than likely on his way to you. So, sit still.” We laid there in our army crawl stance for over an hour. She hit the call again. Nothing. We waited a while longer and finally decided to get up and move forward. WHAT A BAD IDEA THAT WAS! As soon as we stood up and took a few steps forward, there he was standing on a branch 20 feet away! My sister didn’t see him! Mind you, I was planning to film and she was supposed to shoot so I am pointing at him and repeatedly saying, “There he is! Shoot! Shoot!”. She was responding, “I can’t see him! Where is he?!” I have never been more frustrated in my life! She finally says, “You have a gun! You shoot it since you see it!” Oh my goodness! My mind was set all morning on her shooting this turkey that I forgot that I was even carrying my own gun! I just wanted her to get the bird. Before my mind even realized to shoot the thing myself, he took off flying. His long beard wafting in the wind and his large body gliding through the air. Then the shells went flying! My sister was unloading on what we would say “was the biggest turkey we have ever seen!” I’m not sure if we dramatized his size or what but something about him flying above us made him look bigger. Within seconds, he was long gone! We knew we had just messed up terribly. We jumped the gun, became impatient, and ultimately messed it all up. We debated keeping this embarrassing and mess of a situation to ourselves because we knew we would never live this one down, but it was too good not to share! We still hear about it quite often, but it makes for a good laugh.
This season, my mom and brother really pulled a doozy! They had been chasing this bird down on our hunting lease for days. They kept making the gap smaller and smaller until they spooked him, and he flew across the road onto a Wildlife Management Area. He only flew about 75 feet from them, but they didn’t have the proper WMA permit to hunt the area….or so they thought! They had read that you had to have a WMA permit to hunt turkeys specifically and there wasn’t any more available but what they didn’t read was that this area didn’t require an actual turkey permit, they just had to have the General Use WMA Permit, which they already had from deer season! So, they left and came home thinking they couldn’t continue to hunt that bird if it was on the other side of the road. They got home and told me what happened, that’s when I told them that they already had the proper permit to hunt that area. They were not happy! So, my point here is this, always read up on the rules and regulations before you head out!
I wondered what other fellow hunters have experienced and if they had any tips to share, so I reached out to several other Huntress View Team Members. Hannah Marcom shared about her experiences and she had tips for closing in on these smart birds. “The ingredients of turkey hunting are equal parts exciting, challenging, and unpredictable. Having only successfully notched one turkey tag in the six years I’ve been bowhunting them, I assumed that switching over to a shotgun would increase my odds of success. The first lesson I learned is that gun hunting turkeys isn’t any easier! Next, is the value in patterning your gun in multiple realistic shooting scenarios. I shot a few rounds at 20 and 30 yards and didn’t know to aim in different places or positions to see what would’ve given me the most optimal results. The end of every hunting season gives you a fresh perspective on what you can do to be more prepared for the next year. This leads me to my third lesson, to research products that could help you. Like, a shooting stick, a stabilizing gun rest knee strap, a sight, or a specialty turkey choke. It’s all about the long game to get yourself a long beard.”
HuntressView Team member Jaimie Robinson had some good insight as well. “I think the most important thing with turkeys is to be patient. Second, pay attention to what they are doing. Call when they are vocal and if they are quiet play along and try to get closer if you can. Turkeys are incredibly smart, and they have shown in studies to be good at problem-solving. The third most important thing to me is to pay attention to what the jakes are doing. Jakes can form gangs and chase around the toms. If this happens when they are full-on mating, they tend to make more mistakes. It is also easier to double them because the males will come in and attack the one on the ground.”
I've shared these stories because the season may not be a “successful” one to some people, but they are something even better. It's learning to swallow your pride, learning to laugh at yourself, learning to be patient with the process, and learning to keep pushing forward and enjoy all the moments whether they are good or bad. Those moments may make for the best stories and life lessons learned. Turkey hunting can be an emotional roller coaster. Some hunts may bring heartbreak while others may bring complete joy, but either way, there’s always a silver lining. So, get out there and keep trying!
Follow Cassie and her outdoor adventures on Instagram at @bckwoodsballer5.