Calling in Your First Turkey
By Ricky Mills
The day you call in your first turkey, and finish the deal, is a special day in the life and development of hunting as a hobby, sport or profession. I have hunted turkeys since the spring of 2000 and can tell you that one of the keys to success is mental preparation and attitude leading up to and throughout the hunting season.
I graduated from Officer Candidate School (OCS) in April of 1998 and was soon sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma to attend the Field Artillery Officer Basic Course. While there I learned that Fort Sill was a hunter’s paradise. Just a few of the different types of wild game that you can hunt on the military reservation are dove, duck, elk, whitetail deer and of course turkey. Not to mention the outstanding fishing in the many stocked ponds and the stream that flows through the middle of the base.
I spent that year watching the birds and observing their patterns while running and biking the perimeter road of Fort Sill. As a hunter, I was drawn to the wildlife and wanted so much to get out in the woods and test myself against the game that roamed the prairies and rocky hill offshoots from the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge that jutted into the Western parts of Fort Sill. But the timing wasn’t right and I would have to wait till I returned from a one year tour of duty in Korea.
Immediately upon return from Korea in November of 1999, I enrolled in the Fort Sill hunter safety course. A course designed to make sure that hunters knew how to read a map, so that they did not wander into the impact areas of the East and West ranges on the base. It was an artillery post and the ground inside the impact area was riddled with unexploded ordinance. It was also the home of the largest and oldest game on post. A refuge for whitetail deer, elk and turkeys that allowed them to grow to ages and sizes that I did not know existed.
I spent the next year and a half attempting to hunt turkey, calling and walking, trying again and again. Over and over getting busted, or calling too much or too little, never quite making the mark on talking that big tom into breaking away from his hens and moving in my direction. The hens they were with just had a softer more attractive voice. Don’t get me wrong, I did not quit and have ambushed my fair share of turkeys, but it is just not the same.
After completing my Bachelors Degree at Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma, it was time to move to Fort Benning, Georgia for the Infantry Commander’s Course and then on to Fort Bragg, North Carolina for the Special Forces Qualification Course. In Fort Bragg, Small Unit Tactics training takes place on Camp MacKall, a small military post west of the main base. While attending that training in the winter of 2001 and into the spring of 2002, I noticed the turkey population as we patrolled the swamps of North Carolina’s Sand Hills region. I set my sites on those birds and made it a goal of mine to return soon and close the deal on one of those gobblers.
While in training I made friends with another hunter named Buddy. Buddy and I decided to attend the Fort Bragg hunter safety course, mandatory to hunt on the base for the same reasons as at Fort Sill. We signed up for and completed the 4 hour block of instruction and immediately drove down to Wal-Mart to get our licenses. Then we drove out to Camp Mackall to do some scouting and locate a good field to hunt. By chance we stumbled on a field that had several turkey dusting bowls in it. There were several turkey feathers in each and tracks galore in the surrounding area. We had found our spot! Now we just needed to come up with a plan and execute it. We located a downed log in the trees facing the field on the side opposite from where it looked like the turkeys had come from and decided that would be our ambush position for the next day’s hunt. We drove back to Fayetteville and prepared our gear and made a link up time for the next morning.
That night went by slowly of course and by the time the alarm went off in the morning, it was go time. Always checking the watch to make sure we were making our marks toward getting in before the sun came up, we made the 45 minute drive out to the camp and drove straight out to our field. We parked the Ford Explorer in our pre-designated vehicle offload point and headed in by foot for the last 1000 meters. It was pitch black but we were able to find our way along the edge of the field to the downed tree and placed the hen and jake decoys in the field directly in front of us at about 15 meters out.
The darkness started to change slowly toward gray, turning the surroundings into large dark objects then shadows, and then the first sounds of North Carolina waking up could be heard. The sound of crickets and frogs turned into the first chirps of birds and the slight breeze of the morning rustling the leaves. I had not heard a gobble yet and I was starting to get worried that we had set up in the wrong place. I started the calling with a few clucks and then a soft morning wake up call. First 3 notes and then 5, always in odd numbers and always increasing in number saying, “I am here, is there anyone else out there?” Goobobobobobebebelelelele, and the morning changed suddenly! Hope was in the air and my heart rate went from a normal 60 beats per minute to 120. I was running in my mind. The previous years of turkey hunting were culminating in that short period of time.
The light calls and the responding gobbles went on for a while until at one point they started getting louder. He was working his way toward us. I looked over at my friend and said, “This one is yours!” Somewhere inside I wanted it all for myself, but I had invited him, and where I grew up, the guest gets the first shot. I saw the whites of his teeth as he smiled in the darkness. A few moments later on the other side of the 30 meter wide opening a head popped out. It was a turkey with his beard dragging in the sand. I had stopped calling now as not
to shock him away with over calling. He could see the decoys and he was going to walk straight over and show that jake who was boss. He never made it. He never knew what hit him, as the full weight of the lead turkey shot snapped his neck.
Figure 1 “Photo” Buddy and his turkey that Ricky called in. In North America, especially New York where Ricky is from, it is custom to let your guest take the first shot.
Buddy and I went out to take a look at the turkey. The light of the morning was still changing as we talked over the hunt, enjoyed examining the bird together and remembered every aspect of the exchange of conversation between me and the gobbler. I did not have a turkey yet and it did not take us long to figure out that if we sat there long enough, we might get another chance at some more birds. We reset the decoys, grabbed his turkey and tucked ourselves back into the same hiding spot.
It was exactly one hour later when the second gobbler answered my plea for companionship. I was doing my best to sound like a lonely hen and he could not resist the temptation to respond. It took him a lot longer to get to us than the previous turkey. This was work now. If you have ever spent an entire morning calling turkeys with a diaphragm, you know that your mouth gets tired. I was having issues controlling the call in my mouth and controlling the seal between the call and the top of my mouth. I was worried that I was starting to sound like a sick hen.
About 60 meters away, at the other end of the field, there he was! Actually it was 2 hens and a gobbler. He was henned up, but doing his best to try to convince me to move toward him. At the same time, I was doing my best to get him to take a few steps in my direction. I was shooting a XXX turkey choke and I had patterned my shotgun at 30 meters. He was standing at 55 meters as the hens turned and started working their way in the opposite direction from me. I knew that this was it. I had the choice to either chance the shot at 50 meters, but only if I
could get him to take 2 more steps in my direction or watch them walk away.
I had made my decision and was giving him my best impression of the most willing hen I could mentally think off. I pleaded with him to come to me with one last call, “Pllleeeeaaase!” First his head turned, and then his body ever so slowly. And then he did it! He took 2 steps in my direction. The gun went off almost without my knowledge of it. I had squeezed every last ounce of pressure from the Mossberg 500a trigger and when his foot hit the ground on that second step, it went off. It was more like a reflex than a pre-thought action. To my relief he dropped right there, flopped a few times and then rested. I had just successfully called in a wild turkey with the end result being me finishing the deal.
Figure 2 “Photo” Ricky Mills with his first turkey that he called in and did not ambush! The difference between being able to call a turkey in, or not, is what seperates the levels of turkey hunters in North America.
As you can tell, the journey toward successfully calling in your first turkey and actually bringing him home can be a long one. Patience and a never quit attitude are needed in this pursuit. Of course there are a lucky few that get the big one on their first day in the woods. I am actually thankful for the trial and error period that I had to go through to make it happen. It has made me the hunter I am today.
It is March and I have already started my preparations for the 2011 turkey season. I watch turkey hunting videos whenever I can. I have my diaphragm calls in the car and listen to a CD about turkey calling and different techniques. I know the terrain I will be hunting and the traditional roosts of the Eastern Wild Turkeys that roam our neck of the woods. I cannot scout the land as I am 3000 miles away in a foreign land or I would be out in the woods as much as possible locating those strut zones, dusting bowls and feeding areas. The Remington 870
that I hunt with now is clean and the bird barrel is on it with a XXX turkey choke. I have 3 boxes of Federal ammunition standing by in the gun safe and I have the one thing that every hunter needs before going out the door to chase wild turkeys, the right mental attitude.
Figure 3 “Photo” A map of the area that Ricky and Buddy hunted in. Notice the route that they took to avoid detection from the turkeys on infil.