The hunt is on for wild turkeys

By DAN GEDDINGS
Posted 4/8/18

I know the fish are biting. I see the steady stream of trucks headed to the lake every day, pulling boats. I like to fish — especially when the bream are biting. The full moon in April, and …

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The hunt is on for wild turkeys

Dan Geddings shot this wild turkey on a recent hunt in Clarendon County.
Dan Geddings shot this wild turkey on a recent hunt in Clarendon County.
PHOTO PROVIDED
Posted

I know the fish are biting. I see the steady stream of trucks headed to the lake every day, pulling boats. I like to fish — especially when the bream are biting. The full moon in April, and again in May, is the best time to catch a mess of sunfish.

But for me — the hunt is on. Turkeys are in season, and we only get six weeks to hunt them. Some people say turkey hunting is an obsession. It’s hard to say why, but it gets under your skin and is like nothing else. For now, the bream can wait.

There are very few casual turkey hunters. Either you like it and can’t get enough, or you don’t care for it. I look forward to turkey season all year long, like a kid waiting on Christmas, and it’s here now.

For me, the turkey season is the best time of the year. Winter has passed, and spring leaps out to us. There are warm days and cool nights. The first wildflowers bloom, then redbuds and dogwoods. The bugs and snakes aren’t out yet. The sweet fragrance of yellow Jessamine and honeysuckle hang in the air. The trees go from winter bare to summer green. The songbirds sing a joyous melody. And the turkeys gobble.

Our fathers didn’t have turkeys to hunt. Heavy timber harvest, intensive share-crop farming and a widespread rural population decimated wild turkey numbers at the turn of the century. A few remnant turkey populations managed to hold on in some of the big river swamps and isolated coastal plantations. Those few turkeys provided the stock for a statewide restoration effort that exceeded all expectations.

I started seeing turkeys here in the ’80s, and then along came Hugo. The hurricane decimated a huge area of woodlands — from the coast inland to Charlotte. Pine trees were snapped off, and hardwoods were uprooted. It was a jungle out there for a while, and the new turkey populations needed time to recover.

I didn’t think we would ever have a huntable population of wild turkeys in this part of the state, but eventually it did happen. And boy am I glad. Now, all I had to do was figure out how to hunt them. Our elders couldn’t teach us because they had never hunted turkeys. So, many of us were on our own. I went a few times with a friend of mine from the Upstate and learned a little about turkey hunting. I read everything I could find about turkeys and turkey hunting. But mostly it was an exercise in trial and error.

Turkey hunters must have more patience, more perseverance and more woodsmanship skills than the average hunter. It’s a thinking game, with many decisions. One decision usually just leads to another. Success will come just enough to keep you going.

My brother Matt and I hunted turkeys together for years. We learned a lot from each other. We were never experts by any stretch of the imagination, but we got better at it. We shared information with each other about where we saw turkeys and saw good sign, like tracks and strut marks.

We learned to keep that information to ourselves. Other hunters were sometimes after the same birds as we were. We didn’t come out and lie too much — well, maybe little white lies. We learned to not volunteer any MRI or “most recent information.” We were usually evasive and secretive about our scouting — so were other hunters. I would ride the county dirt roads looking for gobbler tracks. If I saw some I would stop, get out of the truck and step on the tracks to disguise them.

Turkey hunters sometimes love to talk about their successful hunts without giving away any useful information to other hunters, and usually only another turkey hunter can appreciate the story.

Now my son Clayton is getting an education in turkey hunting. At least he has someone to teach him a few things. Maybe he will teach his son one day.

In the spring, wild turkeys will gobble. It is the call of the wild, like the howl of a wolf or the honking of a goose. It is the essence of wildness and raw nature. I guess we could live without it, but now that I know it, I wouldn’t want to.