My first spring turkey hunt

There is nothing quite so exciting!

By Tony Young

Every hunter is searching for a giant tom turkey on that first opening morning hunt, Tony Young of the Florida Fish and Wildlife shares his 1st Turkey Hunt Success Story with nationwide viewers. Joe Forma Photo

My interest in hunting the quirky-moving, nervous-acting, but beautifully colored wild turkey was piqued about 15 years ago by an old high school friend and bandmate of mine, Todd Bevis.

Todd’s a turkey-hunting fanatic if I’ve ever seen one, and the excitement in his voice that’s apparent every time he tells a hunting story played a big part in my getting the fever to experience spring turkey hunting.

My former in-laws owned a nice tract of land in northern Franklin County with a half-mile of deep creek frontage on a major tributary of the Apalachicola River. Over the years, I enjoyed deer hunting there and took a few fall turkeys, but bagging a good long-beard in the spring takes a bit more skill.

I was ready to learn how to call in and harvest my first spring gobbler.  All I needed was the know-how, and I figured I could get that from Todd and from watching Saturday and Sunday morning hunting shows on TV.

Todd encouraged me to get a box call because he said it would be the quickest and easiest call for me to learn – and the spring season was approaching fast.

He taught me how to do some basic yelps and a single-note cluck and said if I had birds on the property that had really never been called to before, and – if I could sit still long enough – I just might be able to call one in.

But Todd warned me, “Don’t make the mistake some people do in calling too much. Let ’em know you’re there, but let ’em come to you – less is more.”

With that advice in mind, I set out early opening day. I needed to get there a half-hour before first light so I could set my three decoys in place and get situated.

Sunrise wasn’t until 7:45 a.m., so I had about 30 minutes before the sun’s first rays would begin to illuminate the longleaf pine and palmetto flatwoods I’d be hunting.

It was a brisk north Florida spring morning, but as dawn gave way to late morning I knew the weather would warm up and it wouldn’t take long for those pesky, deep-woods mosquitoes to come out of the swamps and start buzzing around my ears. I quickly sprayed myself down with an ample dose of bug spray.

While carrying a jake and two hen decoys in one hand, I toted my shotgun, camo seat cushion and small flashlight in the other and made my way in the dark down a trail that weaved through a patchwork of saw palmettos toward a spot where I often saw turkeys.

The setup was near one of my favorite deer stands, on a ridge that jutted out between a creek and a ravine. It was where turkeys roosted most every evening amid juniper, tupelo and cypress trees hanging over the water.

Before I could even finish setting up my decoys, the sounds of gobbling echoed in the darkness from the creek bottom below. The strange vocalization of three, maybe four, birds was something I’d never heard, and it fascinated me.

I picked out a large pine tree to lean back against to hide my silhouette. Then I used a pair of hand pruners and began to snip some of the surrounding native vegetation of galberry and titi and used the clippings to construct my make-shift ground blind.

I settled in against the tree – my gun across my legs and my box call in my lap – and the sound of gobbling continued to fill the otherwise quiet predawn.

At 7 a.m. it started to get just light enough to see. As I sat facing the hardwoods of the ravine and creek swamp, I could make out my decoys 10 steps in front of me.

About 15 minutes later, when the visibility was noticeably better, I picked up my box call and made my first yelp to make those gobblers think there was an interested hen nearby.

A reassuring gobble answered me right away!

I was so excited I couldn’t believe it – a gobbler actually had responded, just like on those hunting shows.

“What am I supposed to do now?” I wondered. I remembered Todd telling me not to call any more often than about 15 minutes. So I sat quietly in anticipation for what seemed to be the longest 15 minutes of my life, but when I glanced down at my watch, only five minutes had elapsed. After another five minutes of real time had passed, I couldn’t stand it any longer and made another call.

Another gobble immediately followed, but this time it was louder.

This bird actually was coming to me! My first spring turkey hunt was beginning to play out in textbook fashion.

I sat just as still as I could be for another 10 or 15 minutes and called out for a third time.

The “GOBBLE, GOBBLE, GOBBLE, GOBBLE” reply sounded like it was being screamed into my ears. This Eastern turkey was right on top of me!

I couldn’t see him, but he had to be just out of my sight behind the brushy terrain.

A few moments later, the longbeard stepped out from behind a galberry thicket in full strut, and my heart starting pounding. I couldn’t see its legs because gold, iridescent feathers were covering them, but the bird seemed to glide like an apparition as it cautiously made its way toward the decoys.

The way its head was changing colors from red to blue and back again, and the show this gobbler was putting on, was truly a sight to behold. Now I realized what Todd’s and so many other turkey hunters’ infatuation was all about.

Its instinctive, ritualistic courtship dance was so beautiful I almost didn’t want to end it, but the big tom was getting too close, and I knew I’d better take the shot soon for fear he’d spy me.

The opportunity to raise my 12-gauge pump shotgun came when he went behind a palmetto clump at 12 steps, and I fired just one shot when he stepped out the other side.

What a rush!

It was my first spring gobbler, and it had a 9-inch beard. Now what was so hard about taking a spring turkey, I thought?  After all, it was only 8 a.m., and I already had my then daily bag limit after calling just three times.

But like every turkey hunter knows, spring turkey hunting rarely happens that way. Maybe it was beginner’s luck, but whatever it was –

springturkey2I have been hooked ever since.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has adopted innovative conservation tools and strategies, focusing on incentives for private lands and fish/wildlife management.  Strategies may include enhancing partnerships, incentives, and streamlining regulations.  The FWC’s Community Relations Office produces several feature columns each month.  Each column focuses on a specific element of Florida’s fish and wildlife resources or type of outdoor recreation.

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