Wednesday, April 15, 2015


     The best place to hunt a wild gobbler is back in the middle of nowhere, where it is calm and peaceful and natural, where there are no snakes, no ticks, and no ATV's

            Probably nothing you do in the outdoors involves less skill than turkey hunting.   If you are really patient, you can become an expert turkey hunter in a hurry.  Despite wariness that will rival about any wild creature, a spring gobbler will occasionally do some really dumb things, because he has such a little brain.  If he isn’t close to any hens, he might just run like a racehorse to some beginner using his box call for the very first time. 

            The guys who call themselves ‘professional gobbler getters’ try to make it into some kind of art, almost a science.  But truthfully, if you can’t kill a wild gobbler you lack either patience or a good place to hunt.

            As the years go by, I have become less intense in my pursuit of wild turkeys in the spring. I have been there and done that, lots and lots and lots.  I won’t even tell anyone how many gobblers I have killed because it sounds like it is a lie.  But outdoor writers who get a chance to hunt in five or six states each year over a period of 40 years ought to bag a lot of gobblers, even if they are an impatient klutz like me.

            I like to hunt gobblers where I can fish.  One year I camped on Stockton Lake and got a photo of a nice tom with a stringer of crappie before noon.  It seems like only yesterday I floated the Big Piney with a kid by the name of Mike Widner and caught goggle-eye and smallmouth in the afternoons and watch him kill his very first gobbler just after the sun came up.  Mike Widner became an expert too.  He spent much of his life as Arkansas’s wild turkey biologist and he knows more about them than any person I know.
            Now there’s a place to hunt wild gobblers-- the mountains of Arkansas.  In west Arkansas, south of the Arkansas River, I saw some real wilderness way back there a few decades ago.  We would camp near the Fourche La Fave River and wear ourselves out fishing the river and hunting wild turkey from dawn to dusk. 

            I pride myself in the fact that I can walk all day in the woods at my age, miles and miles.  I imagine that those days of climbing high, steep hillsides in the Ouachitas has a lot to do with that.  To gain one of those long flat-topped ridges high above some ragged little creek that flowed past big boulders you had to nearly crawl over, a hunter had to go up sheer hillsides where you could hardly stand. 

            It was worth it though.  Flocks of gobblers liked those flat mountain tops, some of them a half mile wide and four or five miles long.  I wrote an article for Outdoor Life magazine, years ago, entitled, “The Ghost Gobbler of the Phantom Ridge”, which has been reprinted in my turkey hunting book.  If you like reading about turkey hunting, I think you would like that book, “The Greatest Wild Gobblers, Lessons Learned from Old-Timers and Old Toms.”

            The ghost gobbler, which I encountered more than thirty years ago, had a bleached-out beard, and every time I went after him I would get lost on that ridge.  It was one of the weirdest things I have ever had happen.   Those Ouachita mountain gobblers were true strain wild turkeys, their genetics not at all watered down by the domestic turkeys which much of the Ozark’ wild turkeys contended with. They were smaller birds with shorter, darker tails.

            In those Ozark and Ouachita mountains of Arkansas, hunting gobblers was a challenge.  Except for a few old wagon roads you didn’t see much civilization, until the National Forest Service devastated so much of it in their quest for pine timber.  They sprayed and injected too much of it, trying to kill the hardwoods.  Forty years ago there were some giant beech trees in those areas and they killed all of them by injecting a chemical under the bark, one tree at a time. 
One year I was sitting up on top of an Ozark ridge-top down south of the Buffalo River, and I had a gobbler down on a steep hillside slowly coming up the incline, gobbling at me, maybe 250 yards away.  Shortly before noon I heard the whining of an ATV motor coming through the woods, and all of a sudden, there he was, riding that camouflaged machine, all 300 pounds of him.  This guy was only in his mid twenties or so, from Little Rock, determined to get himself a gobbler without much work.  He was decked out in the newest camo garb, using a mouth call that he couldn’t really master.   He said he had been trying to find a way to get his machine close to that gobbler, and he said he had heard the tom for two hours.  The reason he had heard him was because the bird was answering my call.

            Finally he left, whining away on that big wheeled, go-anywhere hunting device, and I leaned back and took a nap.  An hour later I got the gobbler going again and two hours later he came strutting through the woods 40 yards away.

            ATV’s have become too important to today’s outdoorsmen, many of them just too fat and lazy to walk very far.  I think about that guy today, wondering if he has started having heart trouble yet.  I wonder if he is out walking in a mall everyday or along some paved road following a doctor’s advice.  So many of those turkey hunters who never get very far from their ATV, will be intent on walking for their health as they get old.  You wonder, why don’t they do it now?

            I believe ATV’s should be used by those who are handicapped or disabled in some way, or by old men who would prefer walking but can’t. They are a great invention for those who have no choice but to ride them.  But if you truly want to be part of the outdoors, to blend in and fit in the woods, use your legs… walk!  It might be better to do it now in the woods than to have to walk in a shopping mall somewhere when you are only fifty years old.

            I have met some good turkey hunters in my time, hundreds of them.  But none of them were lazy!  And the ones who were really good at it were patient.  That patience thing is my problem.  I like to walk, and explore, and find mushrooms and take pictures and then hear some gobbler late in the morning that is a long way from a farm pasture… back in the woods and lonely.  And what I always hope is… that he isn’t any more patient than I am!!!

            It is okay to fish half the night for crappie or walleye and sleep late in the morning during the turkey season.  Turkey hunting at mid-day can be great.  One of the things that makes me all bleary-eyed and haggard this time of year is the fact that fishing for crappie and walleye under the lights at night is often at it’s very best during turkey season.  Besides exercise, us grizzled old veteran outdoorsmen need a little sleep. 

            We have received lots of orders for my new book, and the spring issue of our outdoor magazine will be printed in only a few days.  If you want to find out more about either, you can call my executive secretary, Ms. Wiggins and have her put you in touch with me. Ms. Wiggins has been a little sick this week from eating too many of those big red beefsteak mushrooms.   The phone number is 417 777 5227.  Email address..   and mail address is Box 22, Bolivar, MO. 65613

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good point! There's nothing more frustrating than walking an hour before daylight only to have some lazy putz motor right into a roost on his ATV. When will these guys ever learn you can't make all that noise and expect to have success?