Travails of tracking turkeys

Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.


I have mentioned in the past that hunting turkeys is the bane of my hunting prowess. Something about the big bird with a brain the size of a grain of sand somehow keeps me at bay.

Don’t get me wrong. I have had successful turkey hunts. That is, if you count being successful as seeing the bird and not taking the bird. And it is not always one thing about the bird that runs my hunt afoul. It is a multitude of things.

I mean, I was successfully calling several toms in from several hundred yards on one hunt. Little did I know a bobcat was also responding to my expert hen clucks and jake gobbles. The bobcat ended up getting closer than the turkeys did unfortunately. I never noticed the bobcat until I started trying to deduce why they henned up just out of reach of my bow.

Of course, that wasn’t the only time something like that happened. On another occasion I called three birds, two jakes and an old tom, in from behind the ground blind. They cut into the woods about 50 yards from where I was located but I had a feeling they would come down a wallowed-out trail to my right.

Sure enough, they did just that. I already had the bow pulled back as I waited for the tom to pass by the window when all three birds suddenly took flight. For about 10 seconds I wondered if they had caught sight of me or something. It was the 11th second that had me realize what it was that startled them. A black bear, easily four or five hundred pounds, walked through the same worn trail just a few feet from my blind. He didn’t mess with me; I didn’t mess with him. I thought that was fair.

On another occasion I clucked, I gobbled, I used an owl hoot and a crow’s beckon. Nothing was responding. I sat tight throughout the morning before deciding to try another area for the afternoon. I gathered most of my belongings and carried them to the truck.

Upon returning for my decoys and ground blind, I walked up on an old long beard. I’m not sure who startled who, as we both stood in place for a few seconds to try and figure out what to do. Well, the tom took off running after he got his wits about him leaving nothing but a cloud of dust. I on the other hand, grabbed the decoys and blind and mumbled some choice words on my short walk of shame back to the vehicle.

There are more stories just like these unfortunately. But I have accepted that it is what it is, and when the time is right, I will get my bird.

However, I was reminded this weekend just how cursed I am with the fan-tailed bearded ones.

I wasn’t hunting, but rather on an assignment. I had my camera in hand. I also had on a red pullover, wasn’t overly quiet, and had my dog with me on a leash. Then, out of nowhere, a tom stepped out into some tall grasses just a few yards from us. Why? How? This cannot be!

But it was. Just an old dumb bird that is supposed to be one of the most alert fellas in the forest. And he didn’t care we were there either. I got a few photos and we kept walking.

I must confess that this one occurrence would not have set my doubts and reminders of the past though. No, it takes two.

There it was, again. Another bird. We were probably a half mile from where we saw the other turkey. This time, the bird must have been 20 yards away at best. And likely he was just as dumb. Again, I got some photos and my dog and I continued our walk.

I guess if I cannot shoot them with a bow or shotgun, at least I can shoot them with the camera.

Bill Howard is an avid bowhunter and outdoorsman. He teaches hunter education (IHEA) and bowhunter education (IBEP) in North Carolina. He is a member of North Carolina Bowhunters Association and Pope & Young, and is an official measurer for both.