My first turkey hunt of the season is in the books, but no breasts are in the freezer. Let’s just say the birds flipped me the bird in South Carolina.
It was my first time chasing Southern swamp gobblers. I joined several other NAHC Life Members with the rock-solid guides at Bang’s Paradise Valley Hunting Club, situated near the small town of Ehrhardt. It’s a place where there are undoubtedly more turkeys per square mile than humans, and if anyone knows how to collect beards from these birds, it’s the guys at Bang’s.
Owner Tom Collins (pictured above) and his crew of dedicated guides live for longbeards during the spring, while supplementing their hunting addicition—and booming business—with wild hogs and whitetails the rest of the year. They’ll smoke an occasional snake if it gets in their way, too. Thankfully for my snake-hating self, the slithering suckers were kept at bay because of poor weather. On that same note, the gobblers were hunkered down for the most part, too.
I didn’t hear a single gobble in 4 days. But it wasn’t because we were too busy sipping moonshine.
Tom sent me to time-tested hotspots, including one of his “personal honey-holes.” (Had I not been able to spend time in camp with Tom to realize he’s a salt-of-the-earth guy, I might have thought he was blowing smoke up my backside.) Some of the other hunters in camp had decent action, but it seemed that no matter where I went, the birds were on lockdown. It was probably a combination of the cold temps, wind and rain. And the gobblers that were seeking love likely had plenty of hot hens to keep them busy.
So, what’s a turkey hunter to do when strutters aren’t strutting or rattling ribs with gobbles? I want you to comment with your advice below, but I’ll tell you what we tried.
I hunted with two different guides—both avid turkey hunters, one more than the other. Our strategy was to stalk as much ground as possible to try and put a bead on birds before they could spot us. Up until the final day, we walked and called lightly. Then, when it came down to the wire during the final morning of my hunt, one of the more experienced guides and I tag-teamed a ridgeline above a swamp and wailed into the woods with every call we had. Part of this tactic involved spreading out and calling back and forth to one another to make the gobblers think the woods were infiltrated with sassy hens. This is a technique that has worked for both of us in the past, but on this particular day, the tight-lipped toms didn’t want to talk.
In the final minutes of our hunt, we bumped a tom. He disappeared behind a bush in an instant. I leaned up against a tree, readied my Remington and prepared to put the red dot of my EOTech XPS2 on his brain when he stepped out. Unexpectedly, three hens appeared. He’ll be right behind them, I thought. But, like wise gobblers do, he vanished without a trace.
Because we were walking and talking like turkeys, we were able to get within range of the birds. Had we been stomping around like hasty humans, they would’ve buggered out long before we could’ve crept into their comfort zone. That henned-up gobbler saw his life flash before his eyes … but he’s still out there strutting his stuff.
Next, I’m off to Winnebago Indian Reservation in northeastern Nebraska where Lowcountry longbeards will continue to haunt my memories.
You can read the full story from my South Carolina turkey hunt in a future issue of North American Hunter. In the meantime, keep following my blog as spring turkey season unfolds.
Walking, calling and glassing can be deadly when birds are on lockdown.