Turkey Hunting Should Be A Solitary Experience
By Stu Bristol

"What's so hard about turkey hunting?" asked the guy across the table from me at a recent rod and gun club meeting. "I know three or four guys that just went out and shot one and were back in time to go to work." Birds are everywhere, or so they seem to be, when you drive around in late winter and see flocks of twenty or more on a farmer's manure pile. So, how can it be that much of a chore to bag a gobbler in Maine?

We all know at least one person at work or in the family that has taken a deer, bear, moose or turkey without much effort. He or she either tripped and crashed into the woods, was rummaging around in a backpack for food or doing something other than paying attention, and the deer, bear, moose or turkey just walked right up and said, "Shoot me!"

I really feel badly for those individuals who have had such an experience. As many times during my life that I begged and pleaded for some higher authority to help me fill a tag, what I've learned to appreciate over those same years is that the words, "difficult" and "solitary" are central to any form of hunting experience.

As a professional writer, I despise the word, "hard." It has to be the most misused word in the English language and because it is so widely misused, I wouldn't be surprised if the keepers of the words recognized the misunderstood meaning, just as they recently did with the word, "ain't." "Hard" was originally coined to describe the surface of a rock or something that causes people pain when they bang a head against it.

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The Webster dictionary meaning is "firm and unyielding to the touch." "Difficult," is defined as, "requiring extra effort, skill or thought." Hunting wild turkeys certainly fits the latter definition and requires a great deal of extra effort, skill and thought.

As for the word, "solitary," most people understand the correct form but few understand the importance I place on it pertaining to hunting. From where I sit, hunters of all levels of experience should enjoy the company of friends when learning the sport.

They should gather together often to discuss the sport, should set up plans to scout for turkeys and share information and techniques, but when it comes time to don the camouflage and head into the turkey woods, each serious turkey hunter should transform into a lone wolf.

The basics of wild turkey hunting can be picked up through books and audio and video tapes. Even better, new hunters should attend clinics, schools and seminars and I encourage hunters to practice mentoring and take new hunters into the woods and pass on techniques and information.

On scouting trips I go out of my way to come in contact with other hunters. I stop and make conversation and share flock locations and offer to trade off hunting days so as to minimize the interference factor. Those other hunters are friends, not the enemy.

The first person to drive home the importance of hunting alone was Ben Lee, from Alabama and one of the early pioneers in wild turkey hunting. He had the greatest sense of humor of anyone I'd ever met. He weighed nearly 400 pounds at the time so his attractiveness to women always baffled me. He always tied his love for females with turkey hunting.

"Stu," he'd say in an unmistakable southern accent, "teaching a man to turkey hunt is like teaching him how to make love to his girlfriend. Now how many times do I have to show you before you get out of the way?"

The challenge of turkey hunting was very important to Ben Lee and my other southern mentors. Turkey hunting was more of a game to them, even more than for food. The ultimate would be for Ben or Roger or Dave to go into a patch of piney woods and come back with that one stubborn gobbler the other hunting buddy couldn't make a move on.

After a few years of serious turkey hunting you should be able to recognize the voice difference between an adult gobbler and a juvenile. The juveniles almost always yelp a time or two on either side of the gobble. The mature birds have an echo to their gobble and the hair on the back of your neck sticks up with excitement.

These pages could be filled with hundreds of words of instruction dealing with finding, calling and bagging wild turkeys but, if you will open your mind to understand the difference between the words, "hard" and "difficult" and embrace the "solitary" hunting lifestyle, your experiences will be all the more rewarding.

Stu Bristol is full time freelance outdoor writer and the author of two books on wild turkey hunting. He is considered to be one of the pioneers of wild turkey restoration and hunting in New England.

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