Webster’s dictionary defines passage as “the act of moving from one place to another or changing from one condition to another. A voyage; a way by which one passes.”
I would say the journey I took from turkey hunting neophyte to at least having some sense of what to do was much like a voyage. If it was a voyage, it started out on stormy seas with no lifeboat on board.
After reading everything I could find on turkey hunting, I was still unsure what to do or when to do it. I had spent most of my life in the woods, so this sense of not knowing what to do was strange and even more, not welcome.
My first recollection of a turkey hunt took place many years ago and looking back, should have been my first kill. I knew to go to the woods before daylight and hoot like an owl. Thank goodness a turkey gobbled before I had to attempt a hoot. The gobbler was roosted over a creek and gobbled many times on his own. I sat down on the creek bank and pulled out my Lynch jet slate. A tiny little call that made tiny little yelps. I had practiced for about a thousand hours and had a handle on how to do that. I scratched out a yelp and the turkey gobbled. Pure shock, and then adrenaline kicked in. I called again and again and he answered each call. This literally went on until my right hand cramped from calling so much. I don’t know how many times I called and he gobbled but it had to be over a hundred. I know now this was a red-hot two year old. Despite my best efforts on the jet slate, he simply didn’t want to fly the creek. All I needed to do was shut up, wade the tiny creek and call from the other side. For me that was the beginning of earning passage to becoming a turkey hunter.
It’s a shame there is not an accredited school you can attend to learn some of the ins and outs that go along with this great activity. It would have certainly saved many people some embarrassing moments. It probably would not have been as much fun as getting your knots the old fashion way.
My second hard lesson came from a veteran hunter who took it upon himself to show me a few tricks. I was slow to open up to this guy with some of the blunders I had made. I felt like he would use this information as joke fodder with some of the local hunters. He managed to keep most of them to himself and finally invited me to go along with him. Our hunt started out like a classic turkey hunt. We spent some time at the truck stop talking with other hunters. They sipped coffee and looked at their watches while I smiled and acted like I was one of the guys.
We left the truck stop and headed to his private ground. On the way he told me how important it was to keep your mouth shut when it comes to the location of gobbling turkeys. The look he gave me let me know he wasn’t kidding. I assured him I wouldn’t tell a soul where we hunted. We made our way through the seven cattle gaps I had to open and finally arrived at the spot. When we got out of the truck two turkeys were gobbling. We had to sprint to get across the wide-open field before the break of day gave us away. We entered the woods and stopped to listen. One gobbler was close but there was a huge gully between him and us. The veteran hunter said, “you’re gonna have to climb down into the gully and up the other side. I’ll stay over here and call.”
I basically fell the first 15 feet into the gully and managed to lower myself slowly the rest of the way. I climbed up the other side and sat down muddy, wet and out of breath. Sure enough my guru of a guide called the gobbler right in to me. My heart pounded when I saw his fan. I don’t even remember pulling the trigger but my first gobbler was in my hands.
When I started back to my new hunting buddy with gobbler in hand he said, “go around to the right there and you can dodge that big hole you climbed in.” Sure enough the gully came to a head no more than thirty yards from where I had climbed down. He smiled and said, “Hell it would have been too easy for your first turkey if you’d just sat down.” He made me climb through that gully just so I would have to earn that gobbler. At the time I didn’t even care. Heck, I would have done a lot more than that to finally kill a gobbler.
It took another season or two to earn passage and since that time, I have helped many other beginners earn theirs. Today, anytime I take a new hunter along, I always start by making them recite the turkey hunter’s oath. First, you should have them do this in front of other people. If you’re hunting alone, make them do it at a convenience store or truck stop. It’s more fun if other people are watching. Have them face the east; put their hand over their heart and say, “yea though I walk through the valley of the cane break rattler, I will fear no evil, for I am a turkey hunter of the highest ethics. Lord give me the strength and knowledge to bag a big tom before some minus hunter plucks him from me.”
This is a great way to start passage with a new hunter and will always get some laughs. I personally have had some great hunts after reciting this myself. At this point in time, I can’t even remember how many people I have taken on their first turkey hunt. Introducing someone to this great experience is by far the most fun and certainly the most rewarding part of turkey hunting.