David Owens from Acworth, Georgia, is the 2018 National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) Grand National Senior Open Division turkey-calling champion. In 2017, he completed an almost unbelievable feat by completing the U.S. Super Slam of wild turkeys, taking 49 gobblers in the 49 states with 90 percent of those birds harvested on public lands. Owens started hunting turkeys when he was 13 and has been hunting them for 20 years. He’s only been entering turkey-calling contests for six years. A Mossy Oak ProStaffer for four years, Owens prefers wearing Mossy Oak Bottomland for his early-season hunting and Mossy Oak Obsession for hunting late-season turkeys.
Dave Owens | Mossy Oak ProStaff
3 Months of Turkey Hunting
Friends of mine and people I meet who know how I hunt, how many states I hunt, and that I hunt turkeys for three months out of the year wonder how many turkeys I take. My standard answer is, “not enough.” I always want to harvest one more turkey. However, my view of turkey hunting is not about how many turkeys I take each season. If I keep up with the number of turkeys I take each year, that’s like chest beating and making the sport not what I want it to be for me. I really believe that a turkey hunter who becomes all wrapped up in the number of birds he's taken is probably hunting turkeys for the wrong reason. To be real honest, I don’t know how many turkeys I've taken over the years. That’s never been important to me. I think one reason that people get caught up in the number of gobblers they’ve harvested is to try to measure themselves and their turkey-hunting ability against another turkey hunter.
Every day I turkey hunt is a blessing, an opportunity to learn, a chance to interact with a wild turkey and a way to experience new places and different birds. That’s enough for me. I don’t measure success or failure by whether or not I take a turkey. At the end of the day, if I know I’ve done the best I can, then most of the time it’s a successful outing.
I've really got a great working situation. My cousin owns a pest control company. For 9 months out of the year, I more or less run the business for him and pick up his slack. So in return, he's willing to pick up my slack and take over my responsibilities for three months out of the year in the spring.
The reason I hunt public lands is because I’m not handcuffed to one piece of property. Another factor is that turkeys haven’t experienced a lot of pressure. Yes, you will encounter a few gobblers that have had some hunting pressure, and they may act a little bit differently than turkeys that haven’t had any hunting pressure. But, when you take one of those gobblers, the success is much greater than when you take a turkey that’s rarely if ever heard a turkey call before. The more land you have to hunt, the better your odds are for being able to create a dialogue with either a gobbler or a hen.
Many turkey hunters define success by hearing the blasts from their shotguns, but I don’t believe that. At least for me, that doesn’t define a successful turkey hunt. First of all, I believe hunters should have fun and enjoy the sport of turkey hunting. I feel like any hunter who gets the opportunity to interact with a wild turkey has been given a gift. Remember, the turkey is supposed to beat you. That’s the way he survives. So, don’t be upset or disappointed when you go home with an empty turkey vest. Take all those defeats with a smile, especially if you’ve learned something about turkey hunting. When the turkey wins, that’s a gift for the turkey and a gift for you. You’ve had the opportunity to talk with that wild turkey, and he’s had the chance to talk with you. That’s a major win anytime you go turkey hunting.
The Importance of GPS
GPS can keep your butt out of a lot of trouble. Since most cell phones have very accurate GPS receivers built in to them, hand-held GPS receivers are becoming a thing of the past. I have apps with different types of maps on them on my cell phone. I really like to get topo maps on my cell phone. The Navionics maps enable me to make sure I'm staying on the property I'm supposed to be on when I'm hunting. The Navionics app also has a fairly good topo map section on it. I also have a hand-held Garmin GPS with Base Camp software on it. This way, you can download the maps of specific public lands that you want to hunt. Because those maps can be saved in your GPS, if you are hunting in a place where you don’t have cell phone service, those maps can keep you on the property you’re supposed to hunt and show you how to get back to your starting point.
Even though the GPS on most cell phones are extremely accurate, and they have plenty of good mapping apps, I never suggest that anyone strictly use the GPS on a cell phone, especially when hunting property you’ve never hunted before. I think you always need a hand-held GPS with the maps that you need and are going to use stored in the memory of that GPS. Then you always can get to where you want to go to look for turkeys and get back to your starting point, whether you have cell phone service or not. Yes, you can still cache a lot of maps on your cell phone. If you know you're going to be hunting in an area where you can get cell phone service, you can still use those maps. But sometimes you may have to change where you're hunting from where you were planning to hunt, and one of the advantages of a hand-held GPS receiver is that you can download entire state maps and other information that can prevent you from getting lost and not knowing how to get back to camp.
The first year I went to the Big Cypress National Preserve in south Florida, I was hunting about 700,000 acres. That’s a lot of land to get lost in, and we stayed quite lost for about half a day. That was back before hand-held GPS receivers and cell phones had GPS. But luckily, we came across another hunter who directed us to a four-wheeler trail that eventually led us back to our vehicle.
I used to get lost back home quite a number of days when I was younger and didn’t really pay attention to where I was going or from where I’d come. So, I advise anybody who’s hunting any public land for the first time or any private lands to have good maps of the land you’ll be hunting on your cell phone and on a quality hand-held GPS receiver. You should know how to use both these navigation devices. And, regardless of where I'm hunting, I always keep plenty of snack food and water with me. If you're walking a lot, staying hydrated is very important to not only your success but to your enjoyment of the hunt.
Turkey Hunting Gear
I build my own diaphragm calls, because I like to build calls that will be consistently the same, and I like to tinker with different types of materials and various amounts of stretching the diaphragms. When I'm going hunting, I’ll usually have four or five different diaphragm calls in my turkey vest. The pot call I use is built by Jimmy Schaffer of Oak Ridge Custom Calls, and I also have a Pollard’s Elite crystal pot call that a friend of mine gave me. I’ll usually have a slate-surfaced pot made by Lonnie Mabry too.
Since last turkey season, I've started wearing some more aggressive hiking boots made by a company called Crispi. I shoot a Franchi Affinity 3-inch, 20-gauge shotgun. I can put that 20-gauge on my back and not even know I'm carrying a shotgun until I need it. I use a Trulock choke. This gun will harvest a bird farther than anyone really needs to shoot a turkey, but I draw the line at 40 yards.
I hand load my shells and use Tungsten Super Shot (TSS). Federal Premium Ammunition and Apex Ammunition are making it now. I like carrying a gun that weighs less than six pounds, but I don’t want to sacrifice the ability to harvest a turkey quickly and efficiently. I know with that 20-gauge shotgun, I can have a very effective pattern and plenty of knock-down power, and I can hit the bird harder and better with the reloaded shells than any commercially loaded 20-gauge shell.
When I'm hunting, my binoculars are invaluable. I use Vanguard Endeavor 10x42 that have great light-gathering ability and really perform well for me. I’ll have them around my neck, regardless of the type terrain where I'm hunting. I'm really rough on binoculars. I've crawled with them under me, and I’ve knocked the eye cups off them, but these binoculars have been phenomenal binoculars.
I know that some people may not approve of crawling on turkeys, especially on public lands. But many times, I've found that getting that extra 5-10 yards closer to the turkey I'm trying to take is often the difference in taking him or not taking him. Your odds are greater for taking that turkey if he has less distance to travel to get to you. So, I do what I have to do to get close to a gobbler I'm trying to take.
I prefer not to use decoys and blinds. Those hunting aids change the nature of the game of turkey hunting for me, and I don’t like the way that the blinds and the decoys change the way I like to turkey hunt. I'm not against anybody using anything that’s legal to turkey hunt with, but blinds and decoys are just not the way I like to turkey hunt. When I’ve taken a turkey using a blind and decoys, it just didn’t feel right to me. So, I’ve just decided not to use them.
There are many turkey hunting gear options, turkey call varieties and new turkey vests for the season. There’s gear to fit whatever style of turkey hunting you prefer. Just get out there and enjoy yourself this spring.