In addition to making for a more enjoyable turkey hunt, having a partner along can sometimes mean the difference between success and failure.
Part of being a consistently successful turkey hunter involves knowing how to react to just about anything. Some days it seems like nothing works, and others, they happen too fast. Such was the case for a turkey I dubbed “Drive-by.”
I spotted him while driving from one location to another, pulled quickly to the roadside, grabbed my turkey tack and raced for the corner of a small field I knew lay just ahead through the woods. There, I barely had time to plop down, pop in a diaphragm and throw a few quick yelps, which were answered almost immediately, and from a short distance away by a booming gobble. Up went my trusty Mossberg and one more yelp elicited a triple gobble from just over the rise. Five long seconds later the bird was in view, then in my sights, then on the ground. I pumped my fist in exaltation and looked around. That’s when an eerie feeling came over me. The thrill of the moment faded very quickly with the sudden realization there was no-one to share it with. I was alone.
As a youngster, I mostly hunted alone. There weren’t many others around who hunted turkeys, and it suited my ad-lib, run and gun style. Then I started guiding, and most of my clients were first-timers. At first it seemed a chore, hunting with a “dependent.” But any sacrifices made were soon more than compensated for by witnessing the excitement as someone killed their first turkey. I quickly found that having someone along to share the experience more than doubled the pleasure. In time I even learned there were occasions when it was advantageous to hunt with a partner. Let me give you a few examples.
There are some distinct tactical advantages to pairing up. At the simplest level, it affords an extra set of hands. Most friction calls require two hands to operate. That means the solo hunter must decide when to lay down their call and pick their gun: too soon and the bird loses interest and wanders off, too late and you either get pinned down without a gun or booger the bird trying to pick it up. Pair up and one person can always be ready to shoot.
Teaming up also allows you a classic tactic for stubborn, hung up birds that are waiting for the hen to come to them. Leave the hunter in place, and have the caller slowly, incrementally back off. That gives Old Tom the impression the hen has lost interest and is wandering off. Sometimes they just can’t stand it and will waltz right into the shooter’s lap.
Even when they approach more willingly, turkeys have an incredible knack for coming on the wrong side. You’ll never beat them on the draw, but having two shooters significantly increases your field of fire.
It also allows for the possibility of doubling up. There’s no loyalty among turkeys subordinate birds will often linger to trounce their fallen comrade, a fatal mistake if there are two hunters.
A Second Opinion
Another important trait of consistently successful turkey hunters is confidence. After more than 40 years of making mistakes, I’m finally starting to feel confident about how to approach most situations. But every once in a while, however, I get flat-out stumped and my confidence abandons me.
The solution came to me one day while hunting with another veteran of the turkey woods. We were both used to taking less experienced hunters afield so the first morning was a bit awkward as each of us struggled to be polite but not overbearing, while still trying to make the right moves. We quickly realized that our thought processes and hunting styles were eerily similar. By the second day, communication was scarce as we were practically reading each other’s mind. And when we were both stumped, we stopped and shared thoughts. Having the second opinion of a veteran gave us both more confidence. Even when you think you know the right move, sometimes it’s nice to have someone else to bounce the idea off. They may have a better idea. If they don’t, and the plan fails, you can always blame the other guy for agreeing with you.
I still recall quite vividly my first bird. It’s a memory I cherish to this day, but it pales in comparison to the experience of watching my children take their first turkeys. The future of hunting depends on re-filling the ranks, something that has become increasingly more difficult to do. As previously mentioned, I’ve found immense pleasure in guiding and teaching other hunters. As a parent, I found it particularly rewarding passing the hunting tradition on to my kids. If you’re an experienced hunter and you’re not mentoring someone, you should be, whether it’s your own kids, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or merely some child who lacks the benefit of a family member to introduce them. It could even be another adult that just never found their way into the great outdoors.
It might seem like an inconvenience, and infringement on your scarce and valuable hunting time. I guarantee the reward will far outweigh the investment, particularly if you’ve been at this game for a while and some of the novelty has worn off. Hearing them hyperventilate, watching their chest heave then seeing the look on their face when they take their first bird helps rejuvenate your own hunting spirit.
I once read a study that found five principle reasons people hunt. They include, in no particular order, a taste for wild game, the challenge, a love for the outdoors, family tradition and camaraderie. Let’s face it, like turkeys, we are social animals. We enjoy the company of others, and being able to share particularly meaningful experiences only serves to make them that much more enjoyable and memorable whether we are successful or not, and sometimes particularly when we are not. Often the true measure of a successful hunt is not what we carry in our game pouch, but what we take home not in our minds and our hearts.