Provided by Brent Rogers
Gloria Exercitus; it is the motto of the famed Roman Legions. It translates to ‘Glory of the Army,’ and captures the spirit of celebration and allegiance for those who are committed to a common cause. Colonel Tom Kelly’s Tenth Legion is the battle cry for the army of turkey hunters who take to American woods and fields each year. We form up and answer our own unique bugle call, the thundering gobble of the wild turkey!
Having authored more than two dozen books on wild turkeys over many decades…and with another book reportedly underway, Kelly is full of stories he is yet eager to tell. At 94 years young, he gives us hope, that at his age we’ll still be in the spring woods to feel the rush of a gobble at dawn. His iconic quote from Tenth Legion captures our devotion to that which we love: “The first turkey that ever came to me on the ground did it a long time ago. I sat there with my hands shaking and my breath short and my heart hammering so hard I could not understand why he could not hear it. The last turkey that came to me last spring had exactly the same effect, and the day that this does not happen to me is the day that I quit.”
Kelly’s reverence for the wild turkey, and his capture of who we are, as turkey hunters, was fostered in living through
“the dark period” as he calls it, for the wild turkey. He harvested his first turkey in 1938, at a time when turkeys were extremely scarce, and turkey hunters were akin to a secret society. Kelly’s life experiences further “qualify the witness” as the classic turkey hunting author Henry Davis once said, to write this enduring book. Kelly served with the Navy during WWII, was called up again in the Korean war, and retired from the US Army as a Colonel. He received a Forestry degree from Auburn University, and as a forester and hunter, literally spent his life living with wild turkeys. Tom often wrote short stories about wild turkeys and turkey hunting, and his wife, Helen, suggested that he put those ideas into a book. In 1973, he did just that, and self-published what has become known as the ‘Bible of Wild Turkey Hunting,’ Tenth Legion. It is turkey hunting’s best seller, with over 10,000 copies sold…and still going strong!
Long considered the greatest book on turkey hunting, my recommendation is merely one amongst a score of tributes for this turkey hunting manifesto. And that is exactly what the book is! Kelly picks up the pen and proclaims a turkey hunter’s motivations and identity. He establishes our discipline, attention to detail, regard for strategy and tactics, and our disregard for personal comfort. His words give reason to why we are emotionally invested and physically committed to match ourselves against such an adversary, despite the sacrifices we must make. Through it all, he venerates the wild turkey as a foe of incredible worth and ability. “He is utterly and wholly suspicious of everything and everybody,” Kelly relates of crafty gobblers. “Not only does he hold all the good cards, he can read the backs of yours.” There are laugh out loud moments in his masterful stories, and at times will cause you to shake your head, sharing in his misery, knowing it all too well. And yet, we crave more of those fleeting moments of victory and defeat. As Kelly says “We hunt turkeys because we have to.”
Turkey hunting, for the faithful, becomes a lifestyle. It brings a joy we can’t obtain in any other pursuit. We make life choices around turkey hunting, we think about turkeys while we are not hunting, and we love to hear and tell turkey hunting tales. When you go to the woods this spring, stick a copy of Tenth Legion in your vest or bag. When you stop to grab a bite, or after you bag your bird, pull out the book and treat yourself to a few pages of our sacred text. You are a soldier of the Tenth; Gloria Exercitus!
Tenth Legion, and Kelly’s other turkey hunting books are available at www.tomkellyinc.net