Donald Devereaux Jarrett | Mossy Oak Pro Staff
“Turkey hunting? You have lost your mind!” I remember saying. That was the response I gave to my longtime friend Cal Marsh over three decades ago when he suggested we go turkey hunting. He had been a few times before he made that suggestion, but I had never hunted anything in the spring woods except a place to fish or, on occasion, an errant golf ball. Springtime was reserved for bass fishing or whatever else I was inclined to do, but turkey hunting had never crossed my mind.
And so it was for the next two years. Cal persisted and, eventually, I relented. That decision changed my life. I had no idea what I was doing or what I was about to get into, but I can say without reservation, that I have never regretted it. Getting into turkey hunting was just the beginning for me. It took years to come full circle and I soon realized that there was a whole lot more to turkey hunting than just pulling the trigger. If you are new to turkey hunting or you are just about to step into the spring woods for the first time, there are some things you need to know. Maybe the things I share with you here will be of help to you at some point.
I mentioned that I was shoved into turkey hunting by a good friend. That’s not entirely true, but for a little while it was. At times, it was aggravating the way he went about trying to convince me that I needed to do it. I think that I rounded the corner, in terms of interest, when he gave me a book to read on turkey hunting. “I want it back when you are done” he said. I was willing to give it back right then, but he insisted I read it before I did. It collected dust for a bit before I picked it up one day and decided to see what was in there. It was a revelation. I couldn’t put it down. I finished it a few days later and I went from completely uninterested to finding myself needing to find another book or a magazine; anything with a picture of a turkey on it or anything that had the word turkey written between its covers. From that point on, the fire began to burn. It has never come close to burning out.
The beginning, for me, didn’t start in the woods, it started with the desire to go. In retrospect, there were literally endless things I could have done to better prepare myself for my first turkey season. If you have the opportunity to bend the ear of a seasoned, turkey hunting veteran, I highly recommend that you do so. I didn’t have that option. Oh I knew a few, but they held on to the turkey knowledge with the grip of a Pitbull and showed no evidence that they were willing to share any of it. But I had videos, books, magazines, and the woods to learn in. I think the most valuable thing I had at my disposal, though, was a friend who was willing to share what he knew and the desire to learn what we could together. He was green but I was greener. I think you will agree, in time, that if there was ever a hunt that was meant to be shared, it is turkey hunting. Take advantage of whatever resources you have and just go.
When we started scouting, we dove off into every piece of ground we could find that even looked like a turkey might live in. Every track, any scratching, dropping or feather we came across got a high-five and when we heard or saw a bird, our reaction resembled the emotion of a lottery winner. Over the years, scouting became something we enjoyed as much as the hunt itself. We spent countless hours and walked endless miles before the season just trying to increase our chances. It was a walk in anticipation of the things we knew would eventually come. This was all we could do to prepare ourselves and we hoped, through a lot of work, we might be able to have some early success. We had heard the horror stories of people hunting for years before they ever had an opportunity to kill a turkey. The thought of that happening to us was a little intimidating but it made us keep our focus. When the day arrived to actually go to the turkey woods and hunt him, I felt confident enough to sit to a bird and have a conversation.
The first day my boots hit the dirt in the turkey woods began in a way that I couldn’t have planned any better. The first owl hoot I sent up the mountainside on that cold April morning must have landed squarely on top of the turkey’s head that immediately responded. He was joined right away by two others in two different directions. I raced toward the top of the ridge and 30 minutes later I was set up and ready to talk to the first turkey I had ever attempted to do so with. He was as hot as any bird I’ve heard since and I remember having some concern for his health when he was still gobbling, rarely pausing in between, over an hour after daylight.
I learned a lot on that hunt. Important things like, setting up on opposite mountain sides with a lake between you and a bird is not ideal. Things such as learning to forgive yourself for not turkey hunting before now was a necessity and that the need to realize that things were just going to be different from that moment on was just a fact.
Gearing up became a top priority after that first season. Nothing I had, in relation to turkey gear, seemed to be good enough. I needed a new gun, more calls and of course, the minute I laid my eyes on a set of Mossy Oak Bottomland camo, well, I had to have that too. Soon a vest purchase followed and within a few years I thought I had everything I would ever need to complete my turkey hunting arsenal. Looking back now, I believe I had everything I ever needed to begin with; I had the desire. The burn to do it. I do believe in the best tools I can get though, so every year, there is always something different, something I haven’t tried or just something I might need to replace. Sometimes my wants tend to bump my needs out of the way where turkey hunting is concerned. I still use the gun I bought between my first and second turkey season over three decades ago and when I do occasionally take another gun to the turkey woods, I feel like I am cheating on her. She has never let me down, but I have, on occasion, asked her to do something outside her capabilities. I know this though, she has always hit right where I told her to and when I missed the bird, she still hit the mark.
Years passed before I really began to fully understand that turkey hunting would never grow old. I would never tire of it, I would never give it up and I would never fully understand the creature that calls me, more than I will ever call it, to come back again. With each year, I crave it more, love it more and live it more. I can’t see it being any other way.There are many who have spent more years in the turkey woods than I have, who have put in more time than I have in the turkey woods, but I firmly believe not one of them has loved it more. I have over three decades of turkey hunting under my belt and hope to add a few more before it’s time for me to fly up. I have listened, watched, seen, practiced, written, guided, called, shot, missed, laughed, cried and anything else that makes up the ingredients of the turkey woods to me. Yet I know that there are things about a turkey season that I still haven’t experienced. When I started turkey hunting, I had no idea what I was getting into or where it would lead me.
I was eventually convinced that it was worth a try and I have no regrets. I have experienced things in life that I would not have, had it not been for turkey hunting. I have met some of the finest people in the country because of it. I have been overwhelmed and disappointed. I have been discouraged and overjoyed. I have seen turkeys do more than I ever thought they did and things I wasn’t aware were possible for them to do. I have learned that the best of the best still scratches in leaves and roosts on limbs and can hold a grown man’s attention from sun up to sundown, every day of the year.
I have watched other creatures of the turkey woods show themselves in the grandest of splendor in the spring of the year. I have heard tree frogs on a warm fall evening that hurled my mind backwards to a lonesome creek bottom in a spring of the seasons behind me. I have listened to barred owls jerk gobbles from turkeys that had no intention of doing so and I have likely spent hours of my life owling and gobbling on my own, or gobbling at every owl I hear, day or night, at any time of the year. Boy, the looks I get sometimes.
I have sat beside hunters in the spring of the year that, neither they nor I, knew would be their last season in the turkey woods. I have sheltered children from the elements and approaching gobbler eyes and shared some of the most glorious hunts I’ve ever been on with them. I have introduced many people to turkey hunting and have tried to always teach them what I believed to be the right way to do it. I have sat with friends that understood and I do believe I have shared a tree with The Master himself, many times over. He is always invited. I have seen some of the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets ever created and I believe some were created solely for my benefit.
Someday I hope you, too, will see that turkey hunting is more than just working a bird into the range of his demise. It’s up to us what we seek to learn about it and how we apply it. I have changed since those early days in the turkey woods as a turkey hunter, for the better, and I know that the things that keeps it fresh and new are the ingredients that make up the hunt. It might be a crisp April morning on a high ridge of the mountains of north Georgia with whippoorwills singing and magnolias in full bloom. It could be a wind-whipped prairie on a cottonwood river drainage in South Dakota or maybe a hickory hilltop in the northwestern farmlands of Missouri. Wherever it is, combined with a never-before-seen sunset, a lonely barred owl, tree frogs dragging their groans through a creek bottom or that first cardinal of the morning, they all belong. They all contribute to the memories that are waiting to happen in the spring turkey woods. When a gobbler arrives, anywhere within hearing distance, the hunt has been successful. When we take that gobbler home with us and we experience all the emotion, take home everything we have seen or heard and really appreciate it and understand it, we begin to see everything it is that makes up the broad perspective of turkey hunting.