Lessons From a Turkey Hunting Guide

Our author spent three days with a seasoned turkey guide in the gobbler-rich habitat of Noxubee County, Miss. If you’d like to step up your springtime success, try the same.

Lessons From a Turkey Hunting Guide

Standing on a sandy dirt road bordered by teenage-pine plantations, Terry Knight quietly blows the inhaled smoke from his cigarette. In the distance, a great horned owl loudly calls out before retiring for the day. Instinctively Knight cocks his head slightly toward the pines to our right, knowing that a waking tom will often gobble to the owl’s hoots.

Dawn is one of two times in an entire day when nature’s night and day shifts cross paths. Soon the mid-morning sun will melt the shadows from the landscape, but here in the first light of daybreak the night’s noises reveal themselves for a brief period before returning to their den, hole or nest.

Somewhere in the thinned trees a suspicious tom is boiling over with primal energy, getting ready to let out the morning’s first gobble. Just then, the haunting sound thunders deep within the evergreen section of woods as the old turkey announces his presence to all the receptive hens within ear shot, and us.

Knight is a tall, 30-year-old Mississippi native who manages Lifetime Hunts. The lodge sits on a grassy hill off the gravel stretch of Pineywoods Road just outside of Macon, Miss. Since he was 15, Knight has guided turkey, deer and hog hunters on this 9,000-acre block of outdoor paradise. My job is simply to connect No. 6 shot Winchester pellets with the bright, red head of the first longbeard that steps within 40 yards. During this time I’ll leave my calls in my vest and observe a turkey hunter whose livelihood depends on success.

Next Bird, Please

This is prime breeding season for wild turkeys in the Deep South and no amount of dirty talk from Knight could coax the old tom our way. So we moved.

“Patience is the main thing,” explains Knight when asked what one element he incorporates into every turkey hunt. “That’s all it is—patience and luck.”

We were now on to plan B—staying in the field and listening for the next gobble. Luckily, this property is littered with mature toms. Several hundred yards ahead we stop at the edge of a hardwood bottom and a year-round slough (wet area with aquatic vegetation growing in and around it). Knight takes a knee in the trail and I follow suit.

“I prefer to let them gobble on their own,” says Knight. “I hate to call until I’m set up because a bird can come to where I’m yelping.” However, when the turkeys quit talking, he will resort to yelping in different locations to get a gobble.

Knight pulls a cigarette from his pack and lights it as we wait. This impromptu smoke break is part of the waiting game. Before he can crush the embers under his snake boots, a gobble sounds out from deep in the swampy hardwoods. We walk a side road that climbs a small ridge bordering the swamp and we stop on top in hopes that another gobble will help us pinpoint the bird’s location. Within minutes the bird sounds off, this time closer. We close the distance and Knight motions for me to sit against a white oak on top of the ridge.

Setup Number Two

Knight softly yelps with his mouth call. Ten minutes go by before he makes another sound, and then, only after the tom gobbles. This time he calls a little louder hoping that the distant bird will hear. “When I first started, I taught myself how to turkey hunt,” tells Knight. “I was real conscious about not calling too much. I usually let the bird do the thinking. If he’s gobbling a lot, you can fire off at him. If he gobbles every 35 to 40 minutes, then yelp to him every 35 to 40 minutes.”

Setup Number Three

Stubborn gobblers are only doing what nature has designed; being noisy and attracting hens to them. We were trying to lure the tom our way and that’s simply not natural. His gobbles remain in the same general area, so we relocate and close the distance. A short walk along the ridge road and we stop to listen again. A gobble booms from the bottom below. Caught off guard, Knight and I dive into the small pines to our right and hastily set up. Knight doesn’t call until the bird gobbles. Sticking with his philosophy of less calling, Knight yelps and clucks only to answer gobbles.

During a 25-minute standoff with the gobbler, we realize there are two toms answering. Twice, the birds gobble within 60 yards of us only to meander several hundred yards away. We’ve yet to see them because of the ridge’s steep drop into the swamp where the birds are. The second time they head the opposite way gobbling, we advance.

Setup Number Four

One hundred yards ahead, the road drops into the bottom and I set up against a mature pine with Knight 10 yards behind me. He lets out a couple clucks followed by soft yelps so the toms will answer, letting us know their exact location. The birds respond 200 yards away just out of sight in the flat, open bottom. I point my Remington 11-87 in that direction and slump into the trunk.

Knight told me the most common mistake clients make is not being ready when the bird arrives. “Once you see the bird, you better be where you need to be, safety off and gun shouldered,” added Knight.

I see a head bob 100 yards out. Then another head slips among the trees. The birds were angling to the road to my right. At 75 yards I see the beard swinging on the lead bird as I shift my gun to the right. Both toms break into full strut once they hit the ATV road, with a hollow drumming sound clearly audible.

Then I catch sight of another longbeard to my left, heading straight toward the other two birds. He was followed by two more just like him. When the group convened in the road, they all went into strut. Knight let out a quick cut and all five birds gobbled in unison. I could hear their feathers ruffle during the vocal explosion.

That was all it took as the five mature toms started in a single-file line down the road toward us. My heart raced as their bright red heads glowed against the backdrop of dull-brown forest. The first tom passes my shotgun bead, then the second and third do the same. I take deliberate aim on the fourth gobbler as he clears a large pine. Bead steadied on the base of his neck, I squeeze the trigger. At the blast the bird flies 10 feet up and lands right back where he stood—clearly unharmed. Without hesitation, I line up again and squeeze. This time at the crack of the blast his head slams into the pine needles at his feet. Three of the gobblers fly in separate directions as the fourth circles his fallen brother, getting ready to pounce. Eventually, he too dissolves into the forest.

Knight’s experience in the Noxubee River bottoms of east-central Mississippi put us less than 30 yards from five wary, Southern long beards on our first morning. It took 3 ½ hours and a lot of muddy mile to pull off the trickery, but steady patience and turkey observation put us directly in the path of success. For the next two days I lay miles of footprints in the Mississippi muck chasing turkeys with Knight. I witnessed Knight call in a tom for another hunter on the trip, which was just as enjoyable as me pulling the trigger. No matter how many turkeys gave us the runaround, patience prevailed and he never let his frustration get the best of him.

I was able to store away a few new tricks for the remaining turkey season back home in Alabama. Perhaps the one I’ll practice the most in the coming days will be patience. I wonder if taking up smoking will help with that.

Go Hunting In Mississippi

Lifetime Hunts is located several miles outside of Macon, Miss. The contiguous 9,000-acre block of land consists of bass lakes, agricultural-river bottom, vast hardwood swamps, cutovers and planted pines. The varied habitat and the fertile 12-mile stretch of Noxubee River combine to produce a thriving turkey population as well as whitetail deer and hogs. The entire property is intensely managed to benefit the wildlife and make your hunting experience enjoyable and successful.

All hunts are fully guided and guests stay in a spacious four-bedroom house with full kitchen and baths. During the morning you’ll sit down to a large Southern breakfast complete with sausage biscuits, ham and sweet tea. For dinner, I suggest you request the chicken and dumplings.

If you’d like to gain an education in turkey hunting, then I highly recommend you spend three days with Terry Knight or any of the guides at Lifetime Hunts. For more information or to book your next hunt, visit www.lifetimehuntsllc.com or call (662) 726-9223.

For more information on hunting and fishing in Mississippi, visit www.visitmississippi.org.


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