The Tennessee Valley of North Alabama may not have as many turkeys as some other regions of the state, but the flock has grown a great deal over the years and now offers some outstanding hunting opportunity.
Terry Goldsby of Madison County has seen the growth of turkeys — and the popularity of turkey hunting — first-hand in this region. He’s been hunting North Alabama since 1977 and has enjoyed very good success in the area.
The turkeys of the Tennessee Valley figured prominently in his bid last year for a single season “Grand Slam,” which he was able to achieve. But he got a little nervous about the home turkeys. He had his other three species under his belt and still hadn’t taken an Eastern as the final week of the season approached.
But the hunting broke loose and he was able to take three Eastern gobblers in the last week of the season to complete the slam.
Let’s join Goldsby as he talks about what Tennessee Valley turkey hunting was and what it has grown into.
Back In The Day
Goldsby’s first-ever turkey hunt was back in the spring of 1977 on what was then called the Waterloo Management Area. Today it is the Lauderdale Wildlife Management Area.
“I worked for TVA in Muscle Shoals at that time,” he said. “It was an easy drive for me. I roosted a bird on that first hunt and, believe it or not, I killed a turkey on the very first morning I ever turkey hunted.”
He was hooked at that point. He’d prepared for the hunt by purchasing a Roger Latham box call that he still carries and uses regularly today. (Cont.)
“I think I paid $7 for it at whatever store was comparable to Wal-Mart at that time,” he said. “I’ve gotten my money’s worth out of that call, for sure.”
He also purchased one of the old Johnny Stewart game call records to learn how to use the call.
“I hunted the Lauderdale area for two or three seasons, and then they closed it to turkey hunting,” Goldsby said. “The turkey population got real low. It wasn’t because of me. The turkeys worked on me. I didn’t work on them.”
Needing a new place to hunt after that, he migrated to the Bankhead National Forest, which also includes the Black Warrior WMA.
“I hunted the Bankhead hard for about five years,” Goldsby said. “I would drive from Muscle Shoals to hunt. I think I killed two birds during that stretch.”
Technically, he said, the Bankhead contains the Tennessee Valley Divide. Some creeks flow to the Tennessee drainage and some flow to the Warrior.
“I’m sure I hunted some long ridges with one side that was in the Tennessee Valley, while the other was in the Warrior,” he said.
Black Warrior turkeys have a reputation as being hush-mouthed or call-shy and Goldsby saw some of that even way back in the 1970s.
“When one gobbled, you could hear it a long way off,” he said. “But it could be very difficult to get to it.”
He thinks the turkeys act a little differently on Bankhead because they’re descended from the original birds that inhabited North Alabama.
“This is a population that was never extirpated,” he said. “A few hunters were killing turkeys here back in the 1920s and 1930s when they weren’t killing them many other places. The same is true for the mountains where I live in New Market in Madison County. There were always a few turkeys around there, too.”
In the 1980s, Goldsby moved to Marshall County to start his business, Aquaservices, which specializes in treating problem aquatic vegetation in both public and private waters, as well as managing fishing lakes. He leased a farm on Yellow Creek near the South Sauty community of Marshall County and had a fine time hunting turkeys there.
“My brother, Stewart, and I killed a lot of turkeys on that property,” Goldsby said. “It was good.”
The switch from public land to private land was such a good one for Goldsby that he still does most of his hunting on private land today. He leases a number of hunting locations in Marshall, Madison and Jackson counties especially for spring gobbler hunting.
He still has the Marshall County lease on Yellow Creek, but it’s not what it once was.
“There aren’t a lot of turkeys on that property today,” Goldsby said. “Something changed. I don’t know if it was poaching or predators or whether the turkeys just changed their patterns, but it changed. That’s something that happens from time to time, and we hunters have to adjust.”
Turkey Land Is New Challenge
One of the big challenges for an aspiring turkey hunter in the Tennessee Valley these days is just finding a place to hunt. More and more people are hunting now than when Goldsby first started, and there’s more competition for the prime spots.
Goldsby has a few farms in Jackson County and a few in Madison County where he’s found turkeys and made arrangements for exclusive hunting rights. He always has his eye open for a new place to hunt turkeys.
“Turkeys can’t take a lot of pressure,” he noted.
In the northern end of the state, it’s a big-time problem for small hunting clubs with a few hundred acres and a lot of members who either turkey hunt or want to learn the sport.
That’s why most serious turkey hunters chose to either hunt on the big WMAs and learn to deal with pressure, or make arrangements for private lands like Goldsby has. One advantage to hunting the WMAs is that there are thousands and thousands of acres to roam.
An 800-acre deer club that supports five to 10 deer hunters gets real small in a hurry when more than one or two people are chasing the turkeys on it.
Goldsby is not bashful about approaching people if he thinks it will lead to a new turkey hotspot.
“I don’t mind stopping and asking someone about hunting if I see turkeys on a place,” he said. “You never know what might happen. I got told no three times just this past spring. But I also found that place where I killed the three turkeys the last week of sea
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