It was a long, cold 4-wheeler ride up the mountain, but the turkey started gobbling almost as soon as I turned off the ATV.
After ascending the mountain, the woods road followed a long, flat bench and was above where the turkey was hammering, still on the roost.
Slipping as close as I dared on foot, I thought I’d gotten too close and spooked the bird because I saw him as soon as he pitched out of the tree. He gobbled again on the ground and I did what all the old-timers said they used to do — yelp three times and wait.
Within five minutes, the turkey’s white head could be seen coming up the mountain, glowing like a softball. He was in half-strut when a 2-ounce load of No. 6 shot put him down.
That classic calling-a-bird-off-the roost hunt doesn’t happen for me a lot, but it happened a few years back on that Jackson County hunt. And, it illustrates just how good the turkey hunting can be in the mountains of North Alabama. I heard 14 different turkeys gobbling that morning, while admiring my bird as the sun broke over the mountains.
Lest you get the idea that I’m some kind of expert, I’ve been whipped more often than not by these mountain barons, but there’s just nothing quite like chasing them.
Over the last 20 years, the turkey population has exploded in the northern half of the state. The wildlife management areas that I’ve hunted in this region are just full of turkeys, although killing them can be difficult. Get on private land where the birds haven’t seen a ton of pressure and you can find toms literally running down your gun barrel.
Hill region hunters have both advantages and disadvantages compared to their flat woods brethren to the south. Two turkey hunting gentlemen, public land hunter Myrick Myrick of Guntersville and state Turkey Biologist Steve Barnett, will help us as we explore what North Alabama turkey hunting is like.
PLUSES & MINUSES
The southern half of the state has had turkeys a lot longer than most places in the northern half. There were turkeys in the river bottoms of central and southern Alabama when there just about were no birds anywhere else. The long-running turkey hunting tradition in the south no doubt means there’s some ingrained knowledge about turkeys and their habits that have been passed from generation to generation there.
In the north, we’re still on the first generation of turkey hunters — second at best — and there’s still some newness to the sport.
There’s another big difference, Barnett pointed out. Tracts of land in the central and southern part of the state are generally much larger than those in the north. That means it is easier for a landowner or a hunting club to undertake management to improve their turkey hunting.
“You need 3,000 to 5,000 acres to really manage,” Barnett said.
In the north, you also have increased hunting pressure, as there tends to be more hunters on less land.
An advantage that north Alabama hunters enjoy, Barnett said, is the terrain. The mountains and hills give hunters more terrain to work with. They can slip around easier and try to get closer since it’s easier to stay out of sight of a longbeard.
“It’s a lot easier to get pinned down and be unable to move in the big river swamps and on the big fields in the south,” Barnett said. “That’s also true in some of the big clearcuts.”
The quality of the habitat is a little better in South Alabama and the population of turkeys is a little stronger. In the southern half of the state, it’s probably easier to hear multiple turkeys gobbling in a single morning. In the hills of North Alabama, you’re more likely to encounter a single bird gobbling, or maybe two at most.
The rugged terrain makes it difficult to cover more ground to find more birds, something South Alabama hunters on a property with a good network of dirt roads don’t really have to face.
I’ve had a few glorious mornings, like the one mentioned in the beginning of the story, where multiple birds gobbled in North Alabama, but it has been a few years since that happened. There were fewer turkey hunters in the northern half of the state then. As the sport has grown in popularity, deer leases that previously had almost no turkey hunters now have several.