It was a struggle to contain my excitement. Another great spring turkey season had begun here in Tennessee. My longtime hometown friends, Drew Turner and his father Andy Turner, had traveled from the backwoods of South Carolina’s Piedmont to join my dad and me for a hunt in the Tennessee turkey woods.
I could think of no better way to introduce them to the awesome hunting opportunities in the state than on public land. As it turned out, by the end of the weekend, there were no regrets regarding that decision.
SAMPLING THE HUNTING
We began our morning in a small section of standing timber on part of the Percy Priest Wildlife Management Area near the lake. We strapped on our turkey vests, grabbed our guns, and set out into the dark morning.
Once in the woods, at least five mature toms answered our array of locator calls. We also heard the raspy yelp-like gobbling of a few jakes. At this point, we all realized this would be a good morning, whether or not we successfully bagged a bird.
After splitting into two groups, Drew and I made our way to the northernmost and most vocal tom as my father, Jay, and Andy locked in on a different tom. After crossing several ditches and small creeks, we reached the approximately 100-yard mark from the still roosted toms. It was as close as I felt we could safely approach the birds without spooking them in the open, early-spring woods. We quickly made our set up among the roots of two, century-old oaks.
It was a breathtaking scene. The sun’s gleam reflecting from dew-covered new spring foliage made my eyes hurt. The glass-smooth lake in the background only made it better.
Taking the excitement up another notch, the tom in front of us was on a rant. In the distance, so were his flock mates that Jay and Andy were pursuing at the same moment. The sheer number of birds talking from the limbs was astounding. Five mature toms and at least 10 hens were making themselves known.
But, after the flock pitched down, there was not a gobble to be heard. Wise birds that value their lives stay quiet while on the ground. That’s a result of the hunting pressure on this WMA. It’s a common theme on public areas with lots of hunting pressure.
The sun continued to rise, and through the dense underbrush surrounding the lake, the turkeys appeared. Drew slowly twist himself into firing position. The birds meandered closer and the lead turkey stepped into clear view. It was a yearling jake, and I hoped Drew would realize the fact and wait for a longbeard. Instead, he fired. At the shot several other turkeys that we had not seen were appeared, as they sprinted for the next county.
Still, I was very pleased to have helped Drew fill his very first turkey tag. Over the next three days, our party killed three more gobblers on the WMA. The smallest of that trio of toms was a 23-pound bird with a 10-inch beard. It also was Drew’s first mature gobbler.
Our hunt was just a sample of the many successful turkey seasons have begun this way here on the Volunteer State’s turkey-rich public land.
Reviewing the harvest information from last year may help guide you to your own longbeard this season, which runs from March 31 to May 13.
When long-time Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Executive Director Gary Myers retired, a lot of shuffling of positions began in the agency. Among those moving was Wild Turkey Project Leader Gray Anderson, who was appointed to Assistant Chief of Wildlife. That created a vacancy that was fill by Chris Hunter as the TWRA’s new statewide turkey biologist. Let’s see what he had to say regarding the past hunting season and what is to come.