Years of hunting with these professionals has taught the author that each one has their own bag of tricks for taking spring toms. Here are a few prime examples their top turkey hunting tips.
A son of the soil, innovative call designer, longtime Hunter's Specialties pro staffer, and turkey hunter with a half-century of experience, Eddie Salter is skilled in all aspects of the sport. Yet, through countless magical hours afield and having observed him in action under a variety of conditions, I think the defining characteristic of his success is that Salter simply believes. He is convinced that the next call, the top of the next ridge, or next setup will lead to working a turkey. That confidence translates to remarkable persistence.
The word "quit" is not in his hunting vocabulary. On the other hand, he is remarkably flexible and willing to adjust his tactics to suit a particular situation. That results in success on an impressively regular basis. Or, as his brother-in-law once put it to me, "It would take an 18-wheeler slap full to the top to hold all the turkeys Eddie has called in."
One thing is certain. However many turkeys he has called to the gun, in every case Eddie Salter believed they would come.
A pioneering player in the camouflage revolution, Jim Crumley gave the sporting world Trebark camo. Widely recognized as a bowhunter for white-tailed deer, Crumley's skills in the greening-up woods of spring are likewise top drawer.
One of Crumley's outstanding traits is a willingness to do the work needed to "know the ground." I've hunted with him widely, and what soon becomes noticeable is his intimate familiarity with the terrain and topography of the areas he hunts.
There's no substitute for feet on the ground, and Crumley has roamed the ridges and haunted the hollows he hunts. Getting that kind of acquaintance with the territory is a defining trait of a fine woodsman, and sound woodscraft often translates directly to turkey-hunting success.
A radio and television personality, book author, and popular seminar speaker, Ray Eye has long been a nationally recognized presence on the American wild turkey scene. Five minutes in his company provides a good idea of what is likely his defining characteristic as a turkey hunter. Eye is a leprechaun-like bundle of energy who has an idea a minute.
That boundless enthusiasm and zest for anything Eye is involved in carries over to the woods. He's a go-getter type of turkey hunter, one who likes to hunt aggressively. Yet when circumstances require it, he combines that "make things happen" attitude with patience.
It's a deadly combination. For those too wound up to take the traditional call-little/wait-long approach, he is an example of how "take it to 'em" tactics can and do work.
One-time championship contest caller, call maker extraordinaire, video producer, and one of two individuals profiled in a book I wrote a number of years ago called "Innovative Turkey Hunting," Mark Drury is a thinking man's turkey hunter. He has all of the necessary tools of the skilled turkey hunter's kit, but his defining trait is the ability to analyze situations and act appropriately.
I have enjoyed the opportunity to spend considerable time in the spring woods with Drury, and on numerous occasions I have seen him make a near-instantaneous decision that produced a gobbler. It's difficult to develop that particular skill set, but taking a page from his book can be, in the long run, most rewarding.
That involves reviewing every hunt, every mistake, every woodland experience, and then assessing the lessons they offer.
Mark Drury is a prime example of the truth inherent in my favorite adage from the world of the outdoors: "In the school of the outdoors there is no graduation day." Those words were written by noted outdoors expert Horace Kephart more than a century ago, and Drury might well have adopted them as his credo. He learns well from past experiences and applies the lessons to the present.
One of the country's finest turkey photographers, Tes Jolly may well be the only female who ever worked as a professional turkey hunting guide. For several years she guided hunters at White Oak Plantation, and while there she more than held her own in comparison with a "stable" of guides at the top of their game. Her approach is in many ways a throwback to days of yesteryear. Tes calls softly, doesn't call a lot, and relies on her knowledge of turkey behavior to good advantage.
Unquestionably, hours without end spent in a blind, camera in hand, have helped shape her approach to hunting. She personifies "easy does it," and when you've observed turkey behavior as much as Jolly has, it translates to a deeply seated, almost innate feel for when to call -- and when not to. Soft purrs, muted clucks, and short series of yelps -- all of them offered infrequently enough to drive turkey hunters whose only gear is overdrive half-crazy -- form her stock in trade.
Throw in a solid sixth sense when it comes to selecting a setup position, something doubtless derived from all those hours hunting with a camera, and you have Tes Jolly. Lovely in person and personality, she epitomizes a modern reincarnation of traditional turkey hunting techniques.
Photo courtesy of www.bowhunting.net
RONNIE "CUZ" STRICKLAND
Anyone who watches much outdoor television or wears Mossy Oak patterns surely recognizes the name "Cuz" Strickland. With his good humor, down-to-earth personality, larger-than-life approach to hunting, and three books on turkey hunting --"The Truth," "The Whole Truth," and "Nothing But the Truth" -- he has become an iconic figure.
Cuz developed his hunting techniques early in his career while toting around 60-pound video cameras and pounding ground in an exhaustive effort to get video footage. That spawned a cutt-and-run, make-'em-gobble approach that is the way he hunts. Cuz can extract so much noise out of a tube call that no one who wants to retain his hearing will stand within 10 yards of Cuz when he is trying to locate a gobbler.
Or, as the sport's poet laureate, Tom Kelly, says, "When Cuz calls, he blows the leaves off the trees."
Loud though it may be, his super aggressive calling often works. It's particularly useful in situations involving lots of elbow room, hunts in national forests where it takes different measures to elicit a gobble, or cases where you face a "make it happen" perspective.
An affable bear of a man who handles public relations for Quaker Boy Calls, Ernie Calandrelli personifies two of the traits you often seen mentioned in lists of the prime characteristics identifying topnotch turkey hunters -- patience and persistence. A staunch advocate of decoys, he is quite willing to select a prime setup situation, get decoys out, and play the waiting game. Yet underlying that is plenty of premeditation.
All of the numerous times I've hunted with Ernie he had already done some scouting, listened for gobbles, noted favored strutting grounds, and more. He's also always looking for an edge. I remember him having battery-activity, a decoy that offered movement long before that became commonplace. And the same goes for using a mounted hen, as well as other offbeat approaches. Calandrelli doesn't hesitate to experiment, but he does it within the confines of tried-and-true techniques.
It is also worth noting that Calandrelli is a great believer in putting some variety into calling, and so on any given hunt you can almost count on him offering seductive "music" on slates, boxes, diaphragms, and maybe a boat paddle. He's always trying to discover what works best on a given day, but whatever the situation you'll never find him lacking in patience.
Larry Norton has a longtime turkey-hunting career as a guide, competition caller, and diehard turkey hunter. One of his defining characteristics is staunch determination to "read" a bird once he establishes verbal contact with it. In effect, he tries to "take the turkey's temperature" by noting how the bird responds: enthusiastically, half-heartedly, as if he might be "henned up," or with a "honey, I'm on the way and will get there in a hurry" gobble. He then adjusts his calling accordingly and may well take other steps such as closing ground, changing locations, walking away, or doing whatever he thinks is required to close the deal.
Norton's overriding idea is to draw on his extensive experience and make a judgment call on just how to deal with a given turkey. Obviously the average hunter doesn't have Norton's rich wealth of countless encounters with turkeys, but the fact remains that we should all strive to understand the level of a gobbler's interest. It may range from a situation of "quit calling, he's coming" to one where a reluctant tom needs to be coaxed and coddled. Whatever the case, you too can read a bird's temperature.
Photo courtesy of www.nighthawkpublications.com
Alex Rutledge has been inducted into the Outdoor Hall of Fame, has worked as a pro staffer, hosted a television show, and competed in innumerable calling contests. The first time I hunted with him I thought to myself, "Man, he is calling far too much." I would probably still lean in that direction, but Alex is an example of how calling a lot isn't necessarily bad. Mind you, his calling is excellent, and if, like Rutledge, you have confidence in your calling ability, it isn't always a bad thing to wear 'em out. Or, if you've spent several hours calling softly and seldom with no results, why not turn the world upside down and take the Rutledge route? It has worked for him far too often to be dismissed out of hand.
Along with Mark Drury, Brad Harris was the individual profiled in my work, "Innovative Turkey Hunting." An industry fixture for decades, Harris worked for Lohman Calls in public relations, is renowned for his versatility in calling (having won several contests involving calling different game species), and has figured prominently in other books besides mine. He's a master of locator calls, and he integrates locator calling into pre-season scouting. That action provides a handle on where turkeys are roosting and their numbers, and does so without being intrusive.
Also, once the season is under way, Harris is a firm believer in versatile use of locator calls -- owl, crow, hawk, pileated woodpecker, and others -- as opposed to a single locator call. He realizes that just like turkey calls, what works one day may not work another.
Along with the individual we started with, Eddie Salter, Preston Pittman has to be reckoned one of the enduring modern legends of the sport. He has been a fixture on the stage at calling contests (and the awards ceremonies at their conclusion) during portions of four decades. He is a beloved showman when it comes to gobbling contests, has designed calls, but most of all he loves being out in the field.
Pittman is a "do what it takes" hunter of the first water. I have personally seen him climb 20 or 25 feet above the ground in hopes of seeing a distant gobbler. He once dug a hole in the middle of a field and crawled into it far before daylight in order to deal with a troublesome field gobbler. He can slither through grass or broom sedge in a way to make a confidence-lacking snake envious, and he doesn't hesitate to take any and all offbeat approaches if he feels they might work. Adaptable and adventurous: Those words that describe Pittman.
He has hunted across the South for almost all his life. He will tell you, being born on Thanksgiving Day, that turkeys were destined from birth to be his guiding star. And from his earliest hunts right down to the present, Pittman has been a man in search of new and different ways, different in terms of calling techniques, how and where to set up, locator calling, and much more. His motto might be something along the line of, "You don't know until you try it." Underlying that innovativeness is a solid grounding in basic, practical turkey hunting.