By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
For most of us addicted to the rites of spring, the time we spend in the woods during March and April makes the rest of our year’s outdoor pursuits pale in comparison, because the chase for our nation’s favorite game bird sharpens our focus on every element of the hunt.
For outdoor enthusiasts with a few years’ experience under their belt, spring turkey hunting is the perfect reintroduction to everything that makes the quest special, because the hunt for the bird requires an intent focus on everything else first.
Any gobbler two years old or older, with a full fan, is fair game and can’t reliably be judged further until the hunt is successfully concluded, which eliminates the mental gymnastics involved in judging whether a whitetail buck is mature. The bag limit in Mississippi is one per day and three per season, so wringing a full limit out of a day’s shoot is a moot point. It either happens or it doesn’t.
Turkeys aren’t migratory, so you don’t have to hope for a cold front to make them show up, but they’re only patternable within a wide margin of error, and only then within one specific to each bird. If you play the game fairly and hunt on the gobbler’s terms and turf, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better adventure.
Having grown up hunting ground that knew no game larger than tall rabbits, my first turkey hunt took place 12 years ago today. Still, though time has dulled many other memories of Y2K, those three days in March still ring true. We were on Giles Island in the Mississippi River just west of Natchez, and spring had sprung early that year as well. The azaleas had long been in bloom and the season’s net mosquito hatch was the stuff of legend.
I remember walking through the ankle-high grass of a deep woods fire break, each step billowing roils of mosquitoes that fluffed and settled like the powder of a burned out summer garden, tilled one last time and waiting for rain that doesn’t come. I recall the first gobble I ever heard in the woods. I remember having to freeze mid-stride in a half crouch crossing a creek as a surprised jake looked us over and spent minutes deciding whether to spook. I remember staring down my gun barrel for a short eternity at a turkey in full strut at 80 yards that drummed and gobbled and came no closer. I remember the skunk that rambled through one of our setups way too close for comfort as we held our breath in every sense of the word.
The turkey is wonderful table fare and makes for beautiful taxidermy, but the details of his pursuit are where the real memories are made. I hope you get to make lots of good ones of your own this spring.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.