Case: In Appalachia, the mountain turkey is a tough bird
“It’s tough, it’s tough, it’s tough, but it’s fair” – Quote from a tough old army captain
(Author’s note: Many turkey hunters like to talk about the difficulty of turkey hunting, especially turkey hunting in their own area. I’m probably guilty of this, but as far as the hardest area to kill a turkey, I have no doubt Appalachia is without a doubt the hardest, nastiest, hardest place to kill an eastern wild turkey . Period. Keep reading, pilgrim.)
“I don’t care if he gobbles a hundred times,” my buddy said, “I’m not going down there again.”
Standing on the nearly vertical slope, clutching a sapling and trying to catch my breath, I wasn’t about to argue. After spending the whole morning in a deep gorge chasing a ghostly gobbler, we now paid the price and made the long climb up the hill to where we started. An inviting gobble beckoned us from the depths. My buddy gave me a “don’t even think about it” look and we continued our ascent.
Many Appalachian turkey hunters will tell you that this is the hardest place in the country to kill a turkey. This includes West Virginia, Pennsylvania, eastern Tennessee and Kentucky, northern Georgia, and western Virginia. Turkeys in this part of the world have been hunted since the days of Simon Kenton, and no one is fooled. One wrong move at the wrong time, and those birds are gone – see you later.
In addition to an innate distrust of everything, which helps them to survive, mountain turkeys have an ally that protects them: the sometimes appalling topography in which they live.
In this country, you can go in one of two directions, either uphill or downhill. Flat terrain can be almost non-existent in parts of Appalachia, and when you get out of the truck, that old gremlin known as gravity climbs onto your back and whispers in your ear “How badly do you want to reach for that turkey ?” Settling on a gobbling turkey in the mountains usually involves a harrowing climb. Sometimes it’s just the price of admission, though.
Tighten your boot laces, take off that jacket and go. You can be rewarded for your efforts, and you can’t.
As wary as they are and as difficult as mountain turkeys are to hunt, they are not invulnerable.
Here are some tips that will help you with these high country dwellers.
Forget what you were told about turkeys coming down.
The turkeys haven’t read all the books we have. We were told that a gobbler will never answer our calls. Turkeys go up and down every day in this country. While we would much rather call a gobbler who is below us, if the situation warrants the need to call an uphill turkey, do so. It won’t always work, but sometimes it will. The drastic landscape of Appalachia sometimes calls for drastic measures.
Sound travels differently on steep terrain.
One of the biggest lessons the mountain turkey hunter can learn is that turkeys’ hearing is different on steep terrain as opposed to flat. The typical landscape here is often a high ridge with many small finger ridges starting from the highest point. The hunter can listen from a position at the top of the ridge, but a turkey a short distance up a steep slope may not be heard. Experienced mountain hunters learned that they only had to move a short distance to hear a gobbler that had gone undetected. Likewise, a small ridge in front of you may have a turkey on the other side gobbling up its brains, but you can’t hear it. This is especially true later in the season when the foliage is heavy.
Run and gun is the name of the game.
Because the terrain can be so extreme, getting around and getting into position can be very important. It’s common to be engaged in a duel with a gobbler, and for reasons known only to the turkey, he just won’t come in your place. He could easily walk (or fly) there, but he won’t. You have to move in these situations, and now the topography can actually work to your advantage. By keeping a ridge between you and the turkey, you might be amazed at what you can do while moving. As long as the gobbler can’t see you, you should be good. A gobbler who hears you walking through the leaves may actually come to you.
The range of shotguns is all you need.
Turkey hunters love to watch a big gobbler come from afar, strutting all the way. In mountainous countries, we don’t always have this luxury. An ideal scenario may be the turkey lying below you under a steep slope. Hopefully you can get a seat on a narrow bench often found on the side of a mountain. The idea here is to position yourself so that the turkey comes within range to see you. Be ready and as soon as the gobbler gets on the bench where you are sitting, start pulling the game off the trigger. In shooting, the tradition here is to be on him quickly; if the turkey falls off the edge of the hill, you risk a long recovery of your prize.
Well, I haven’t covered everything, but you know these editors.
If you are new to mountain turkey hunting, this will help.
If you’re considering trying turkey hunting for the first time, I’d say this: buy a set of golf clubs, get a little squirrel dog, or spend more time in bars. Any of these will be better than falling into the web of the addictive world of turkey hunting.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
“Guns & Cornbread” is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.