Because of the great depth of knowledge about the animal necessary for consistent success, it has been said that turkey hunting is the fly fishing of the hunting sports.
If that’s the case, then harvesting a wild turkey in 49 states (there are no wild turkeys in Alaska) is like catching a trout on a dry fly everywhere in the country.
“An individual who would make such an effort would have to be passionate about turkey hunting,” said Thomas R. Pero, a hunter, angler and outdoors writer from Seattle. “I thought it would take years and some resources — he’d have to spend a huge amount of money on traveling and have the time to do it.”
An author and publisher of outdoors books, Pero was at least right about the passion. But while researching “Turkey Men” (Wild River Press, 2017), he found that a passion for the hunt motivated men of average means to find the resources and make the time needed to call in and kill wild turkeys everywhere they live in America.
“This surprised me. I expected to find a bunch of well-to-do individuals,” Pero said. “Of the 12 I interviewed, only one could in any remote way be categorized as wealthy.”
The National Wild Turkey Federation considers it a Grand Slam when a hunter harvests a bird from each of the four American subspecies — Eastern, Merriman’s, Osceola and Rio Grande. Add a Gould’s turkey in Mexico for a Royal Slam. To score a Super Slam, a hunter must take a turkey of any subspecies in each of the 49 American turkey states, a feat accomplished by just a dozen hunters who are still alive. One of them did it twice.
In “Turkey Men,” Pero documents six of those hunters telling their stories in Q&A form. A second volume containing the rest of the interviews is scheduled for publication in February 2018.
“As a publishing project I wanted to do something about wild turkeys,” said Pero. “I came up with this approach, this strategy that I thought would set my book apart from any of the other releases that are out there.”
In interviews about their motivations, the hunters reveal much about the birds. Characteristics are similar among each of the American subspecies, but one is considered the hardest to hunt.
“Universally, all pretty much say the Eastern wild turkey is the most difficult,” Pero said. “Obviously it has been hunted much longer — for hundreds of years. It was (virtually) wiped out and restored and is heavily pressured to this day.”
Unlike the other “turkey men,” Tony Hudak of rural Wyoming County, west of Scranton, uses a dog to split the flocks before he calls in the gobblers.
“With turkeys, I think it’s the one-on-one challenge that pulls me — you know, it’s me against him,” said Hudak in the book. ” … The time I put into scouting, spring and fall, is my true turkey season, more so than the actual time I get to hunt and pull the trigger. That’s just anticlimactic.”
Hudak said the most common turkey-hunting mistakes are a lack of patience and weak setups.
“I’ve learned … over the years that you’ve got to make it easy for turkey to come to you. Not make it easy for you — you have to make it easy for him,” he said. “I don’t care where you’re at, whether you’re in Texas or Oklahoma or Pennsylvania. … You go into an area and you figure out the terrain and you get a bird to gobble. Now it just comes natural. He’s going to come right there and I’m going to kill him right there. And nine times out of 10 that’s what happens.”
Hudak said he prefers the fall turkey season when scouting is less about calling and has more to do with habitat — finding the acorns, beechnuts, grapes and wild cherries.
“It’s an even bigger challenge … In springtime the tom is basically giving himself up by gobbling …” he said. “Whereas in the fall it’s pretty much a boot leather type of season. … They’re not looking to breed. They’re not looking to do anything else but survive, and survival means food. So in the fall, September and early October, I’m scouting for turkey food.”
Mature gobblers are quiet and habitual in the fall, said Hudak, traveling the same routes and returning to the same roosting areas. Fall flocks of hens and poults are more vocal and tend to stay together.
“So I like it because it’s way more challenging than the spring hunting …” he said. “It’s a whole different sport and I think you have to exhibit better woodsmanship skills.”
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