Talkin' Outdoors

I still remember the first gobble I ever heard more than 30 years ago. Ruston’s “Blue” Parkman, one of the pioneers of turkey hunting in north Louisiana, invited me to go along with him to see what turkey hunting was all about. He was packing his shotgun while I was unarmed except for my camera

Arriving on the Jackson Bienville Wildlife Management Area before daylight, we stopped on a hill, Parkman launched the call of a barred owl, and I heard a sound I had never heard before. If I had to describe it, the noise from the throat of an old gobbler sounded a bit like taking a galvanized bucket, throwing in a handful of nuts and bolts and shaking them around. The sound was more a dry rattle than musical but when I saw Parkman’s reaction to the sound, I assumed it must be something important.

My host took off through the woods, motioning me to follow along as we tried to get ahead of the gobbler. He had me sit down and hide behind some brush as he called to the turkey, which would gobble at the yelps he made on his call. A hen answered; she was obviously already with the gobbler and she led him away from us.

Even though we didn’t get a gobbler that day, a spark was ignited deep inside me and turkey hunting would eventually become a big part of my future.

My first real turkey hunt where I swapped camera for shotgun, took place in Alabama in 1992. I was invited on a sponsored hunt to Alabama where under the watchful eye of my guide, I would make my first attempt to take a gobbler.

The guide owl hooted and a gobbler responded. We set up across a draw from the roosted bird, the guide called and I watched and listened. Eventually the gobbling bird flew down and headed our direction. I will never forget my reaction when I first saw a white head, red wattles and fanned out tail feathers coming our way. I was able to bag the bird and the fire that Parkman started years before was fanned into a full-blown flame, I knew immediately this is how I wanted to spend my spring mornings.

Last Saturday morning, I was sitting on a pipeline as dawn broke over my Jackson Parish hunting club on my first “scouting” trip to see if I could hear a gobbler. I didn’t hear just one; I heard three different gobblers sounding off and before I left the woods, I found fresh tracks and droppings, nailing down where I would be sitting on opening day.

With spring turkey hunting season rapidly approaching — it opens around the state on March 25 — those who take turkey hunting seriously are already making scouting trips to locate where turkeys are hanging out.

Finding tracks, droppings, scratchings, dusting areas, maybe a feather or two are all good indications of turkeys in an area. Hearing gobbles though let you know without a doubt there are male turkeys around.

Since I bagged that first gobbler, I have traveled around the country chasing these amazing birds and having been blessed to take each of the four sub-species residing in the US to complete my Grand Slam. I have made an interesting observation. Eastern wild turkeys like we have in Louisiana and across the south closely resemble the Osceola gobbler that only lives in the southern half of Florida. Gobbles of both sub-species, deep and throaty and lusty, sound exactly alike.

On the other hand, the sounds coming from the throats of Rio Grande and Merriam’s gobbles sound alike and very different from Easterns and Osceola. The pitch of their vocalizations is higher and with less volume. It can surprise you when one of these weak sounding gobblers struts up and you see he could weigh over 20 pounds.

Tracks are important; scratchings and droppings are important. Nothing, however, takes the place of being in the woods on a spring morning and having your ears blessed with the sound of a full rolling gobble.