Just after sunrise on a cool, pleasant April morning, Tes Jolly spots a gobbler a few hundred yards in the distance. Her heart skips a beat, and then experience takes over as she begins to call the turkey by gobbling and yelping in an attempt to lure the bird closer. The thrill and challenge of this attempt is what keeps Jolly, and many other turkey hunters, returning to the fields year after year. Jolly not only loves to turkey hunt, but she also loves to guide others on the hunt at White Oak Plantation. Robert Pitman, owner of White Oak Plantation, a premier hunting lodge in Tuskegee says, “There are no more avid hunters than turkey hunters.”With the number of deer hunters in Alabama, it might be easy for some to overlook turkey hunting. But not “avid” hunters such as Jolly of Macon County.In addition to being a hunter, Jolly is passionate about wildlife photography, hunting either with her camera or her gun almost every day of turkey season. She began hunting turkey about 19 years ago when a friend introduced her to the sport.Jolly says turkey hunting is for early risers. “It’s traditionally a morning sport,” she said. “You hear the first gobbles before sunrise.” Too, she said, turkey hunting has more versatility than many other forms of hunting. “Some hunters do the ‘run-and-gun’ technique where they are constantly moving,” she said, “but others set up a blind and wait for the turkey to come to them.” Thanks to this flexibility, some choose to make turkey hunting their passion.Max Pugh of Montgomery County, for example, has decided to use turkey hunting as a way to bond with his sons, ages 13 and 11, and teach them to enjoy nature. The flexibility of the sport enables him to better do this. “The part I like most about turkey hunting is that you get to hunt with somebody. You’re not just sitting in a stand by yourself,” he said. Pugh also enjoys the time of year in which turkey hunting takes place. “Spring isn’t as harsh as winter, and the woods are just beginning to bloom,” said Pugh. “I want to teach my boys to enjoy God’s creation,” he said. “At 41, I’m just realizing I need to slow down and enjoy it, but I want my boys to realize that sooner.”As a result, Pugh is teaching his sons, Foster and Morgan, to turkey hunt. “It’s hard getting them up for school, but not for turkey hunting,” said Pugh. Both boys have experienced success in the sport. Foster has taken four birds and Morgan bagged his first last season.
“It’s been an awesome bonding experience for us,” said Pugh.This bonding experience has not always been as possible as it is today, because, according to the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), there were only 1.3 million Eastern wild turkeys and approximately 1.5 million turkey hunters in 1973. This statistic gave way to extensive efforts to preserve the species through conservation and land management programs. NWTF and many other wildlife agencies began work to improve the situation.
Their efforts were successful. Now, according to NWTF, there are almost 7 million turkeys. And, not only has the number of turkeys dramatically increased, the number of turkey hunters has doubled to 3 million. The increase in hunters has also led to an increase in revenue generated by the sale of more hunting equipment and accessories.According to Steve Guy, wildlife director for the Alabama Farmers Federation, Alabama is one of the top states in hunting merchandise sales. “Turkey hunters might buy calls, special vests, shells, guns and a variety of hunting accessories customized for turkey hunting,” said Guy. Robert Pitman recently attended a “shot show” in Las Vegas where the newest hunting merchandise was showcased. “It was as busy as I’ve ever seen it,” he said. “If that’s any indication, people must be hunting more than ever.”Pitman adds that not only is turkey hunting in general becoming more popular, but more and more women are hunting every year. That’s no surprise to Jolly who is happy to help increase the number of turkey hunters by teaching others the skill. “Learning from someone who is experienced is the best way to learn because there are so many mistakes that can be made,” said Jolly.Pugh also is trying to spread the love of the sport by not only taking his sons, but younger cousins and friends as well. “Some like it, but some aren’t as outdoorsy. We give it a shot anyway,” said Pugh.Even with an experienced teacher at your side, a successful turkey hunter has to be both patient and persistent, according to Pitman. “If you can’t keep after the turkey, you won’t have much of a chance,” he adds.However, bagging the turkey is not the most important part of hunting to Pitman, whose hunting plantation spans 20,000 acres.”Alabamians need to be mindful of protecting our turkey and other wildlife,” he said. “Protect it and it will be there for other generations to enjoy.”For this reason, Pitman only allows 60 turkey hunters per season, which peaks in April, to hunt on his plantation. “If a turkey is continually disturbed, it will leave the area and not return,” said Pitman.Turkeys are so sensitive and easy to disturb that Pitman says they are the most challenging animal to hunt. “If a turkey had a sense of smell, it would be almost impossible to get one, because their hearing and eyesight are already so much better than anything else’s,” he said.This challenge may make turkey hunting difficult, but it is also what draws Pitman and other turkey hunters to the sport.
“I’d say turkeys are more fun to hunt than anything else in the Southeast, if not the whole world,” said Pitman. ?