WON’s Jim Niemiec kept at it, and finally bagged the elusive Eastern turkey to come one bird closer to his goal of bagging all four species of North American turkeys
MONTGOMERY, AL. — The eastern turkey is considered by avid bird hunters across the U.S.. to be the smartest, most elusive and by far the one very difficult bird of all turkey species of North American to hunt. This turkey hunter can attest to those findings of the largest native bird of America.
As Western Outdoor News hunting editor I have been in quest of my North American Grand Slam of Turkeys since shooting a jake Merriam's over a quarter of a century ago. Even while working as Conservation Director of Bill Jordan's Realtree camouflage company, the Eastern gobbler proved to be the hardest to add to my harvested gobbler list.
TEAMED UP ON THIS BIG ALABAMA TOM —
Local turkey hunter Johnnie Wood and WON's Jim Niemiec teamed up on this
big Eastern gobbler that was called into a single hen decoy after
flying down from his nearby roost.
Over the course of this quest there were no less than 6 states hunted in the Eastern turkey range with many hours and long days spent sitting on a Hunter's Specialties Strut seat with my back pinned to a stately oak with a selection of slates and box calls close at hand. There were some very close encounters along the way, but none close enough to do more than take the safety off and ready a shotgun to a shooting position.
Pennsylvania offered a shot off a nearby roost that went sideways, the 5 days spent in West Virginia was a total bust, was forced out of turkey country twice in Mississippi by advancing tornados (2) and torrential rain and near success on day 2 of last year's hunt in Alabama.
Local Alabama double "World Grand Slam" hunter Mr. Johnnie Wood, born in Montgomery and a true southern gentleman if there ever was one, was my guide in Mississippi 3 years ago and again last year. His turkey calling skills, knowledge of wild turkey and access to some fine turkey properties were more than enough for me to ask for his assistance again on this year's turkey hunt. Mr. Johnnie is currently working on his third world grand slam and is very focused on shooting a gobbler in every state.
Wood is known in Montgomery and adjoining counties at the "turkey talker," a name pinned on him for the work he does with youth and adult groups in teaching the skills of turkey hunting at various conservation and church events. Wood is also a preacher and faithfully spends most every Sunday in church greeting parishioners and leading hymns sung prior to the start of services.
A few days prior to my arrival in Montgomery the region was hit hard by a tremendous rain storm that dumped over 8 inches of rain that pushed the wide Alabama River to more than 10 feet above flood plain and put a lot of "turkey country" under standing water. Not a good condition for spring turkey season and Wood was a little more than concerned about how the gobblers and hens might behave with so much water on the ground.
Day one of our hunt had us hunting on a 225 acre timber plantation accompanied by owner Ed Thrash, another very nice southerner and good golfer as well, with whom I shared a pop-up camo tent blind, a Benelli at my side resting on a neat short HS Shooter's stick (ideal for hunting out of a tent) which allows a shotgun to be at all times in a ready position to shoulder quietly and quickly.
As daylight broke there were no less than 6 different toms echoing gobbles across a meadow as the gobblers were roosted in nearby hardwood, a very good sign to start of the hunt. Wood got on his Primos Pretty Boy slate call early with some soft purrs and subtle yelps of a seductive hen which resulted in multiple responses. Unfortunately, the gobblers all headed off in different directions, likely with hens, and the results of the early morning hunt period were just 3 hens quietly walking and feeding past the blind well within shooting range, but no gobblers or jakes tagging along. Ed had to leave early and Wood suggested we just stick it out as many of the turkeys he has shot over the years were killed during the day.
FIRST EASTERN GOBBLER — WON's
Jim Niemiec shot this Eastern gobbler last week while hunting outside
of Montgomery, Alabama. This was Niemiec's first Eastern tom and he now
ONLY needs the Osceola turkey of Florida to succeed in shooting a North
American Grand Slam of Turkeys. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHNNIE WOOD
My trusty guide was sporadic with his selection of calls and after two hours a huge gobbler popped silently into view. Even though that tom was responsive to every call made by Wood, that bird seemed to be on a mission and disappeared into a stand of hardwoods. Another hour passed slowly when a second tom appeared straight out from the blind and was kind of responsive but not hot enough to come into shotgun range before moving off into a mixed stand of pines and some very beautiful dogwood trees in full bloom.
After what seemed an eternity, with more than one quick power nap by both hunter and guide under the warmth of a clear spring Alabama sky, a distant putt got us on alert! Rounding a small curve in the terrain came a hen followed by two gobblers in full strut. These toms were stuck to that hen out some 50 to 55 yards. Wood asked if I could make that shot and I assured him that I could, as there was no way of closing the distance.
With shotgun shouldered the largest long beard dropped its tail and raised his head as a load of Federal Premium High Velocity turkey load #5's headed his way. The first shot hit the tom but only turned him around. The second tom moved out of range and the hen moved right beside the bigger bird not allowing for a second safe shot.
Once cleared, I shot high and off the mark, but the Benelli cycled flawlessly and that last load of #5 shot rolled him down for the count. WOW!!!!...after a quarter of century this hunting editor had finally harvested an Eastern gobbler with a 10-inch beard, 1.25-inch spurs and weighed 22 pounds. That gobbler was beautiful with bright colorful tail and back feathers and a glistening neck. It was then time for high 5's and definitely time to celebrate and set up a trophy photo shoot.
Day two also proved successful right off the roost for a new gobbler on a different parcel of land with Wood and this shooter doubling up an another big Eastern that proved difficult to kill when Wood's Remington Mdl. 11-87 jammed. After his first shot, with this shooter following it up with a few pellets hitting the big tom and bringing it down for a short time, and Johnnie finally was able to finish it off as it tried to limp off to safety in the bottom of a brush filled creek bottom. Not a bad day to end a wonderful turkey hunting experience in the fine state of Alabama.
With an Eastern finally harvested, this hunter now has set his sight(s) on finishing off a North America Grand Slam of Turkey by booking some kind of hunt for the Osceola turkey species found only in central Florida; with a Rio Grande, Merriam's, Eastern and my Gould's shot in the Mexican state of Chihuahua 4 years ago with the assistance of guide Enrique "Kike" Perez and booked through the Sinalo Duck and Dove Club already accounted for. I would hope to harvest this final turkey next spring and any suggestions, hints, tips, advice or recommendations from WON readers sent to my attention at wonews.com would be greatly appreciated.
With an Eastern turkey population in excess of 500,000 Eastern birds other hunters looking to harvest this bird, Alabama would be a very good destination. A non-resident 3-day hunting license runs $132.25 available on line, with rooms, meals and flights reasonable into either Montgomery or Birmingham. There are guides available across the state, a number of fine southern hunting lodges that offer first class turkey hunting and the Alabama game and fish department have management areas open to the public by permit that hold a very huntable population of Eastern turkey. For more information on this state's turkey hunting program log on to the Alabama Game and Fish Department's - Department of Conservation and Natural Resources web site.