The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 9, 2014

Turkey-hunting proving a lifetime pursuit

Grand successes or big humiliations await

By Chris Ellis
For The Register-Herald

— I started hunting turkeys when I was in high school. Back then, my passion for hunting was almost entirely consumed by bow hunting until I was introduced to the sport of turkey hunting by a friend. My friend had no clue how to hunt turkeys but he was extremely dedicated to figuring it out — and so was I.

The history of turkeys in our state is a remarkable story and one that needs to be told often. According to WVDNR’s webpage, “The single greatest success story in wildlife management in West Virginia has been the spectacular return of the wild turkey.” A major contributor to this success was a program that involved trapping turkeys in areas of relative abundance and releasing them in areas with no turkeys to start new populations.

“The wild turkey transplant program was instrumental in re-establishing our most popular game bird throughout the state. By the completion of the program in 1989, more than 2,000 wild turkeys were released and resulted in the reestablishment of wild turkey populations in 39 counties. Presently, approximately 140,000 wild turkeys are now distributed throughout all 55 counties.”

Turkey hunters, new and old, we owe them a debt of gratitude for their work that allows us the opportunity to chase a sustainable population of turkeys. (I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it.)

The early years of my turkey hunting career were lean. My brother and I trudged through them gaining knowledge from our countless errors of learning how to set up on and call to turkeys effectively. Along the way, thank goodness, there were a few “gift” turkeys that kept us motivated enough to call ourselves turkey hunters.  Throughout our evolution as turkey hunters, we have been blessed with grand successes and some years of complete defeat in tangling with the wild turkey. But all the while, I have been an unabashed turkey hunter whether I was smiling or learning to walk gracefully back to the truck empty-handed.

My desire for turkey hunting has taken me across the country. I have been successful and I have been flat-out humiliated by turkeys in such states as Ohio, Kentucky, New York, Arizona, Wyoming, Montana, Texas, Florida and in a few other states I won’t allow myself to recall.  

This past week, I was invited to chase the Florida wild turkey, also referred to as the Osceola. I have hunted Florida turkeys before but I have never been so lucky to have a bird in range and willing to stand still enough for me to shoot. After battling weather, airport delays and closures and all that goes with wintertime travel, I landed in sunny Florida ready to give it another go.

On the second day of my hunt, a gobbler came within range of our calls and with the break of the trigger I had successfully taken my first Osceola turkey. And in doing so, I had completed the American Grand Slam of turkey hunting — having taken one turkey from each of the four major subspecies of wild turkeys (Eastern, Osceola, Merriam's and Rio Grande)

After twenty-some-odd years of hunting turkeys, I am not sure I know much more about hunting them than I did when I started. I still struggle to find the perfect place to sit still, when and how to call to them and trying to remain calm when they walk into gun range. I guess that’s the allure of turkey hunting. I plan on learning how to hunt turkeys for the rest of my days.