Hunters try to outsmart one of world’s smartest birds in turkey season
NATCHEZ — To the avid turkey hunter, the sound of the first turkey gobble started off turkey hunting season March 15.
But for serious hunters like Doug Atkins, president of the Miss-Lou chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, turkey season started in February.
“When deer season ends in January, February is preparing for March,” Atkins said. “It starts with clearing roads and maintaining property, making the habitat great for turkeys. This is what I’ve been waiting on all year. I’m ready for it to green up and the turkeys to get going.”
The winter season in the Miss-Lou set up a late spring, and a late spring means turkeys may still be in their winter flocks, Atkins said.
“There is an early spring and late spring,” he said. “If it’s early, it’s great, but this year is a late spring and it’s been very tough.
“They’re still in their flocks (40 or 50 turkeys together), but when spring hits, they divide up.”
Atkins said it might be difficult to catch turkeys in the early part of the season until the weather gets consistently warmer.
No matter the weather, killing turkeys is still a hard task.
The wild turkey is one of the smartest birds in the world, and turkey hunting is just as much mental as physical, Atkins said.
“It’s all a game with a turkey, you have to out smart him,” he said. “Also, the toughest part is when the gobbler has to breed with hens, because you have to compete with hens. When you’re calling like a hen, you have 10 real hens to compete with.”
Atkins understands the complexity of turkey hunting, as he started hunting turkeys at 11, but didn’t kill his first turkey by himself until he was 13.
But today, the avid hunter has lofty goals on his bucket list.
“I’m very fortunate to get a grand slam once, and I’m one bird away from getting my second one,” Atkins said. “I want to get a world slam on my bucket list.”
A grand slam is killing the Eastern, Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Ocellated and Osceola (Florida) birds in a lifetime. All birds reside in different pats of the country.
The world slam is killing all five subspecies from the grand slam list in addition to the Gould’s bird, which is located in Mexico.
“That’s what drives you, to one day get there and kill the world slam,” Atkins said.
While Atkins is looking to scratch the achievement off his bucket list, Wayne Savant and his sons, Mason and Austin, are enjoying the youth turkey hunt season.
Mason, 15, shot a turkey during the opening weekend of the youth turkey hunt at St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge on March 15.
The kill wasn’t beginner’s luck.
Mason has been turkey hunting with his father since 2009, and he killed his first turkey in 2013.
“We’ve had close encounters, but seeing him shoot the bird last year, that was just as exciting for me as it was for him,” Wayne said about his son’s kills. “This year, we had one come in early, and we didn’t get a shot on it. We had to belly crawl about 12 yards and shoot it. He shot it at 75 yards and had to shoot it twice.”
Wayne said he was proud to see his son improvise to get his kill.
“To see him want to (crawl around) and understand what he had to do to get close to the bird was amazing,” Wayne said. “He has experienced a lot for his age. He knows what to do and when to do it.”
Wayne said his next goal is to get his younger son, Austin, his first kill. Austin turned 14 on Saturday.
“I would love if he shot one, too,” Wayne said. “I want both of them to kill a bird so they can experience it together.”
Most importantly, Wayne said, he just wants to spend some father and son time covered in camouflage and carrying shotguns.
“I love spending time with them and trying to teach them how to get everything set up,” Wayne said. “(Turkeys) are hard to kill. People make it sound easy, but I know it’s hard. I never killed turkey, but my main focus is getting (my sons) to harvest them.”
Turkey season ends May 1 in Mississippi, April 20 in Area A and April 6 in Area B of Louisiana.