Shoot the turkey, even if it’s you in the tree

Published 1:44 pm Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The question has arisen from a younger turkey hunter in search of Wisdom from an older hunter who is reputed by some to have acquired that virtue — a fact disputed by anyone who has read his books on the subject, of course: to wit, “Is it ever a legal and moral act, to shoot a wild turkey gobbler out of a tree?”

And the Answer from the Sage would be: “Yea, verily.”

I have never climbed a tree to hunt wild turkeys from, but I am acquainted with a younger hunter who did so, and admitted it. The occasion was necessary and justified, actually, by the timber company which owned Montgomery Island: they had clear-cut the island, and few trees were left which were big enough to support a climbing hunter, therefore the land grew up to ragweed and beggar lice, so that nothing was visible from a ground-pounder’s viewpoint. Finding a leaning hackberry trunk, Bill cooned up it to a point directly over a game trail, about six feet up in the air. He then called, legs dangling beneath the shotgun in his lap.

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A huge turkey gobbler immediately charged around the nearest bend in the trail, heading straight between Bill’s feet, not even glancing upward as the young hunter scrambled to lay his call down and grab his gun. The Tom never flinched as the barrel began to rise, if anything, gathering speed as his course took him directly below the treed gunner, who continued to try to get a bead on the speeding bird’s head as it passed beneath him. I’ll leave the reader to visualize for himself the antics subsequently achieved by a supple youngster six feet in the air discharging a 3-inch magnum shotgun, while bending over double to aim backward from between his own legs!

That answer and illustration did not satisfy the aforementioned younger hunter in search of Wisdom, however: “I meant when the turkey is in the tree!”

That Answer from the Sage would again be, “Yea, verily, sometimes.”

Said Sage does not approve of rifles to shoot wild turkeys with, so a shotgun should be the armament of a Legal and Moral Turkey Hunter.  Some people shoot turkeys with bow and arrows, and I agree with Tom Kelly, the Dean of Turkey Hunters, who once wrote, “If any man hunts turkeys with a bow and arrow, he is entitled to wear a sign around his neck saying, ‘I am a Better Man than you are,’ and I will step out of the sidewalk any time for his passage.” Turkey hunters belong to be in the woods well before daylight, blinded in under a tree, waiting for the first hint of eastern pink, to owl hoot. If a turkey gobbles from a tree over or within shotgun range, shame on him, in my opinion: wrong tree to roost in. However, the fun in turkey hunting is in calling up a gobbler to shoot at, so if a hunter knew a turkey was in a certain tree, he ought not to slip in and sit beneath it.

I’ve hunted mountain turkeys, and found that they will sometimes answer a call from the ground, then later in the morning fly downhill to light in a tree and look for that calling hen. Again, shame on him, if he alights in a tree within range! He hath legitimately been called in, sayeth the Sage, and belongs to be busted. In one of my books, there is a whole chapter of poetry built around just such an occurrence in Virginia: the famous gobbler “The Sultan of Cowbones Mountain.”

That was the Sage Answer for which the younger hunter had been waiting, thereby launching into a Turkey Tale of his own, about a big gobbler which had worked to his call for an hour, then had flown across a flooded draw and lit in the nearest tree, from which to listen and look for that delectable hen music. That particular tree happened to be 20 yards from the hen music maker. The perched gobbler weighed over 23 pounds, field-dressed. Said Sage has brought in a couple bigger than that (one was over 26 pounds, gutted, and had three beards), but it would certainly be immoral to let a 23-pound gobbler get away, if he’s close enough to shoot — even in a tree!

“Selah,” sayeth the Sage.