Turkey hunter: addiction, passion, obsession

By Sam Piatt

April is coming, and with her comes Kentucky and Ohio wild turkey hunting seasons.

It’s an amazing story, how the wild turkey has survived and thrived since wildlife agencies began stocking them more than 40 years ago.

The hen lays her eggs, as many as a dozen, on the ground, where they are vulnerable to predators. The poults, until their wings are strong enough to allow them to fly up into the trees, are easy pickings for hungry coyotes, foxes, and raccoons.

Yet there have been excellent years of production and survival. Thirteen years ago – 2007—turkey hunters were about to reap the rewards of the best turkey reproduction on record.

That year, according to Steven Dobey, then turkey program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, saw the highest number of poults ever recorded in the 25-year history of the turkey brood survey.

“There are probably more turkeys on the ground now than at any time in recent history,” Dobey said then.

Ohio wildlife officials, too, said the emergence of the 17-year cicada in southern Ohio counties that year helped make for a high brood survival.

“Based on brood observations, hunters can expect an increase in statewide harvest numbers,” Ohio wildlife biologist Mike Reynolds said at the time.

He said hunters killed 20,389 wild turkeys in Ohio during 2006’s youth and spring turkey seasons.

Reynolds estimated as many as 75,000 people, not counting private landowners hunting on their own property, will usually take to the Ohio woods with thoughts of taking a 20- to 24-pound bird home for the oven.


People who hunt wild turkeys in the springtime in northeastern Kentucky and southeastern Ohio simply slip into their camouflage duds, position themselves in a likely spot, make a few calls on a box, slate or mouth call, shoot the dumb turkey and bring it home for the cooker.

Anybody who thinks that that’s what happens obviously has never gone out to hunt Old Tom. These wild turkeys today have evolved from the cagiest and hardiest birds – the ones that survived the relentless guns of hungry pioneers and greedy market hunters.

A successful turkey hunt involves excellent positioning and convincing calling. Maneuvering and getting a good position on a gobbler requires strategy and tactics according to the situation.

You must combine knowledge of turkeys in general, awareness of what your turkey is up to, ability to plan and execute strategy, and woodsmanship skills. Resourcefulness plays a major role.

In short, spring gobbler hunting is a tactical game of using a turkey’s bold courtship behavior against him. The bird’s conduct is predictable, but his acute senses and inherent wariness make him an elusive target.

It’s a sport, but it’s also an addiction, a passion, an obsession.

Kentucky estimates its statewide wild turkey population at 220,000 birds, while Ohio puts its also above the 200,000 mark.

The limit in both states two gobblers per season per hunter. Only one turkey can be taken in any one given day.

For complete spring turkey hunting regulations, pick up a copy of the 2009 Kentucky Hunting Guide for Spring Turkey & Squirrel, available wherever hunting licenses are sold; or the counterpart in Ohio where licenses are sold.

There are lots of safety regulations to be followed in turkey hunting. An important one is to carry a hunter orange vest under your camouflage clothing and, if you bag a turkey, put the vest on you or the bird while carrying it out of the woods.


By Sam Piatt

Reach G. Sam Piatt at [email protected] or (606) 932-3619.

Reach G. Sam Piatt at [email protected] or (606) 932-3619.