Hunting for wild turkey on the opening day of the season has been a family tradition for more than a decade, and Sunday March 15 was already special because it was the first ever turkey season to start on a Sunday. Due to some recent legal changes by SCDNR and the S.C. General Assembly, hunting season can now commence on a Sunday, but that's not why this hunt was so memorable. Conditions were not the best for turkey hunting with the temperature at fifty degrees and a heavy fog in the air. Nonetheless, a boss gobbler started to gobble at 7:15 (almost ten minutes AFTER other woodland songbirds began to sing at dawn's first light) and he continuously sounded off until 7:30. Taking into account how far away he was, and the fact that he was gobbling good, I decided to make a wide trek through the freshly burned woods in order to get ahead of him. After the brisk ten minute jaunt, I was in the position I wanted but there was a problem - I no longer heard the gobbler! After waiting 15 minutes and second-guessing my decision to move, I simply reversed course and made the woodland jaunt again back to my original location. Sitting on the ground against a massive pine tree on the edge of a wood lot overlooking a green field, I was now steadfast in my plan to sit tight and practice patience. From 8:15 to 8:45 - nothing. THEN, approaching from directly behind me (offering no view and certainly no shot) I heard the unmistakeable sound of a boss tom going into full strut mode over and over again. When I peeked over my shoulder I saw a hen turkey meandering through the blackened landscape, and I knew that while she was walking along and scratching, the gobbler was simply following along behind her - as if on a string. They came up behind me in the woods, rather that in the green field as I had planned, and then they turned around and walked back into those same woods, and I was fit to be tied. If the turkeys had continued for another minute in any direction but 180 degrees behind me, I likely would have seen the tom and completed the deed - harvesting a gobbler on opening day. Instead, I was the victim of some TOM-foolery because for the next hour every noise in the woods and every movement had me jumpy thinking those turkeys were going to slip up on me again. After an hour passed, at 10:00 I decided to head back to my earlier ill-fated position, because I heard a murder of crows making a ruckus over that way. (Note to the novice: crows are famous for screaming at turkeys in the woods - and can help you locate a bird from time to time.) When I completed my woodland trek again, I could see that the crows were leaving and that no turkeys were in the area. Besides the fact that the air was cool with the fog and good for walking, this hunter was getting a little thirsty and hungry for breakfast, and decided to head for home. JUST THEN the bushes in the forest next to me started to rustle, and I had visions of turkey hunting glory - had I indeed figured out these birds and were they going to appear right in front of me?! I put my gun up and was BAM-boozled when a stealthy coyote broke from cover. With not one ounce of hesitation, I squeezed the trigger on my 12-gauge shotgun and let fly a load of copper-plated number six shot. (Note to the novice: Coyotes are known predators of wild turkey and deer). Harvesting the coyote immediately took me back to a similar turkey hunt nearly ten years ago - in almost the exact same location. I had been hunting that morning, back when reports of coyotes were very new to the Lowcountry, and I came face to face with the wily predator. Hesitation was the difference all those years ago as the coyote bounded away, but experience allowed me to cull the predator this time. With some predator management completed, it was time to end the opening day turkey hunt - with two close encounters to show for my efforts. Riding out of the woods I glanced out the truck window and spied the same full strut tom from earlier still strutting for five hens in some burned woods not far from my earlier sighting. I continued on, there had been enough drama already to remind this outdoorsman why the spring turkey season opener was so grand, and why he would be back SOON.
My photos show my father and I before a wild turkey hunt in front of spring azaleas, and what a hunter in full camo clothing looks like during a turkey hunt, two wild turkeys walking in the woods, and a coyote harvested during a turkey hunt.