Editor’s Note: David Owens from Acworth, Georgia, was the 2018 National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) Grand National Senior Open Division turkey-calling champion. In 2017, he completed an almost unbelievable feat by taking the U.S. Super Slam of wild turkeys, taking 49 gobblers in the 49 states that home wild turkeys with 90 percent of those birds harvested on public lands. Owens started hunting turkeys when he was 13 and has been hunting them for 20+ years.
Friends often will ask me, “From your map research, calling and interviewing people, how accurately can you pinpoint on your maps where you’ll find turkeys on public lands you’ve never hunted before?” Once I’ve got boots on the ground, I start by going to areas that should hold turkeys. I’ll usually have at least six locations that I want to check before I get to the state and the public land in that state that I plan to hunt. I’ll usually find sign or hear a turkey gobble in at least one of those six locations. If I get lucky, the first place I check may have gobbling turkeys, but there’s no way you can be 100-percent accurate, until you put your boots on the ground. But by having six different locations where all my research tends to indicate gobblers should be, I drastically increase my odds for success.
I’ve found that the most-reliable source of information to pinpoint a turkey to hunt on public lands I’ve never hunted before is local information. The real secret to getting the best local information is your ability to tell the difference between somebody you talk to who may not really know what he’s talking about as far as seeing and knowing where turkeys are. If you can find someone who really knows at least what a turkey looks like, and where he’s seen turkeys, you’re ahead of the game. For instance, a forester on the public land you plan to hunt may not be a turkey hunter, but he knows what a turkey looks like, and he can tell you where he’s seen turkeys crossing the road, walking out in a clear cut or out in a field. That’s good local information. I think foresters and the people who cut timber on public lands are two of the most-reliable sources for identifying where turkeys are on public lands you plan to hunt in the spring, because they’ve probably spent more time out on that land than anyone else does.
In the spring, the state wildlife biologist responsible for the public land you plan to hunt is out on that land doing brood counts and also looking for turkey food and turkey habitat all year long. States in the Northeast often have crews of people who do control burns, create food plots and mow and manage public-hunting areas. If you can find out who those people are and talk with them, they also can provide reliable information on where they see turkeys, while they’re working on the land. Anyone who spends a lot of time on the public lands you plan to hunt often can give you recent information that can be critically important to finding and taking turkeys during the spring season.
One of the advantages that I have is that I really enjoy the search for information about where turkeys live on public lands I plan to hunt almost as much as I enjoy hunting the turkeys on that land. For me, finding places through map research and interviews before the hunt is like a search for a treasure map. Once I get that treasure map and pick out six places where the treasure may be buried, then every day I hunt I can hunt with confidence knowing I’ve done everything I possibly can to locate and hear a turkey gobble on public lands.
I really get excited when I discover a piece of information from a local, and then go to my satellite-imaging maps, my aerial photos and my topo maps and confirm that this spot has everything a turkey needs to live there. In 2003 when I was in college, I started using this system when I traveled to other states and hunted states I never had hunted before for turkeys. I started with south Florida, and now I go everywhere and use this system.
Some of my friends ask, “What causes you to continue to hunt turkeys on public lands you’ve never hunted before in 10 states every year?” I explain that I’m totally hooked on the interaction I can have with a wild turkey gobbler once I find him. I’m also like a student who has been able to take a class he’s always wanted to take under a professor he’s always wanted to learn under. I like the challenge of hunting different types of terrain, and the challenge that terrain presents to finding and taking a gobbler. I’ve also learned that each different race of turkey reacts a little bit different, depending on the state and the type of terrain he lives in, and I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of trying to figure out where I need to be and what I need to do to take that bird that day in that state.
As long as I’ve been hunting turkeys, as hard as I’ve been hunting turkeys, and as much as I know about turkeys, each day I really never know what’s going to happen when I go turkey hunting. I have to look for ways to adapt to the unexpected to try and be successful. I don’t really get upset when the turkey beats me. I try to learn something – even when I lose to a turkey. When I’m fortunate enough to take one of those gobblers, I get excited and happy. If I could boil down to what I like about my type of turkey hunting, it’s the challenge of the unknown each day.
To learn more about turkey hunting, check out John E. Phillips’s book “The Turkey Hunter’s Bible,” available in print, Kindle and Audible versions at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007HT1IUS/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p1_i7. You may have to cut and paste this link into your browser. (When you click on this book, notice on the left where Amazon says you can read 10% of this book for free and hear 10% for free). To learn more about other turkey books by John E. Phillips, go to www.amazon.com/author/johnephillips.
Tomorrow: Knowing the Best Equipment for Hunting Turkeys and Why to Hunt Public Lands