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You Don’t Have to Take a Bird for a Memorable Turkey Hunt Day 1: Know When to Call Turkeys and How to Hunt Safely with Larry Norton  

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Editor’s Note: One of the reasons I enjoy turkey hunting so much is because every turkey hunt is so different perhaps due to the location, the person I’m hunting with, the particular bird I’m trying to take or my learning something new that I’ve never expected to learn. I’ve also realized through my almost 60 years of turkey hunting that I don’t have to harvest a gobbler to have a successful, memorable turkey hunt.

Some years ago, Larry Norton, today of Butler, Alabama, but back then a guide at Bent Creek Lodge in Jachin, Ala., whispered to me, “Listen,” as he pointed in the direction from where we both heard a turkey gobbling. As I got ready to go to the bird, Norton held his hand up, meaning for me to stop, and said, “Wait a minute.” As we stood still again in that predawn light, we heard three different turkeys gobbling. The sun was just beginning to peep out from under the cover of darkness when Norton announced, “Okay, let’s go.” Larry was taller than me with legs that seemed to go almost up to his arm pits. For every stride he took, I’d have to take two. As I started to run, I took my shotgun off of my shoulder and put it across the opposite shoulder, so I would have both hands free to run.

As Norton continued to pull away from me, I ran harder down the clay woods road that went in the direction from where we’d heard the three longbeards gobble. I reached the point where I knew I could run no faster, and I became airborne. I never understood previously that my feet could outrun my body. In that split second when my whole body was up in the air with my head moving toward the ground first, I flashed back to when I once taught and competed in judo tournaments in college and afterwards. Heading to the ground, I used my left arm to make a wheel. When I hit, I rolled and was immediately back on my feet chasing Norton.

About 60 or 70 yards after the race had begun Norton slowed to a walk, looked back at me, put his index finger to his lips and whispered, “Shush, listen.” We waited for about a minute, while I was catching my breath. Then we heard the three turkeys gobble again, this time on the back side of the hill from the ridge where we were. Norton took the lead, and we sat down about 15 yards from a small creek. Norton yelped again two or three times. The turkeys came over the ridge they were on coming straight toward us. “Get ready,” Norton said. But just before the three gobblers got within gun range, they turned to the left and walked away from us.

“Okay, John, let’s sneak up this creek,” Norton told me quietly. “We’ll try and get on the ridge the turkeys have come over and get ahead of them.” I moved out in front of Norton after we knew the turkeys were out of hearing range. I’d only gone about 40 yards when Norton said, “Stop, give me your gun.” I took my Remington 3-inch Magnum off my shoulder and handed it to Norton. Immediately he took the safety off the gun and ejected all three shotgun shells. Then he cut a small stick with his knife and sat down.

“I’m not believing this,” Norton said. As I watched, he dug about 3 inches of hard-packed clay out of my gun barrel. “If those gobblers had gotten close enough for you to shoot, your gun could have blown up and killed both of us. Or, your gun barrel could have split, and I don’t know what could’ve happened to you.” Apparently, when my feet outran my body, and I did the judo roll to get right back up on my feet without hardly missing a stride, my gun barrel had gone straight down into that clay road. I was shaking at the thought of what might have happened.

However, we did get on top of the ridge ahead of the turkeys. Norton started calling like I’d never heard anyone call before.  The first time he yelped, the longbeards gobbled. He continued to yelp to those three turkeys and never stopped until the first longbeard was almost at the end of my gun barrel when I squeezed the trigger and took him.

What I Learned from This Hunt:

Remember to:

* check your shotgun closely if you’ve fallen with it. When your feet outrun your body, and you trip and fall, check and make sure that you don’t have any broken bones and haven’t skinned up your fingers, your hands, your elbows or your knees. Before you get back into the game of turkey hunting, check out your shotgun very closely. Because I didn’t, I almost had a really, really bad accident.

* notice if gobblers are answering you back when you call to them. I asked Norton why he kept calling to those three turkeys after he knew they were coming to us, and he answered, “If you remember when we were set-up down on the creek, once I stopped calling, the turkeys turned and walked away from us. I’ve learned that when you have a turkey or several turkeys fired-up, and they gobble every time you call to them, you can keep calling until you squeeze the trigger.

* not to run to gobblers. Running to turkeys is a young man’s game.  

To learn more about turkey hunting, check out John E. Phillips’s book, “The Turkey Hunting Guides’ Bible,” at, and available in Kindle, print and Audible versions.

Tomorrow: Use the Sissy Owl Call to Find Turkeys with the Late Dick Kirby

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