Ian Harford

Date: October 13, 2011

Heading East for Westerns – Turkey Hunting in Georgia

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I got my first taste of a sport that is sure to become an obsession during a recent visit to see Realtree at their Head Office in Columbus, Georgia.

It was at the SHOT Show back in January that Realtree’s Marketing Manager Dodd Clifton laid down the gauntlet. We were discussing some of my international hunting trips and my plans for the coming year when he said, “sounds exciting, but you’ve never experienced real hunting until you’ve hunted turkey”. As you can imagine, that really caught my attention!

There’s an estimated 3 million turkey hunters in North America and an entire industry has spawned around it.  After white tail deer, wild turkey attracts the second largest group of hunters in the United States and is an important market for many of the worlds leading field sports brands – including Realtree.

Dodd put me in touch with Dan Giles, owner of Pine Ridge Hunting Plantation near Fort Gaines, Georgia. Pine Ridge Estate comprises approximately 5,000 acres of woodland and mixed arable including cotton, peanuts and maize, which Dan farms with his family.

In addition to turkey, Pine Ridge also offers some of the best quail, dove and white tail hunting in the South.

Turkey season in Georgia this year was from March 20th to May 15th. The only dates I could manage were the last three days of the season. “They’re going to be a little quite at this time of year” warned Dan “but I’m still pretty sure we’ll get one!”

There are 4 subspecies of wild turkey you can hunt in the US – Rio Grande, Osceola, Merriams and the Eastern, which I’d be hunting. Successfully hunting all four US is called a ‘Grand Slam’ and is one of the most sought after achievements in North American hunting.

There are two other species of wild turkey – the Goulds can be found in northern Mexico and the Ocellated in southern Mexico and parts of Central America. Hunting all six is knowns at the ‘Royal’ or ‘World Slam’.

Turkey have incredible eyesight and are widely thought to also see in colour. Complete camo is essential to ensure concealment. At this time of the year Georgia is covered with lush green foliage.

This backdrop calls for a camouflage pattern with green leaves and accents. Realtree APG is specifically designed for this environment.

My kit included Garland’s 6-pocket cargo pants, Swedteam Creep Fleece Jacket and Danner Jackal GTX boots with facemask and gloves from Hunters Specialties – all in Realtree APG.

Realtree’s International Licensing Manager Nolen Sweet kindly offered to lend me his Remington Model 870 SPS Synthetic Turkey shotgun, which just happens to be in Realtree APG!

My guide for the hunt was Joey Floyd, a passionate and experienced turkey hunter from Alabama. Dan and Joey’s families have been hunting turkey for generations. Their depth of knowledge was incredible and by the time I’d spent three days them I felt like I’d been hunting turkey for years!

The first day and a half of my 3-day hunt had proved fruitless. We’d seen plenty of tracks, but no turkey. Our evening stalk on the second day marked our fourth outing and Joey was determined to show me some birds.

He set the decoys out in a field on the edge of a pine wood, roughly 25 yards from the tree line. I took my seat and got comfortable in a patch of brush, trimming the low hanging branches to give me a wide field of view and a clear line of fire to the decoys. Once he’d finished with the decoys, Joey took position around 40 yards behind me and started to call intermittently.

After a couple of hours I saw a big ‘Tom” strutting about 400 yards across the other side of the field, a little to my left. Something appeared to startle him and he ran across the field into my wood. After that I didn’t see or hear anything for a while. My concentration seemed to wane a little and I must have drifted off to sleep. I woke up to see three young Toms strutting around the decoy immediately in front of me!

Thanks to my Realtree APG camo they hadn’t seen me, but they were so close – one wrong move and I’d scare them away! Unfortunately Joey hadn’t seen them and decided to call it a day. I could hear him walking up behind me – and so could the turkeys!

Two of them stood up straight and looked towards the sound. This happened to be directly towards my location, making raising the shotgun undetected almost impossible!

Luckily Joey saw the birds before it was too late and stopped behind me. As I raised the Remington my heart was in my mouth and I was shaking all over. It’s the most excited I’ve been when hunting for ages! Luckily for me, one of the turkeys was still engrossed in the decoy and the next moment he was in turkey heaven.

For my final day’s hunting we were joined by Dan. We set off for one of his favourite places – the cotton field where I shot my gobbler the previous night. This time was hunted the woods on the opposite side of the field where he’s seen a big gobbler a number of times.

As we approached the area, Dan gave a few hoots on an owl call. There was an almost immediate response as the big gobbler – still roosting in his tree – called back. He was about 200 yards in front and off to out left.

He continued to call, allowing us to take up position nearby in cover on the forest floor. Dan and Joey began using their hen calls to draw in the ‘Tom’. I was positioned in cover, just forward of Dan and Joey. The aim was to call him right past me.

However this Tom was smarter than the average gobbler! The obvious route would have taken him right in front of my position, but instead he took a wide circle around us, finally calling some 50 yards behind Dan & Joey!

They moved into a new position, but our Tom decided to all it a day and stayed quiet after that. After talking tactics over lunch, we decided to head back to the same field and set up two hen decoys in the field itself. I made a makeshift blind under a small pine tree and waited for the Tom to come and check out the chicks!

At around 4.00pm he did just that, walking within around 20 yards of my position, but off to my left in a blind spot. He surveyed the decoys for a good five minutes before deciding he didn’t like what he saw and made his was back to the woods.

It would seem that like this one had been shot at before. That was the last turkey action we saw and as dusk started to approach we made our way back to the lodge, where Joey gave me some of his Chattahoochee Game Calls to practice with for next season. I know they work, but whether or not I can make them sing is another matter!

Check out more images from my Turkey Hunt with Pine Ridge Hunting Plantation

Ian’s turkey hunting gear:

As published in the July 2011 Edition of Modern Gamekeeping Magazine

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Georgia, United States