(Editor’s note: SCI is omnipresent in the world and Mississippi is a jewel in the Land of SCI. Recently, SCI launched efforts to broaden that base to include other types of hunting, as well as fishing. Bird hunting is big. This article is one of an ongoing series covering of bird hunting globally, as well as in North America. Recently, SAFARI Magazine has covered dove, duck and perdiz hunting in Uruguay; as well as waterfowling in northern Texas/southern Oklahoma. In these articles, there is an effort to go beyond mere coverage of the hunt itself. To the extent possible, this also includes products and services of advertisers and corporate sponsors. SCI also has expanded efforts to work with like-minded organizations and other interests involved in hunting – in this instance, that includes the State of Mississippi and U.S. National Forests. For more information about SCI’s recognition of wild turkey hunting or the new Game Birds of the World program of SCI’s Record Book and World Hunting Awards effort, contact Gabriel Paz at SCI headquarters.)
Mississippi? As they say, it feels like coming home and it truly extends the South’s warmest welcome.
The ground under foot was soft as we slipped silently through the woods in the dark, just at first light. Dogwoods were in full bloom in the Magnolia sate. It was a spring wild turkey hunt in Mississippi.
Dawn was just beginning to break when suddenly Bill froze in his tracks, listening intently to a sound that I could not hear. He pointed to a rather large oak tree that was barely visible in the quasi-darkness, indicating that I should set up there. He went a few more yards into the thick bush and waited until the both of us were settled in before making some turkey-ish sounds with the Pittman diaphragm call. Game on!
Bill Bynum and I have been on hunts together for the past 37 years, although it had been a few years since we’d crossed paths. As writers, authors and editors, we have worked together on some publications and have been with competing outfits other times. Yet somehow, we always seem to end up together somewhere, hunting something.
Recently, Bill, who has spent most of his life in Tennessee, has been headquartering out of an area near Walnut, MS, working with Terry Abby, owner of Plum Creek, an 800-plus-acre outdoor paradise that focuses primarily on deer hunts for Terry and his friends, but which also boasts a superb population of wild turkeys.
Terry is a true gentleman and downright nice guy. “It’s my personal place,” Abby said of Plum Creek. “I enjoy it.” He said it is for “deer mainly.”
No doubt about the deer numbers in the area. But we were there for turkeys. And, turkeys there were a’plenty.
It is not a single thing, but many that call me back to Mississippi. Often I think about moving there, but don’t seem to get around to it. Maybe one of these days… But back to the hunt.
Mike Jones, with Visit Mississippi – the tourism division of the Mississippi Development Authority -- put this expedition together, along with Terry and Bill. We all have known Mike for a long time, primarily from his hosting activities at the annual SHOT Show for years. Certainly the hunt helped show some of the excitement available in Mississippi, and there is a whole lot to like.
By the time Mike, Terry and Bill had details figured out, it was an old homecoming, of sorts.
Kevin Howard drove down from Missouri with Winchester SX3 shotguns, Winchester Long Beard ammo and new turkey loads from Browning in his Suburban. He was pulling a trailer with a Can-Am 4x4. Kevin has been a factor within the shooting sports industry for decades. Among other things, he helps SCI with the industry media during the SCI Convention each year.
Travis Watson from Walls was there with some of the latest togs from 10x to be used on the hunt. Nice stuff. Works great.
Fellow scribes Matt Lindler from the National Wild Turkey Federation and freelancer Joe Arterburn rounded out the crew. Matt is an accomplished hunter and editor of the National Wild Turkey Federation publications. Joe has been around the industry for a long time and contributes to most of the major publications in the business.
Bill and I teamed-up for the first day and drew first blood. Along with two buddies, a nice gobbler headed fatally toward our Jekyll & Hyde/standing hen decoy setup. One shot at roughly 25 yards and he was down for the count. Bill had called that turkey to us from roughly 150 yards away.
After we set up, we listened. Sometimes a gobble betrays the location of a long beard. But that’s not the way it was for us on that setup. We heard but a faint putt – maybe it was a bit more of a cluck, I don’t rightly recall – only that it was a birdy sound, and the birdiness seemed a lot like a turkey.
The sound came from across an open field – somewhere near the edge of a hardwood/pine tree line. Using the diaphragm call, Bill sounded off toward the tree line. There was silence. Then another single birdy sound from the tree line.
This went on for what seemed to be the better part of a half-hour (maybe only 10 minutes – time takes on different dimensions when the hunt is on) when our eyes caught the slightest inkling of movement along the edge of the tree line. It was a gobbler’s head moving ever so slightly. Bill called. There was an answer, but not from that bird. It was from another not far from him, but to the right.
The conversation between Bill and the birds continued for a few more minutes until three Toms became visible, just outside the tree line. First they moved slowly to the left, and then back to the right – both times also edging slightly toward us. They weren’t responding directly to the calls, but seemed not to be ignoring them either.
A few more minutes of verbal jousting with Bill, and then like the Three Musketeers, they started heading directly toward the decoys. About halfway, there was a slight depression in the field and that’s where they seemed to get confused. For a brief moment, they hung-up there and even looked like they might go off to the right.
Bill hit the call hard, seemingly scolding them for dawdling. It worked. They all three looked directly toward the decoys and, like a feathered version of the Magnificent Seven, started in a wingtip-to-wingtip horizontal line toward the decoys with purpose. They were neither walking nor running, but rather doing a classic turkey trot toward us.
As I locked the Winchester in a three-point hold involving shoulder and both knees, my eyes were like lasers, focused intently on each bird in sequence, judging which was best. Beards were all about the same length, but the one in the middle had the fattest beard.
The shotgun’s front sight then went midway from eyeball to chest along the neck of that stately creature as I waited for the bird to get to the right distance for a shot. There was no question that they all three were coming to the decoys and I could have waited until they were there to pop a cap. But when they were roughly 25 yards from me and about 10 yards from the decoys, the Super X3 went off. No need to wait longer.
The bird dropped like a rock, doing the funky chicken flip-flop on the way down. The other two birds didn’t have a clue about what had just happened, and for what seemed like a long time (probably only a few seconds), they looked at their buddy, wondering whether he had taken ill, or something along those lines.
Although hunters can take more than one turkey per year (and it would have been easy to double or triple-tap at that moment), the state allows only one a day, so my hunt for that day was over.
Hunting wild turkeys is like pursuing two entirely different animals, depending on whether the hunt is in the spring or in the fall. In the spring, it is a matter of appealing to the birds’ mating drive – convincing a long beard that you are either a romantic hen or a competing Tom. In the fall, such calling doesn’t generally work. Then, it is more of a spot-and-stalk proposition. This was a spring hunt, so romance was in the air.
Spring gobbler hunting is actually like big game hunting for birds in that individual Toms are called/enticed to the hunters, sometimes via the use of decoys and audible calls, and then a single aimed shot to the head/neck area puts the bird down. In most places, the shot is with a shotgun, using loose pellets. Usually a minimum of three pellets or so in the head/neck can get the job done.
We were using Winchester’s SX3 12-gauge semi-auto shotguns with full chokes. Ammo included turkey-specific loadings from both Winchester and Browning. I used Winchester’s Long Beard XR 3-inch shells with 1¾ ounces of No. 5 shot. Pre-hunt patterning of the gun/ammo showed it would put 20 pellets in the head/neck area at 30 yards.
The next day Matt hammered a beautiful gobbler, followed by a double-tap on two toms by Kevin and Travis.
During the hunt, we hit the fields and woods of Plum Creek, and also headed deep into the adjacent Holly Springs National Forest.
An advantage of this particular expedition was that Mike Jones invited folks there who could address everything from the status of turkey hunting in Mississippi to the availability of access to public lands throughout the state.
Adam Butler, a wildlife biologist with the MDWFP Wild Turkey Program, noted that there are 53 wildlife management areas in the state.
Although wild turkeys are native to Mississippi, the numbers had dwindled down to almost nothing until the state’s turkey restoration efforts started in the 1950s.
Mississippi was a leader in that effort at that time, and wild turkey hunting blossomed there as similar efforts in other states also kicked into high gear.
Currently there are estimated to be about 250,000 wild turkeys in the state, and the annual harvest is 25,000. That is a very sustainable number and sustainable take.
Also in camp was Rick Dillard, Fish & Wildlife Program Manager for the U.S. Forest Service in Mississippi.
It may not be intuitive to imagine that there is a lot of public land open to hunting in Mississippi. Dillard and Butler explained that, not only is there a lot of land open for hunting, but that many of the state’s wildlife management areas are located on public lands – both state and federal.
Accompanying graphics and text show the number and distribution of forestlands in Mississippi – a state that also hosts one of the biggest deer herds in the entire South.
Others in camp represented Mississippi-based companies involved in the hunting industry. John Gordon from Avery Outdoors in Memphis was a personable guy, who helped explain how some of their decoys work, and Matt Brown from Lit Coolers in Michigan City, MS was there to talk about coolness – Lit Coolers recently began a relationship with SCI Foundation.
Although Travis came from Texas, there was even a Mississippi connection to the 10X clothing on the hunt: The Obsession pattern was from Mossy Oak, located in West Point, MS. Pittman Calls also is located in West Point.
The point here is that hunting is deeply a part of what Mississippi is all about. SCI members there have known that for a long time. There is one SCI chapter and 189 members in Mississippi.
Suffice it to say that Mississippi is a great destination for hunting or fishing and that it is one of the jewels in the Land of SCI.--Steve Comus