John's Journal...

Battling the Slave Ditch Gobbler with Central Alabama’s Joe Champion

Get Ready For a Turkey War with the Slave Ditch Gobbler, and Watch a Turkey Hunting Video

Click to enlargeEditor’s Note: We didn’t realize how big this bird was until we weighed him. At 22 pounds and with a 1-1/2-inch beard and 1-inch spurs, the Slave Ditch Gobbler was one of the heaviest birds ever killed at Portland Landing near Selma, Alabama.

When turkey hunting, I use a Nikon 1.5-4.5x20 riflescope and attach it to myClick to enlargeRemington 1187, 3-inch magnum shotgun with a B-Square mount. One of the advantages of using a riflescope on your shotgun for hunting turkeys is the riflescope can be adjusted, so that the most-dense part of the pattern is in the center of your crosshairs. By adapting the reticles to get the most-dense part of the pattern where you’re aiming, you often have more pellets in the kill zone, even at distances greater than 30 yards. Joe Champion of Pine Hill, Alabama, and I were hunting at Portland Landing, a turkey and deer hunting lodge near Camden, Ala., made up of 14,000 acres of turkey and deer-infested river-bottom land. Located on the Alabama River approximately 30-miles south of Selma, Ala., near Camden, Portland Landing has two lodging facilities. The wild turkey reignssupreme in springtime at the lodge.

The day I arrived at Portland Landing, I sighted-in my shotgun with some new shot shells. Although I had shot another brand before, I wanted to try these new shells. I prefer to shoot No. 6 shot most of the time but had purchased No. 7-1/2s, No. 6s and No. 4s. After spending time on the pattern board and testing all three shot sizes, Irealized the No. 4s put more shots in the kill zone of the turkey head target than the No. 7-1/2s or the No. 6s did. I wanted to Click to enlargeargue with the pattern board. “But I don’t want to shoot No. 4s,” I told Champion. “Well, you either can shoot what you want or shoot what the pattern board tells you is the best shot for your gun,” Champion explained. Reluctantly, I agreed to go with the choice the pattern board dictated and put No. 4s in my hunting vest.

The next morning, when we climbed out of bed before daylight to hunt for a gobbling turkey, clouds had rolled-in, and rain fell. The once-popular cartoon strip, “Li’l Abner,” featured a character, Joe Btfsplk, who had a constant rain cloud over his head. Everywhere Btfsplk went, rain fell. For years, I’d been much the same way. When I arrived at Portland Landing late the previous afternoon, the sun shone, the sky showed only blue, the birds sang, and the turkeys gobbled. But the next morning, when we got up, the black sky and the blowing wind made the turkeys develop lockjaw. After working hard the next 2 days, Champion and I finally located some gobbling turkeys. Although these toms had wanderer’s disease – going here and there – they never seemed to wander over to where we were. That night, Champion went to pick-up some other hunters from their stands and decided to stop along the edge of a cotton field to listen and hear turkeys gobble as they flew up to roost. When he returned to the lodge, he announced, “John, I’ve got two turkeys roosted. We’ll set-up in-between them and try to call them at daylight. They’re roosting down near the Slave Ditch.”Click to enlarge

Learn more about hunting legendary gobblers from John E. Phillips’ library of turkey-hunting books, including “The Turkey Hunter’s Bible,” “Turkey Tactics,” “Outdoor Life’s Complete Turkey Hunting,” “The Masters’ Secrets of Turkey Hunting” and “Hunter’s Specialties’ PhD Gobblers.” To learn more about these hunting books and others, visit, or call 205-967-3830.

To learn to call turkeys, you not only have to know what you need to do to call in the bird, but you need to know how the turkey responds to your calling. Since the turkey is in one place, and you’re always in a different place, many times you can’t see the turkey to watch the effects of your turkey calls. To solve this problem, we asked Bill Zearing, founder and president of Cody Game Calls, to be the caller, and we’ve asked Preston Pittman, who has won all 5 divisions of the World Turkey Calling Championship, to be the turkey. Each day, we’ll pose a different hunting scenario and ask these two legendary turkey callers/hunters to show us the types of calls you need to use and learn the different effects they have on turkeys.

Watch Video: “Once the Hens Fly Down from Their Roost, the Time Is Right to Call the Gobbler Out from the Tree”

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Tomorrow: How I Hunted the Slave Ditch Gobbler

Check back each day this week for more about "Battling the Slave Ditch Gobbler with Central Alabama’s Joe Champion"

Day 1: Begin the Turkey Hunt for the Slave Ditch Gobbler, and Watch a Turkey Hunting Video
Day 2: Get Ready For a Turkey War with the Slave Ditch Gobbler
Day 3: How I Hunted the Slave Ditch Gobbler, and You Can Watch a Turkey Hunting Video
Day 4: Learn About Tough Hunting for the Slave Ditch Gobbler, and Watch a Turkey Hunting Video
Day 5: How to Make Your Scope and Gun More Effective for Taking Turkeys and Watch a Turkey Hunting Video


Entry 558, Day 2