John's Journal...

Let’s Get Started Hunting Turkeys

Day 5: How Charles Elliott Learned the Patience to Take Tough Turkeys

Editor’s Note: Charles Elliott, of Covington, Georgia, was one of the deans of outdoor journalism before his passing. A retired field editor of “Outdoor Life” magazine and the author of numerous outdoors books, including “Turkey Hunting with Charlie Elliott,” he also served as director of Georgia’s state parks and of the Georgia Game & Fish Commission.

Click for Larger ViewStick-to-it-iveness may come in bigger packages that lasts for weeks or months, even years. I’ve known hunters who have kept after one special gobbler, passing up all others, from one season to the next. Normally, I’m proud of myself when I hang with one turkey for 6 hours, more or less. But the prize gobbler of my turkey hunting career, two-thirds of a century, outsmarted and outmaneuvered me for 3 years. I’ve bagged every species of big-game animal and most of the birds, but my trophy of a lifetime – if I had to select one – was that special gobbler. He was with two jakes the first time I saw him. The jakes were fully grown, but he dwarfed them by a good head and shoulders – if the butts of his wings can be called shoulders. He was the largest mountain gobbler I’d ever seen. By the time I could have shot at him, he was running and was already at the limit of the shot pattern. So, I passed him up. But he set me on fire. I went back the next day and the next, all the rest of that season. For the following 2 years, I confined most of my turkey hunting to the ridges and coves where he lived. I saw him any number of times and would have known him if I’d met him walking down Peachtree Street in Atlanta. I was convinced I even could identify him by his gobble. Several times while I was trying to work him, other gobblers came to me. I simply passed them up. At that time the limit for the season was one. I don’t believe I pulled many boo-boos, but not a trick I knew would get that old boy close enough for a sure shot. And I tried them all. My patience was inspired by an obsession to bag that feathered Goliath. This was the kind of patience that comes in big packages.

However, the smaller kind of patience saved me on the day when that big turkey’s luck finally ran out. I’d heard no gobbling that morning and worked in a circle to where my car was parked on a logging road. I leaned against the door, smoked a pipeful of tobacco and was about to slide under the wheel for the drive back to camp, when the hunch hit me that I should make at least one last-ditch call. I stepped to the side of the road, yelped my box, paused a minute and rattled the box to simulate gobbling. Then, loud and clear, that special gobble I’d heard so many times blasted back at me from the next ridge, a couple of hundred yards away. I stood, straining every sense, until he gobbled again to tell me that he was coming along the ridge, paralleling the ridge where I was.

Click for Larger ViewI sprinted away from the road and made a big circle, to get in front of him on the ridge he was traveling. I sat down in a natural blind. When I yelped, he gobbled again and continued toward me, until he reached a narrow ridge that branched off. He hesitated there for a long 2 or 3 minutes. When he gobbled again, he was on his way back to the management area where he lived. Meanwhile, another gobbler behind me had answered my yelps and was coming toward me. I left him and went after the granddaddy that had kept my blood percolating for 3 years. When he seemed to hang up near the top of the ridge, I built a quick blind and sat down to try to call him back, without much hope of seeing him again that day. I didn’t look at my watch and had no idea how long the hunt took, but it seemed like the rest of the morning. I’m sure the turkey remained in one spot for an hour. He gobbled occasionally and then clammed up. I couldn’t get another note out of him. In my experience, when a turkey hangs up, gobbles and then quits, he either has lost interest and gone about his business, or is on his way to investigate. So, I settled down to wait, no matter how long, determined not to muff this opportunity as I had a few others.

After an interminable time in which absolutely nothing happened, the rocks, roots and sticks beneath me changed from dead, inanimate objects into live ones, and began probing a tender part of my anatomy. At long, long last, I ran out of patience. There’s just no other way to put it. I could visualize the gobbler wandering off with a hen somewhere or scratching placidly for grubs and green shoots, while I sat suffering. I thought, “To hell with it,” and put my hand down to help shift my weight and stand up. At that same instant, a stick cracked somewhere in front of me. I froze, straining my eyes for the sight of a deer. After at least 15 minutes without seeing a movement or hearing another sound, I was about to move but then heard footsteps in the leaves. The cadence was that of a man, stalking cautiously, slowly. I was watching intently for a man when the gobbler appeared, walking slowly. He looked half as tall as a man. I was so started I almost forgot to put my gun to my shoulder when his head went behind a tree. Then when he stood magnificent in a shaft of sunlight, I almost forgot to shoot. I knew by his size and appearance that this was the gobbler I’d been after for 3 years. And surely I would have missed him again, if circumstances hadn’t forced me to stay patient. It makes a fellow wonder how many gobblers he’s missed over the years, because his patience has run out.

Click for Larger ViewTwo more times I had similar experiences, both while hunting with Roscoe Reams in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia. At neither time were turkeys gobbling, but the signs were there, and we know the turkeys were too. Before daylight, Roscoe left me on a narrow bench and went on up the ridge to a place where he’d seen turkeys fly off the roost. For almost 2 hours, I remained where Roscoe had left me. I clucked, yelped and gobbled on each of the four callers I’d packed along, but got nary a peep in reply. The morning was growing old. I knew if I expected to hear a gobble, I’d better try a few more locations before the turkeys throttled down for the day. I left my blind and moved down the ridge, away from Roscoe. I stopped and called a few times before I reached a gap and climbed to follow another ridge.

Half an hour later, Roscoe, not having heard a gobble, headed for the bench where he’d left me, to suggest that we explore other territory. He was brought up short about 70-yards from the blind I’d deserted. An old gobbler was stomping around it, clucking and pop-pop-popping as a turkey does when trying to find a hen he knows should be there. Since I didn’t shoot, Roscoe realized I was no longer there. He yelped with his caller, but the gobbler had a fix on the first call he’d heard and came on toward the gap, looking for me. Exactly the same thing happened the next season, on the same acre of ground. Both times I flunked-out, because I had fallen short of patience.

Once, in the Ocoee National Forest of Tennessee, I picked up a fellow who was walking to his car, a couple of miles away. He was with three other hunters, he told me. Every season for the past 12 years they had come down together from Michigan to hunt turkeys. “Have you got your gobbler this year?” I asked. “We’ve never killed a turkey,” he replied. “None of us. But one of these days, we will.”

Click for Larger ViewMany times I’ve been asked, “Can you acquire patience, or do you have to be born with it?” The answer is simple. Patience grows when you practice – and life will give you plenty of opportunities to do so. Sometime soon you will find yourself lined up at a grocery check-out counter, and there at the check-out, a shopper will wait stolidly until the cartload of purchases is rung up, decide for some reason to check them all again, fumble for a check, neatly write it out, fumble again for an ID or two and then fail to find them. Or, possibly you’ll be stuck in an endless line of traffic, creeping along at 5 miles per hour, when you’re already late for an important meeting (One of my hunting partners uses time in traffic jams to practice notes on his diaphragm caller. And I’ve often thought that I should have a caller with me at check-out counters too - I might hurry the line along). But if you can make yourself relax at times like these, staying calm and collected instead of fretting, you’ll gain practice in showing real patience – the patience you’ll need to collect that old longbeard.

To get these Kindle ebooks by John E. Phillips, including: “The Turkey Hunter's Bible, click here; “PhD Gobblers; click here; and “Turkey Hunting Tactics, click here, or go to, type in the names of the books, and download them to your Kindle, and/or download a Kindle app for your iPad, SmartPhone or computer.

Check back at this website after March 10th for John E. Phillips’ latest Kindle ebook, “Outdoor Life’s Complete Turkey Hunting” and a reprint of his popular, sold-out book, “The Turkey Hunter’s Bible” 2nd edition.

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About the Author

John Phillips, winner of the 2012 Homer Circle Fishing Award for outstanding fishing writer by the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) and the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA), the 2008 Crossbow Communicator of the year and the 2007 Legendary Communicator chosen for induction into the National Fresh Water Hall of Fame, is a freelance writer (over 6,000 magazine articles for about 100 magazines and several thousand newspaper columns published), magazine editor, photographer for print media as well as industry catalogues (over 25,000 photos published), lecturer, outdoor consultant, marketing consultant, book author and daily internet content provider with an overview of the outdoors. Click here for more information and a list of all the books available from John E. Phillips.

Check back each day this week for more about Let’s Get Started Hunting Turkeys"

Day 1: Develop Your Hunting Skills by Knowing Turkeys with Lovett Williams
Day 2: Learning to Read Turkey Sign with Lovett Williams
Day 3: Learn to How to Call and Shoot Turkeys with Lovett Williams
Day 4: Where Does Turkey Hunting Patience Begin and End with the Late Charles Elliott
Day 5: How Charles Elliott Learned the Patience to Take Tough Turkeys

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Entry 759, Day 5