Turkeys in northwest Arkansas, below the South Shore of Bull Shoals Lake, have been a very popular game bird. Since the early 1900's, they have almost become extinct, but they are now thriving. Between l900 and 1945 the wild turkey population decreased due to the poaching and cutting of virgin timber, which decreased their habitat. Wild turkeys were hunted for market until it became illegal in 1915. In 1930 the population reached a low due to a drought. A few birds survived along the White River in the 20's and 30's (Arkansas Wildlife, 94). The majestic birds have caught the eyes of many hunters, causing an addiction to hunt the wild turkeys.
In 1932, a new restocking effort began. Many of the game farms, which raised wildlife for restocking, were discontinued because the birds from the farms did not have the wild instincts required to survive in the wild. Turkeys were trapped and released in a different area for the first time in 1937. From 1937 to 1960 numerous wild turkeys were released in the South Shore area of Bull Shoals Lake due to trapping in the areas that were more plentiful with turkeys. They were released in small groups of thirty or forty. They were trapped from January I through March 15. In order to safely catch turkeys, thirty by forty feet nets were shot over feeding turkeys with three small hidden cannons. The federal government paid seventy-five percent of the $266 spent on every turkey that was trapped and released while the state of Arkansas paid for the rest.
Restocking has drastically increased the population since the 1930s. In 1938 there were only 202 turkeys killed during the spring and fall seasons. Only 245 were taken in 1945. Due to these low harvests, the 1948 season was closed. It reopened in 1949, with a five day season and a bag limit of one bird. To show the impact of the capture and release program, the 1964 harvest topped 1000 for the first time since 1920. By 1972 Arkansas was home to over 20,000 wild turkeys. The harvest has increased from 1,000 to over 9,000 in 1998 (Arkansas Wildlife 94, 201-203).
Since turkeys are plentiful again, hunters are able to harvest large numbers of turkeys. Hunters use calls and the knowledge acquired from experience to hunt turkeys. Turkey hunting is hard to master and is very addictive because it is a mind game trying to outsmart the crafty toms.
Weeks before season a hunter must scout different hunting areas to find birds. One if the ways is to go early in the morning to a hunting area and listen for gobbling toms. Covering areas by foot is very important in order to find feeding areas, strutting areas, and roosting areas which can aid the hunter on a hunt. While searching for a prize bird, hunters use many different calls to coax a turkey to gobble (Humphry, 55).
Locator calls are used to make the gobblers shock gobble, gobbling at a loud noise which scares or angers the tom. An owl hooter is a locator call used to make them gobble early in the morning while they are still on the roost. Crow calls can be used all day to produce gobbles to locate a turkey. A screamer call which imitates a pileated woodpecker, coyote, red-tailed hawk, peacock and a wood duck whistle, are the most versatile calls used during the day to get a shock gobble (Humphry, 38).`
Diaphragm calls are the most widely used calls. They are made of a small piece of cloth that surrounds several latex reeds held in place by an aluminum frame. A cluck is produced by saying the word "chick." A yelp is produced by saying the word "yuck." A purr is made by fluttering the lips, tongue, or throat. All of the different sounds a hen produces can be used to call a turkey. There are many other sounds that come with practice (Eye, 41-54).
Box calls are great calls for beginners. The top of the call, the paddle, is simply slid over the sides to produce calls. A cutt, another sound produced by a hen, is made by holding the paddle on one of the sides and tapping with the other hand. Purrs are hard to master with a box call because the paddle has to be slid over a side with a rough, but steady motion (Eye, 41-54).
A slate call is used with a striker to imitate the hen. The call and striker are both roughed with sandpaper to increase friction. By moving the striker in slow circular motions, a yelp is produced. If the striker is moved slowly and steadily across the slate's surface, a purr is produced. By pressing hard and moving quickly, cutts and clucks are made (Eye, 41-54).
A wing bone is a long slender bone found in the wing of a turkey that can be used as a call. The hunter blows into an end of the bone and it creates hen sounds. The wing bone was used by the Indians to call turkeys. Because it is very hard to use, few hunters use it (Eye, 41-54).
Push button calls are basically the same as a box call, but they are spring loaded and easier to use. A small button is pushed to produce yelps, cutts, purrs, and clucks. Push button calls are usually mounted on the gun barrel to call when the turkey is within the hunter's sight (Eye, 41-54).
Besides calls, turkey hunting requires a lot of other gear. One of these being the correct camouflage. There are many different brands of camouflage sold today. Some of the most popular include Realtree, Advantage, and Mossy Oak. All three brands make camouflage for spring and fall hunting situations. The spring camouflage is the best for turkey season because it has more green in it. The names of them are Real Tree, All Purpose, Advantage, Advantage Timber, Mossy Oak, Mossy Oak Breakup, and Mossy Oak Shadow Leaf (Faw, 62-64).
A good gun is a must when it comes to turkey hunting. Many different turkey guns are made today, but without the right shot, pellets in shell, and choke tube, a piece of the barrel that condenses the shot pattern, the guns will not shoot like they should. A hunter needs to buy a full or tighter choke to hunt a turkey with. Without a tight choke, the shot will spread too much and lessen the chance of hitting a turkey in the vital areas of the head. A gun should be shot with different chokes and shot sizes to determine the best combination. The recommended shot size is four through six shot. Anything smaller will not have enough knock down power at distances over thirty yards while anything larger than four is illegal in the Natural State (Eye, 111- 113).
A very important part of hunting is being comfortable so the hunter can stay still. A good pair of boots can make all the difference in the world because a bad boot can cause the hunter to be uncomfortable, which can ruin a hunt. A pair with soft soles will allow for quieter stalks. Gore-tex comes in handy when a turkey is on the other side of a creek since Gor-Tex is a breathable waterproof system used in many different boots. Hunters should buy a comfortable pair of boots because with every advantage a hunter has, the more successful they will be (Eye 111- 113).
Rusty Wallace, an Arkansas resident, has hunted turkeys for fifteen years. Rusty has a lot of knowledge and experience in turkey hunting, and knows every little trick to call in a South Shore gobbler. Rusty is one of the best hunters in the area (Wallace).
Rusty has killed around twenty toms and fourteen of them were two to three-year-old birds. His largest carried a twelve and one quarter inch beard with one and a quarter inch spurs. He has called numerous birds for other hunters. Rusty accompanied me on a youth hunt in the Sylamore National Forest and has given me an interest in turkey hunting (Wallace).
Rusty uses an array of different calls. He prefers Knight and Hate brand mouth calls because of the precision and high quality. He uses Mad Friction calls with a Hunter Specialties Rosewood Striker. He carries a crystal, slate, and titanium friction call. If Rusty uses a box call, it is a Quaker Boy Mini-Boat Paddle. He is trying to master the wing bone, but he is not ready to use it in a real hunt. He practices his calls while watching filmed turkey hunts so he can learn from the pros.
Wallace also owns a large selection of locator calls. He uses a H. S, Strut Hoot tube along with a Knight and Hale Owl Hooter. "A Primo's gobble shaker can make any turkey gobble," says Wallace. The magnificent seven screamer call produces woodpeckers, hawk, coyote, peacock, and a wood duck whistle which is the best during the afternoon to produce a shock gobble. His favorite daytime locator is the Lowman crow call (Wallace).
Wallace prefers hunting the river bottom because it is a great place for a tom to be. A river bottom provides a lot of food and everything a turkey needs. He also likes walking on the flat ground. Through the years he has had better luck on the field edges of the fertile bottoms than anywhere else.
Rusty has the right gear needed to add to his calling skills. He wears Advantage camouflage from head to toe, He wears a face mask and gloves while he carries an 870 Remington with a .665 inch Undertaker choke. He uses Active four-shot to take the out-of-range shots that other hunters are afraid of. He wears Advantage Rocky boots to keep his feet dry and comfortable. He has everything a hunter needs (Wallace).
One spring morning, Rusty put everything he had together to kill his biggest turkey. The turkey was roosted on a bluff overlooking Crooked Creek and a large green field. The tom had two hens with him, causing the two-hour time span between his first gobble and him coming into range. The large bird did not want to lose the company of the hens until they were done mating. When the gobbler came into range, two jakes, young toms, from up the creek tried to get with the hens. The mature bird fought the young birds and also attacked Rusty's decoy. After the large bird attacked Rusty's decoy, he shot him to keep his decoy in one piece.The bird weighed twenty-four pounds and carried a twelve and one quarter inch beard, along with one and a quarter inch spurs. Rusty has the fan and beard mounted in his house in Flippin. He said that the big birds were the most exciting to hunt (Wallace).
After learning so much about turkey hunting, I wanted to go on a scouting trip myself. On March 30, 2000, I filmed a wild turkey coming to my calls. It was a very thrilling experience. I started on a ridge overlooking the White River about a half mile above Wildcat Shoals on the Marion County side. I made a few soft calls on my Knight and Hale Glass Queen friction call. The tom responded and was on his way before I had a chance to get set up. I had just turned the camera on when the turkey came into sight. The bird stayed within range for approximately five minutes.
Turkeys have struggled since the early 1900's. They have been endangered, but are now thriving again. They are one of the greatest game birds and are a lot of fun to hunt.
Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Arkansas Wildlife. Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas, 1998.
Clancy, Gary. Wild Turkey. Minnetonka, MN: Crowler's Creative Publishing, 1996. Faw, Micheal.
"Turkey Hunters Shopping." North American Hunter. March/April 1999: 62-64. Humphrey, Bob.
"Ten Tips To Take Tough Toms." Arkansas Sportsman. February 1999: 37-39, 54-58.
Michael Pearce and Ray Eye. Hunting Wild Turkeys With Ray Eye. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1990.
Wallace, Rusty. Personal Interview. 22 March, 2000.