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Turkey time in Tennessee

Amanda Marsh • Mar 29, 2012 at 9:37 AM

There are only a few days left to practice your kee kee run or fighting purr calls, because the statewide spring turkey season opens Saturday.

“It looks like it’s going to be great hunting with nice, warm weather,” said Toy Simpson, a charter member of the Bays Mountain Longbeards chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

All winter long the Kingsport native has been monitoring his secret hunting spot in “Deep Woods” to figure out where the flocks of turkey are. He says wild turkey thrive in East Tennessee, even though there was once a time when there were few to be found. Things have turned around since then, and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has announced record-breaking turkey harvests.

“This was their natural habitat and there was no control over them and people killed them out,” Simpson said.

Hens are out in the thickets looking for nests and will be laying eggs soon. Since spring arrived early this year, Simpson fears an unpredictable cold snap could “chill the eggs” and force them to have to lay a second clutch. Nevertheless, he’s optimistic about his chances of harvesting another trophy-winning turkey.

“I’m going for the biggies,” Simpson said with a grin. “If he’s a got a long beard, more than likely he’s got long spurs. For a turkey to be really mature, he has to be 7-8 years old.”

Although Simpson is a selective turkey hunter, his methods are basic. He sets up blinds in “Deep Woods,” but also does a lot of walking while he hunts.

“Once I hear him gobble, I usually try to get as close to him as I can and I set up and gobble and start calling him in,” he said.

Simpson doesn’t expect to have much luck calling any gobblers in until the hens have found their desired nest and start laying their eggs, which they lay on for 28 days.

“Those ol’ boys are going to get lonely,” he said. “You could hit a call and he’s going to hammer down and gobble, gobble, gobble because he thinks he’s found a girlfriend. It’s like taking candy from a baby, you can call him right in.”

Simpson paints a pretty picture of spring turkey season, but it isn’t always as easy as it sounds. In fact, the sounds being sent to surrounding gobblers can make or break a hunter’s chances of bagging one of the four bearded turkeys allowed this season.

Undercalling and overcalling can send gobblers in the opposite direction. Simpson said it’s kind of like that country song by Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler.”

“You have to know when to call and not to call. Like you’ve got to know when to hold ’em when to fold ’em,” he said. “You pick that up from experience.”

Simpson recommends box calls that are “nothing but a musical instrument” that hunters can use to make 10-12 different sounds in order to find their own turkey voice. Slate, mouth and wingbone calls are also available, but Simpson said the mouth and wingbone calls are hard to get used to and take a lot of practice. In order to learn the various turkey calls and when to use them, Simpson says the Internet is a great resource for picking up the cluck and purr or fly down cackle.

A good call can bring on the most exciting part of the turkey hunting experience.

“When you call one in, he’s usually putting a show on for ya,” Simpson said. “He blows up and struts around because he’s looking for the hen. His waddles are red white and blue. He’s looking for a girlfriend. I like watching that show.”

Then comes the hard part.

“They can see you bat an eye,” Simpson said. “They have really good eyesight and they can hear. If they could smell like a deer I don’t think you could ever kill one, I’ll be honest with you.”

Simpson will hunt during most days of the season, whether its looking for his own harvest or helping someone else call in their first turkey. He’s the go-to turkey hunting guy who doesn’t mind the time and the patience turkey hunting takes, even on those days when he doesn’t hear one gobble or even when he lets one get away.

“I just enjoy being out and I just like turkeys,” he said. “My parents raised domesticated turkeys. I’ve been around them all my life. Just like people like dogs or different things, I like turkeys.”

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