If you’ve ever been turkey hunting, you’ve probably got your favorite way to go about it.
I’ve found that my favorite way entails paying attention throughout the year – spring, summer, winter and fall. My wife Brenda and I spend time in the woods; it may be during a hunting season or we may just be sight-seeing. My website is full of year-round pictures taken in some of these same areas.
"Eastern" Wild Turkey found in the Florida Panhandle area.
One such area we had grown accustomed to frequenting, due to the large amount of turkey signs we would find year round, was a big pine ridge adjacent to the Florida trail system in the Apalachicola National Forest.
When you’ve been around the woods as long as I have, you can remember the days back when they would dynamite test to sound for oil in the national forest. Around one such area, there’s a place we call the “well head.” My suspicions of this being an oil drillin’ site could be verified by the fact that they didn’t let you in the area. One can only assume, whether he’s got a public education or not, that when you get just close enough you could see a derrick sticking up in the air, they’re drilling for somethin’. Then later when they tear it all down and all that’s left of their presence is a capped pipe, you don’t know if they left money in the ground or if it was just a dry hole. But you still have the story of the old well head as a marker when you go hunting.
So anyway back to my hunting tale. Scouting for turkey year round can be fun. This just happened to be one of the land marks in the area where I was scouting one day.
I had walked all over the creek on both sides, hunting up and down the ty-ty heads. The only place to cross the swamp was an old forgotten portion of the Florida trail system. Fifty years ago or more, some ingenious people got together and laid a series of logs end-to-end across a swamp. Then they hung a steel cable along one side as a hand rail. Mind you, not the sturdy kind like you find on a set of stairs, but the swingy kind like you find on a rope bridge. So it ain’t perfect and probably wouldn’t pass any safety inspection. But it sure helps passage over the swampy bog.
When hunting, I had talked to these turkeys across the swamp throughout the year. All the while, I kept an eye on the water level watching for the logs to be clear all the way across. Then I waited until it hadn’t rained for over a week to be sure the old green slimy logs wouldn’t be as slick. The rains finally cleared and the swamp started to dry, as much as it’s possible for a swamp to dry.
"We parked the truck before daylight . . . "
Brenda and I made our move. We parked the truck before daylight and waited until we could see the ground before hunting. Now you fellow turkey hunters know this is a little late in the morning for gettin' started, but if you’ve ever walked on a slick log in the dark with a lady in tow, it’s the sensible thing to do. When we thought we had enough light to see where we were hunting, we headed across the log.
We made it across the logs without getting our feet wet. The hunting was on. As soon as we were feet dry, we let out our first yelps. No answer.
I led the way down the trail until it came to a “Y”. We knew straight ahead was the Ochlockonee River, but since we’d never been across this log before, we didn’t know how far. The trail to the right seemed less traveled. We took a right. Every so often we’d stop and call looking for turkey sign, listening for turkeys, not seeing much of either. But we knew the birds were here because we’d heard ‘em in the past.
As we kept going down the trail, the ground became disturbed, which was encouraging. But upon further inspection, it appeared that this was to became another hunt in the future rather than a turkey hunt in the present. It became apparent that all the disturbed ground we were seeing was hog sign.
Now you may not be aware, but fresh hog sign usually means the turkeys are somewhere else. The two may feed in the same area, but never at the same time. Hogs have a reputation to eat whatever they can catch. Most of the animals in the forest, including turkeys, know this. We continued down the trail and the hog sign persisted until the trail ran out into a dense thicket.
Unable to go any farther, we turned to go back the way we came. We stopped periodically to call for turkey as the hog sign dissipated on our back trail. Finally, a bird answered. It was time to get excited. He was off to our right. But he was a pretty far piece away and ahead of us. So we moved on up the trail to try and get a little closer.
Because mangled messes of marshy mush can be deceiving, we stuck to the main trail. We soon found ourselves back at the “Y.” That ole turkey was still straight off to our right and going away. We hurried up the trail to close some of the distance.
We stopped, set up, and called. He was still ahead but to our right, too close to move in. So we sat and waited. After a few minutes we gave him a couple of purrs and clucks. Then he was across the trail to our left. We called again. A little more aggressive this time. We waited. He was farther to our left and going away. This fellow’s got a girlfired, I thought. He ain’t turning around.
We waited a little while longer, called again. He’s left the country and no one else is answering. Time to move. We worked up the trail, calling periodically, ‘til we hit the river. Not another sound from another bird to be heard. So we turned around and headed back down the trail. Stopping along the way, I called and listened. Nothin'.
We got all the way back to what we come to call the “turkey log,” that ole log bridge that spanned across the swamp with the swingin’ cable for a handrail. We decided to cross back towards the truck.
Now this is one of them gentlemen situations if you’ve ever been huntin’ with your lady. The man always leads in case of imminent danger. So this trip being no different, I was in the lead. We had already worked out that we needed to keep a decent gap between us. Remember that swinging cable I was referring to? ‘Cause if you’re too close and someone pulls on that cable hard, be it lead or trail, either or both could be tossed from the log. And this particular crossing, this proved to be a very good strategy.
The sun was up good enough to be shining through the trees by the time we got halfway across the log. It lit up patches on our path. One such spot of sun hit the log, dried it out right nicely so it wasn’t slick to cross. Only one problem. Laying across the log about 8 feet in front of me, coiled up nice and pretty, was a 2-and-a-half foot black water moccasin enjoying the sun I was referring to earlier.
Ingenuity might not be the best word, but picture this. There I was standing on a log over waste deep water and unbeknownst to my unsuspecting accomplice behind me that there was a poisonous snake amongst us.
So from down among the dark recesses of the cargo pockets of my BDU’s I had an idea. I told Brenda to “Stop and listen.” Of course she asks, “Why?” I told her I thought I heard a turkey.
I explained to her I was gonna make some turkey calls, and she was supposed to listen to see if the turkey would answer. So I get her turned around looking the other way listening for a non-existent turkey while I’m breaking off sticks and throwing ‘em at the snake. My objective being if I disturbed him enough he might leave the log and let me cross.
My effort at subterfuge was taking too long. Brenda kept saying, “I don’t hear anything, let’s go.” And I kept insisting that I heard something and she needs to listen. So I would call, break sticks, throw sticks, and tell her to listen, all at the same time hoping she wouldn’t catch on.
Finally I pestered the snake enough that he moved off the log at least a foot. That venomous viper sat there in the water lookin’ at me. Well I determined a foot off the log wasn’t far enough. So I called some more, broke some more sticks, and told her to listen. This finally got him about 6 or 8 feet away. When he swam off and didn’t turn back around to look at me, I figured it was time to make a move.
I nonchalantly said, “Well, you know I wear a hearing aid. I must not have heard anything after all. Let’s go.”
We crossed the log, trekked back up the hill, made it back to the truck, hit the coffee cups, and then talked about our adventure -- why the turkey kept going instead of coming, because he was following the girl turkey. Talked about the hog sign, how hard it might be to walk that log totin’ a dead hog. And then when the moment was right I told her about the 2-and-a-half foot black moccasin snake sunning himself on the “turkey log.”
Water Moccasin (aka/cotton mouth) seen along many rivers and creeks in Florida.
She said, “Well I’m glad you didn’t tell me or we’d have both got wet! And now I know why you kept throwing sticks in the water when I was supposed to be listening for turkeys. I couldn’t figure that part out right then. ‘Cause it did seem kinda strange that you told me to listen while you were makin' all that noise in the water. But I figured you knew what you were doing.”
The next time I talked about crossing the turkey log, Brenda told me I could go by myself – image that. I’ve been back a few times; still haven’t had to worry about carrying a hog across a wet log, or a turkey for that matter either. That was then.
But unless somebody more energetic than me gets involved, this primitive place in the forest will forever remain inaccessible to me henceforth. Because you see, the forest is ever changing and two years ago, there was a wild fire that ate up about 320 acres before it was contained. But in containing said fire some energetic lad (or lady) on a bull dozer, cuttin’ firebreak from the pine ridge down to the edge of the swamp, took out about a hundred feet of the ole turkey log. So unless a lot of manpower or machinery gets involved, that jumble of logs can’t ever be straightened back out. I won’t be hunting back there no more. But maybe some of you young bucks might not mind wading through the murky moccasin infested swamp to get to those teasing, tantalizing turkeys. Thus goes life in the elusive forest.
Until next time…………………Kenny