Photo by Dan Cook Turkey displays are common as the NWTF meets in Nashville.
Being able to recognize turkey signs in the wilds is necessary in successfully hunting the wily birds.
That knowledge can be attained in different ways, however.
For Ronnie "Cuz" Strickland, repeatedly lugging a heavy camera through the woods to create wildife shows helped.
Strickland developed an interest in hunting as a boy in Natchez, Miss. He worked at a sporting goods store before moving to West Point, Miss., in 1988 and becoming the public relations director of the new Mossy Oak hunting attire company two years later. He did a lot of videography in that role, producing award-winning videos and DVDs as well as the firm's highly rated television show.
Others did the hunting while he operated the camera, but the process added to his own knowledge about birds and hunting.
Now a Mossy Oak senior vice president, he said he has studied terrain intensely during 27 of his 40 years as a turkey hunter. He discussed his approach during the annual National Wild Turkey Convention last week at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville.
"How to be a Turkey THUG" was the title of his program. He hastened to explain that "THUG" in this case carries a positive connotation. It stands for "Turkey Hunters United for Good," a group that seeks to help people who have physical limitations from military injuries to enjoy hunting.
With turkey season soon to begin, hunters' anticipation is high. Nearly 40,000 sportsmen gathered to hear Strickland and other seasoned pros during the convention. A showroom covering more than 100,000 square feet offered a variety of hunting products for purchase, including calls, guns, all-terrain vehicles and turkey paintings -- even guided hunting trips to places as far away as Alaska for bears and other wild game.
Strickland listed three A's as being especially important in turkey hunting: attitude, access and accountability.
"When Eddie Briggs (1992-96 lieutenant governor of Mississippi) called and wanted to go turkey hunting, I wanted to go turkey hunting with him," Strickland recalled. "He had a lot of land. It didn't matter who was going to call first or who was going to set up for the hunt. Just finding the birds meant everything.
"LIke me, he had hunted forever. He got out his owl hoot call and hooted. I owled really loud. It wasn't any big deal who made the turkey call. You've got to leave the ego at the house."
Strickland mentioned colorful caller Eddie Salter, a Hunter Specialties representative who used to be a barber in Evergreen, Ala.
"Eddie Salter thinks he can call up a turkey at the parking lot at the mall," Strickland joked. "He's just all about getting it done, and that's attitude."
Access is likewise important, since a hunter needs to visit areas where turkeys converge, Strickland added.
"I can't tell you how many times I've taken the camera and shown a landowner where he has turkeys," he said.
Harold Knight and David Hale -- of the well-known hunting company of Knight and Hale in Cadiz, Ky. -- were barbers like Salter before going full-time into hunting-related work. They all picked up a lot of information from their land-owning clients, Strickland said.
Area spring turkey seasons
Alabama: March 15-April 30
Georgia: March 20-May 15
Tennessee: April 3-May 16
As for accountability, he said that comes into play in being willing to help aspiring hunters, especially younger ones.
"When I worked in a sporting goods store in Natchez (Miss.), we had 800-900 acres out by the airport," he said. "We had 800-900 kids out there, and they would ask question after question."
There's no reason to keep secrets, he emphasized, when there is knowledge -- and excitement -- to share.