Hixson resident Jim Arthur has been hunting wild turkeys in the Ocoee district of the Cherokee National Forest for more than 50 years, and at age 84 he's planning to be there again when the Tennessee season opens March 31.
That's after he and his son, Russ, spend a few days going after the birds in Georgia's Chattahoochee National Forest. The Georgia turkey season starts this Saturday.
"I don't go near as far as I used to, and I'm a whole lot slower, but I still love to hunt turkeys," the elder Arthur said last week. "I didn't mind going three or four miles cross country if I thought a turkey was over there, but I don't do that anymore."
The national forest terrain is particularly challenging, but that's also part of the Cherokee's attraction, according to Terry McDonald, its public affairs staff officer based in Cleveland and also a hunter. He's 61.
"It's such a unique place, so beautiful," McDonald said. "I don't want to sound too corny, but for many of us the hunting is secondary to just enjoying the place. To take a turkey in the Cherokee forest you've got to work pretty hard, and as I get older I think those mountain ridges get steeper."
Elevations in the Cherokee range from 1,200 to 5,000 feet.
McDonald began hunting as a youth in eastern North Carolina. He's worked for the National Forest Service for nearly 36 years, beginning with duty locations in Southern California, Northern California and South Carolina in a 12-year span.
"I came to the Cherokee in 1990, and when I got here everything was perfect," he said. "I really like East Tennessee."
He hunted Upland game birds and waterfowl in Northern California.
"The turkey population when I was there hadn't taken off, although the population there is pretty good now," McDonald said. "I did not turkey hunt till I came to South Carolina. Since then I've gone a lot of places hunting turkeys."
Although he tried it for five years before getting one of the big birds, he now has three-fourths of the "American grand slam" -- having killed a Rio Grande and a Merriam's as well as the Eastern species found in this part of the country.
"I got a turkey in Florida, but it wasn't an Osceola, so I lack that one, but I'm not trying real hard," McDonald said.
He said a turkey's size and "hearing one gobble in the woods" combine with the bird's wariness to make it his favorite game to chase.
"You've got to strategize. Every hunt is different and every bird is different," he said. "You've got to study their habits and their habitats. Some of my most memorable hunts, I didn't take a turkey -- a turkey took me."
Noting the importance of using global positioning devices or, still in his case, topographical maps while roaming the wilderness in quest of a gobbler, McDonald joked that "I tell people I hunt for turkeys 20 percent of the time and hunt for the truck 80 percent."
Long before the management of area wilds built the numbers of deer and turkeys available now, Jim Arthur hunted squirrels, rabbits, opossums and raccoons on and around the farm where he grew up in northern Murray County, Ga.
"Later I got involved in deer hunting, and I kept running into turkeys at Ocoee," he said. "I decided I wanted to hunt turkeys. I still hunt deer some, but I love turkey hunting. That's the only kind that really gets me excited."
He has been very active in the National Wild Turkey Federation's Chattanooga chapter through the years and is in the Tennessee NWTF Hall of Fame.
Asked about his favorite turkey-hunting memories, he said, "There are so many it's hard to sort them out. But I guess one is when my son and I were together one time a long time ago and we caught two turkeys side by side. We got them both -- he got one and I got the other."
That son, Russ, 52, now is involved in law enforcement for the Forest Service but they still hunt together. The family tradition even has been extended to Jim's great-granddaughter, Maggie O'Rear.