"It's hard, it's hard, it's hard, but it's fair" — Quote from a tough old Army captain
(Author's note: Many turkey hunters like to talk about how hard or tough turkey hunting is — especially the turkey hunting in their own area. I am most likely guilty of this, but as far as the most difficult area to kill a turkey, I have no doubt. The Appalachian Mountains are without a doubt the hardest, orneriest, most difficult place to bring about the demise of an eastern wild turkey. Period. Read on, pilgrim.)
"I don't care if he gobbles a hundred times," my buddy said, "I'm not going back down there."
Standing on the nearly vertical slope, clutching a sapling and trying to get my breath, I was not about to argue. Having just spent all morning in a deep gorge chasing a ghost-like gobbler, now we were paying the price and making the long climb back up the hill to where we had started. An inviting gobble beckoned to us from the depths. My buddy gave me a "don't even think about it" look, and we continued our climb.
Many turkey hunters in the Appalachian Mountains will tell you this is the most difficult place in the country to kill a turkey. This includes West Virginia, Pennsylvania, eastern Tennessee and Kentucky, northern Georgia and western Virginia. The turkeys in this part of the world have been hunted since the days of Simon Kenton, and they are nobody's fool. One wrong move at the wrong time, and these birds are gone — see ya later.
Besides an innate suspicion of everything, which helps them survive, mountain turkeys have an ally that protects them: the sometimes horrendous topography in which they live.
In this country you can go in one of two directions, either uphill or down. Level ground may be almost nonexistent in some areas of Appalachia, and when you get out of the truck, that old gremlin known as gravity climbs on your back and whispers in your ear "How bad do you want to get to this turkey?" Setting up on a gobbling turkey in the mountains usually entails a gut-wrenching uphill climb. Sometimes this is just the price of admission, though.
Tighten up your boot laces, take off that jacket and go for it. You may be rewarded for your efforts, and you may not.
As wary as they may be and as difficult as mountain turkeys are to hunt, they are not invulnerable.
Here are some tips that will help you with these denizens of the high country.
Forget what you have been told about turkeys coming downhill.
Turkeys haven't read all of the books that we have. We have been told a gobbler will never come downhill to our calls. Turkeys walk uphill and downhill every day in this country. While we would much prefer to call to a gobbler that is below us, if the situation merits the need to call to a turkey uphill, do it. This will not always work, but sometimes it will. The drastic landscape of the Appalachians sometimes calls for drastic measures.
Sound travels differently on steep terrain.
One of the greatest lessons the mountain turkey hunter can learn is that hearing turkeys is different on steep terrain as opposed to flat. The typical landscape here is often a high ridge with numerous smaller finger ridges running off the highest point. The hunter can listen from a position on top of the ridge, but a turkey only a short distance down a steep slope may not be heard. Experienced mountain hunters have learned they may only have to move a short distance to hear a gobbler that had gone undetected. Likewise, a small ridge in front of you may have a turkey on the other side of it gobbling his brains out, but you cannot hear it. This is especially true later in the season, when the foliage is heavy.
Run and gun is the name of the game.
Because the terrain can be so extreme, moving and getting into position can be very important. It is common to be engaged in a duel with a gobbler, and for reasons known only to the turkey, he will simply not come to your position. He could easily walk (or fly) over there, but he won't. You have to move in these situations, and now the topography may actually work to your advantage. By keeping a ridge top between you and the turkey, you may be amazed at what you can get away with on a move. As long as the gobbler can't see you, you should be good. A gobbler that hears you walking in the leaves may actually come over to check you out.
Shotgun range is all you need.
Turkey hunters love to watch a big gobbler walk in from afar, strutting all the way. In mountain country, we don't always get this luxury. An ideal scenario can be the turkey located below you under a steep slope. Hopefully you can set up on a narrow bench that is often found on the mountainside. The idea here is to position yourself so the turkey has to come into gun range to see you. Be ready, and as soon as the gobbler steps onto the bench where you are seated, start taking the slack out of the trigger. At the shot the tradition here is to be on him fast; if the turkey flops over the brink of the hill, you may in for a long retrieve of your prize.
Well, I didn't cover everything, but you know those editors.
If you are new to hunting mountain turkeys, this will help.
If you are thinking about trying turkey hunting for the first time, I would say this: Buy a set of golf clubs, get you a little squirrel dog or spend more time in the bars. Any of those will be better than falling into the web of the addictive world of turkey hunting.
Don't say I didn't warn you.
"Guns & Cornbread" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at email@example.com.