By Brice Bonds, guest blogger
Spring in Georgia means a lot of things. It means warmer temperatures, flowers blooming, pollen in the air, planting season for Georgia’s farmers, and the return of the Master’s Tournament to Augusta. However, one thing many rural Georgians look forward to most in the spring is turkey hunting. They wait all year dreaming of that first morning on the third Saturday in March where they can sit among Georgia’s pines and hardwoods hearing their first gobble of the year.
Wild turkeys are native to North America and were a main food source for early settlers. In fact, they are so important, that it is said that Benjamin Franklin was in favor of making the turkey our national bird, as opposed to the bald eagle. Wouldn’t that have been something?
While there are various subspecies of wild turkeys in the United States, the Eastern wild turkey is the only one currently found in Georgia. On December 19, 1859, the first law protecting the wild turkey entered the Georgia Code, setting a closed hunting season from the tenth day of April until the first day of October. There was a time in the 1950s when biologists attempted to improve turkey numbers in the state by capturing wild turkeys in McDuffie County and relocating them elsewhere. The last of these catch-and-release attempts happened in 1998 in Irwin County.
Some say the population is on the decline again, and they’ve stopped hunting due to lack of birds. I do not know about this; I am not a biologist or an expert turkey hunter. I do know that harvest records have already been high this season, despite COVID-19. As I like to say, corona can’t stop the flop. As of March 27, 2020, nearly 500 gobblers had been killed on Georgia’s Wildlife Management Areas alone!
My personal experience with turkey hunting began almost four years ago. As a freshman at ABAC in the fall of 2015, I met Wesley Harris while we were rushing Alpha Gamma Rho. One of the first things he asked me was “have you ever been turkey hunting?” When I said that I had not, he was quick to say we had to change that. I didn’t give it much thought, because over the years many people had told me that they would take me hunting and didn’t follow through.
In the spring of our sophomore year, he made it happen. I hunted for the first time at his family’s farm in Wayne County. I missed my first bird, but the experience of hunting a turkey is unmatched. It doesn’t matter if you kill one or not. Most turkey hunters would agree a lot of the thrill is getting that bird to gobble and calling a creature with such heightened senses to you. Many hunters say they enjoy calling for others just as much as they enjoy calling a big bird in for themselves.
I killed my first bird last year in Florida thanks to another great friend and fraternity brother from ABAC, Zeb Griffin. On the first day of the season this year, I went back to Wayne County. It’s a tradition now. My buddy Phillip Bell and I got to the blind before sunrise and sat until 10:30, which is late for turkey hunting. We wanted to give up, but there were birds across the road that we didn’t want to spook.
Suddenly, two of those birds decided to come our way. They were walking straight up to the side of the blind, and we were certain they had seen us. Miraculously, they turned and headed toward the decoys. A shot opened up, and I picked out one of the birds. I pulled the trigger, and to my surprise, both birds hit the ground! I was shocked! Killing two birds with one shot in the place where I first got hooked on turkey hunting is something I will never be able to forget.
Go anywhere in rural Georgia and I bet you will find turkey hunters gathering and sharing great memory like this one. Turkey hunting brings people in rural Georgia together; it has been a great way for me to spend time with friends new and old in the last few years. Also, as someone with a physical disability, it is something I can do on a level playing field with others. For many rural Georgians, it is a tradition. It is clear that turkey hunting means a lot to many people, but I think we can all agree that it is yet another great experience rural Georgia has to offer.
Whether you're an avid turkey hunter, or know someone who is, you can support rural Georgia by buying calls and accessories for your next hunt here:
Pecker Wrecker Calls (Lakeland, Georgia | Lanier County)
Allen Jenkins Calls (Thomasville, Georgia | Thomas County)
Sumtoy Chokes (Jesup, Georgia | Wayne County)
Jeb’s Choke Tubes (Hazlehurst, Georgia | Jeff Davis County)
Best of luck on your next hunt!