As always, it’s a mixed bag when you’re trying to gauge the statewide success from an opening day of a new turkey season in Georgia. Generally, the south Georgia folks fared far better than their brethren in middle and north Georgia. It was cold, but a more likely cause of the tough hunting were the high winds. It was an unexpectedly tough opening day for many, especially considering all the early strutting and gobbling that’s been reported this spring.
Here’s a statewide look at the turkey-season opener:
Gordon County: Tony Silvers of Calhoun said there wasn’t a turkey anywhere around where he hunted.
“At Johns Mountain 35 hunters had checked in, and no birds had been checked out,” he said. “By noon, there had been no birds brought by the Timber Ghost (sporting-goods store) in Calhoun for their turkey contest. It was cold and windy, not a good morning.”
Oglethorpe County: Mike Thomas of Social Circle said opening day was dead as a hammer on the 550-acre tract he hunted in Oglethorpe County. He and his 9-year-old son Chandler went, but they didn’t even hear a bird gobble.
“The landowner heard nine different gobblers when the weather was warm, but on opening morning, they had lockjaw,” Mike said.
Mike said there was plenty of sign that turkeys were using the land.
“There are big areas where they’ve been scratching and stuff, but the cold had them shut down,” he said.
Stephens County: Richard Wansley of Martin and his son Brandon were hunting with NWTF regional director Andy Ivey and a Turkey Call television cameraman on Wansley’s property in Stephens County — and filmed a good hunt.
“We heard some birds when we were scouting on Friday,” said Richard. “We went back there Saturday and heard zero. Then we heard one on the ground and set up on him, and he wouldn’t answer. Then Brandon said, ‘I hear one walking,’ and we heard a turkey drumming. It stepped out, but all we could see was the neck and head. The cameraman wasn’t on it, so we let it go.
“We did some walking and calling and set up in several places. There was a lot of turkey sign around. At 10:20 we heard a bird gobble from the last place we had set up. We went back and set up and got him to gobble. It took about 45 minutes, and the bird gobbled at least 100 times, but he came in and Brandon shot it.”
The bird weighed about 20 pounds, had a 10-inch beard and one-inch spurs.
Bart York was hunting a different part of Stephens County. He said he made a bird gobble by calling to it on the roost, but otherwise did not heard a bird gobble on its own.
“As warm as it’s been, it won’t take them long to crank back up,” he said.
Union County: They had quiet mouth on a frosty, cold morning in the mountains, according to Mike Aikins of Blairsville who runs Owltown Outfitters. “It was 32 degrees, spitting snow and the wind was blowing 20 mph,” Mike said. “I heard one gobble at 8 a.m., and he was still in the tree. I think they dropped off and just got out of the wind. I talked to a half-dozen people who came by the archery shop this morning, and nobody did any good. One guy saw some strutting in a hay field, but he couldn’t do anything with them.”
Greene County: It didn’t take long for Jack Knight to punch one of his 2006 turkey tags. He bagged a Greene County tom on opening morning of the season.
Jack heard the bird gobble on the roost from across a pasture. He knew he had to close a gap of about 200 yards to get to the bird, so he made his move.
“I called to him three times,” Jack said. “He had hens in the area, but he wasn’t with them.”
Jack said he saw the bird for the first time at about 50 yards, and the gobbler strutted into gun range in short order. Jack said the tom was talkative on a cold morning, gobbling as much as 25 times. This is Jack’s second opening-day tom.
“Sometimes it’s as easy as falling off a log, and sometimes you can’t buy one,” Jack said. “It worked out just right.”
Henry County: The morning started out quiet, according to Jeremy Lewis of McDonough, then it got messed up more by fido and friends.
“I heard some dogs barking, and I looked up to see a turkey fly into a tree 80 yards in front of me. This turned out to be a nice gobbler with about a 10-inch beard,” Jeremy said. “After an hour he got nervous and flew off into a field. Not a minute later a hen came in putting and clucking. She came in within 20 yards. After she left, I heard three different gobblers gobble about eight times. Overall, the morning was still and cold until about 9 a.m. when the wind started to pick up.”
Jasper County: It was a quiet morning on the club where Ron Milton of Buckhead was hunting. “I didn’t hear a bird,” Ron said. “I bumped a couple off the roost, and that was it.” One other hunter was on the property, and he reported hearing one gobble on the roost and gobbling after it hit the ground. The gobbler came fairly close, but not close enough.
In another part of Jasper County, the birds were gobbling good in the area where Law Enforcement Ranger Lynn Stanford Jr. was checking some baiting sites. Lynn heard several different gobblers firing off from the roost. His dad, Lynn Sr., was hunting Cedar Creek WMA in Putnam County, and he didn’t hear a single gobble. On a typical opening morning, Lynn Sr. kills a longbeard at Cedar Creek.
“I don’t know what it was this morning, they’ve been gobbling this week. It wasn’t the cold weather. They’ll gobble when it’s 10 degrees,” Lynn said.
Morgan County: Jody Hawk of Monroe scored on a Morgan County longbeard first thing on opening morning. Jody heard a bird on the roost, and he eased to within 100 yards from its roost. “I had hens tree yelping just off to my right,” Jody set up and gave him some yelps and cutts on his Woodhaven copperhead. “He couldn’t stand it. He came out of the tree and gobbled all the way to the gun. He probably gobbled 15 times total. I had my opening- day gobbler at 6:25 a.m.,” Jody said. It was a 2-year-old with a 9 3/4-inch beard, 7/8-inch spurs, and he weighed 20 pounds. “I called in a gobbling jake in this same spot on opening morning of last year, can’t help but wonder if it’s the same turkey,” Jody said.
Newton County: Chris Pope of Covington said he didn’t hear any gobbling while hunting a tract of family land.
“I saw some hens and spooked a gobbler off the roost at about quarter until seven, but I didn’t hear the first gobble.”
Putnam County: Very quiet on Oconee National Forest land in northwest Putnam County, where GON Advertising Director Mike Rhodes didn’t hear a gobble, and he saw only one hen that was by itself like it was going to nest. It was similarly quiet on Cedar Creek WMA to the south. Only eight birds were signed out of Cedar Creek by lunchtime, and five of those were jakes.
Redlands WMA: By mid morning, area manager Carl Dellatorre said about 220 hunters had signed in and 11 birds had been killed, including seven jakes.
Talbot County: Chuck McCarty said he heard some gobbling and worked a bird but with no shot at the end.
“I had a bird coming,” he said. “It gobbled for 30 minutes, but it wouldn’t come up where I was. There were some hens off to one side, and they did a number on me.”
Twiggs County: When GON talked to Wallace McLeod on Friday before opening day, Wallace said he would kill a turkey opening day, and he did.
“It was a good, crisp, clear morning and they gobbled great,” he said.
Wallace said the bird he worked on the roost flew down with hens and went off in the opposite direction.
“He left with his hens,” said Wallace. “So I changed calls and got into a fuss with the boss hen. We got into quite a discussion, and she decided to come back to straighten me out. She was real aggressive, and she brought a pair of gobblers back.”
Wallace’s bird weighed 17 pounds, had an 11-inch beard, and one-inch spurs.
“The gods just favored an old man,” said Wallace, who is 74.
“I heard five birds,” he said. “There were turkeys all around.”
Wilkes County: Justin Savage of Gainesville, who recently won the friction turkey calling contest at the NWTF National Convention, hunted in Wilkes County and zeroed.
“It was real quiet in Wilkes County,” said Justin, who was hunting a 400-acre club. “It was a beautiful morning, calm, clear, cold, and I was expecting more gobbling. But I am not that big about hunting opening day. I don’t get tore up about it until the first or second week of April — that’s when it usually breaks loose.”
Charlton County: Steve Pope of Stripling Tackle Co. hunted with his 22-year-old son, Preston, and Preston took his first gobbler of the season on opening morning.
“Preston had two birds gobbling,” Steve said. “He saw what he thought was the dominant bird with three hens, but he wouldn’t come in for a shot, and this other bird, a two-year-old came to him.”
Preston’s bird weighed 15 pounds, had a nine-inch beard, and 1/2-inch spurs.
Steve said he had heard from at least five or six other groups of hunters, including Jody and Max Smith. The Smiths had four turkeys gobbling all morning, and they closed the deal on one of them.
Steve said every hunter he talked to said the gobbling was outstanding on opening day.
“Everybody I’ve talked to heard birds gobbling this morning,” Steve said.
Many Echols County hunters told Steve they believe this season could be great because some hens already appear to be nesting.
“Some people are reporting that the hens are already going to the nest,” Steve said. “Those toms could have lost their hens already, and maybe that’s why we had so much gobbling.”
Echols County: Kevin Farr didn’t waste any time emailing pictures on opening day. He called in a pair of turkeys for Patches Phillips of Naylor.
Kevin, Patches and Michael Garrett of Adel got lucky right off the bat with a great opening-day hunt.
“We heard those birds on the roost Friday, so we got there and set up on them,” Kevin said.
When the turkeys flew down, Kevin said there were a group of hens coming behind the toms, and there were hens behind where he, Patches and Michael were positioned. The gobblers closed the distance and circled to the left, and Patches leveled the first bird with a 20-yard shot. The second gobbler ran a little way off, Kevin called to it, and it stuck its head out from behind a tree, offering Patches a second shot.
Kevin said the gobbling was strong in Echols County on opening day, despite cool temperatures.
“It was 34 degrees here,” Kevin said. “Cold and clear, but the birds were blistering it.”
Effingham County: “It was kind of slow here,” said Derek Hobbs of Rincon.
Derek said he heard two birds gobbling on the roost, but they didn’t want to cooperate when fly-down time came.
“One of those birds gobbled real good, and when we called he would gobble, but he didn’t want to come to us,” Derek said. “He wanted us to come to him.”
Derek said as the weather warms, he expects the turkey hunting to really pick up in southeast Georgia. Derek says he has been seeing a bunch of birds in fields, and he has been hearing good gobbling almost every day.
“It’ll get better,” Derek said.
Jeff Davis County: Keith Byers of Hazlehurst said his hunt was over by 6:55.
“I killed one, but I had some help — from a red-tailed hawk.”
Before first light Keith had slipped to within 75 yards of a gobbler he had scouted out earlier in the week. There were also some hens roosted nearby.
“He was gobbling good,” said Keith. “He probably gobbled 50, 60, 70 times. Then right at fly-down time, a red-tailed hawk came across a clearcut and went right into the tree with the gobbler. I don’t know if the hawk took a swipe at him or just landed in the tree, but the hawk scared the turkey out of the tree. I heard wingbeats as he flew about 250 yards. That helped me because he flew straight away from his hens.
“Then he started gobbling again. I moved toward him, and then here came four jakes. I tried to run them off, but when I waved at them, they just clucked and stood there looking at me.
“Then I heard the gobbler fly down. He had landed in a tree. In a minute or two I heard it drumming, so I knew it was close. Finally it stepped out into the open at about 20 yards.”
The 16 1/2-lb. bird was a 2-year-old with a 9 1/4-inch beard.
“He must have been the baddest thing in there, because I had seen at least eight other gobblers in the area, and none of them said a word.”
Randolph County: Retired WRD biologist Ron Simpson hunted in Randolph County opening morning.
“It was cold,” he said. “I called in a hen and heard one way off gobble two times. He may have been with hens. I was surprised not to hear anything. They have been gobbling pretty good for a couple of weeks.”
Macon County: The annual Oglethorpe Turkey Day was again the place to show up on opening day. The contest had 21 entries on opening day. The biggest bird was killed by David Campbell of Marshallville. Sheriff Harold Cannon said the birds brought in, for the most part, were by themselves and gobbling good. Harold said for him it’s been tougher, with most of the gobblers henned up.
Ware County: The turkey hunting was phenomenal for Rickey O’Berry of Waycross. He and his son Chris, who came home from Georgia Southern University for opening weekend, were covered up in turkeys from first light. Rickey had heard the birds the Sunday before opening day, so this morning, he and Chris went to the same spot to start hunting. Rickey said he owl hooted at 6 o’clock, the tom gobbled, and the fight was on.
“We had two birds gobbling on the roost, and another one close by,” he said.
The bird that was willing to talk, wasn’t willing to walk, so Rickey and Chris had to close the gap by slipping through palmettos and gallberries.
“We set up a decoy in a pine row and the bird came right up to 15 yards,” Rickey said. “He must have sailed off the limb, because we never heard him fly down, but all of a sudden, that old blue head popped out and that was it.”