Doug Larsen wrote a great little book (that I highly recommend to all hunters, not just the duck-chasing fraternity) called The Duck Gods Must Be Crazy, and at one point in the book he touches on a topic that is universally relevant: stereotyping.
I can agree with the spirit of Mr. Larsen’s story It Takes All Kinds, after all he is correct in asserting that at some point in our lives we will all ‘judge a book by its cover’ and I likewise agree that such a tendency to stereotype is as common in the world of hunting as it is anywhere else. And of course, like any good piece of writing, Doug Larsen’s story got me thinking, primarily about how to apply his observations about stereotypical duck hunters to some of the turkey hunters I know and have met (for although I love duck hunting, turkey hunting has been and will likely continue to be the only thing that I’m thinking about between now and the end of May).
So here without further ado is my clumsy, tongue-in-cheek homage to Doug Larsen and his categorization of ‘types’ of hunters, with my own turkey-hunting twist.
A Big Easy
This type of turkey hunter seems to kill whatever their mandated limit of birds is every year, and invariably one of those birds is a monster tom, and all are usually within the first week. They are not always the best callers or strategists, but sometimes they are. They are usually covert-ops types of hunters and although you may know the general area in which they are hunting, you had no idea that there was such a huge gobbler living there. Usually they make it look easy, but likewise they usually earn their birds by burning hundreds of dollars in fuel, preparing their guns and gear obsessively, and spending many, many hours scouting. I know a Big Easy who, in his first year turkey hunting no less, spent a little less than an hour in the field over a two hunt period. He shot two 20-pound-plus gobblers, with the second being an ancient, monster bird with a paint-brush beard and wicked 1-1/2 inch spurs that just happened to fly down and land next to his decoy after my friend was on set up for less than twenty minutes. The next year was a blip where he got skunked, but every year since he’s shot at least one trophy boss tom.
Sometimes a Big Easy comes by it through dumb luck, or being in the right place at the right time for the right bird, but not often and not consistently. It is hard to begrudge a Big Easy their success, but sometimes I still find a way to do so.
A Hemingway is a turkey hunter that will, with their success or failure in a hunt being completely irrelevant, spin you a hunting story with such detail, description, and passion that you are instantly transported to the moment. Jim Spencer, of the Bad Birds series of fame, is one such hunter that I would label a Hemingway, and one day I myself hope to have a Hemingway moment of my own.
The worst thing that could ever happen to a Hemingway is that they heard and saw nothing, for then what story could be told? More often than not though, a Hemingway has an uncanny knack of not only getting close enough to birds (or getting birds close enough to them) to swear that they ‘saw that old gobbler blink’ or ‘could see that tom’s breath when he gobbled’, but they are also escape artists of the first degree when they explain how they managed to fail at killing the bird, even though ‘that hot gobbler must’ve come to my calling from over a mile away….too bad that he back-doored me at the last second and I couldn’t get a shot.” When they succeed they come up with clever euphemisms for the final shot such as ‘sent a swarm of pellets at him’ or ‘tapped him on the noggin with some lead’. I love turkey hunting Hemingways for the sheer entertainment value they possess and for their simple self-deprecating yet simultaneously self-aggrandizing style.
While you may question the inherent truth of the tales told by a turkey hunting Hemingway, you can never question their legitimate love of the game when they tell their stories, or their passion for simply telling turkey tales.
The Living Tableau Artist
These turkey hunters scare me. This type of hunter is gifted with patience, nerves of steel, and a level of muscle control that is almost ultra-human. I am not one of these, and only I know one person who qualifies. These turkey hunters literally disappear into the background. Most will not go into the field or forests without their vests, pants, shirts, and guns all matched in a camouflage pattern that is tailor-made for that geographic location, time of year, and surrounding foliage. Others are old-school and just rely on a basic green camo pattern matched with a nice brushy sitting spot. No matter what they wear though they get in quietly, sit down smoothly, and then they sit still…perfectly still. They carry box calls and pot calls, but almost never use them. They can run a mouth diaphragm with no movement whatsoever, and I’m convinced that while on stand they neither breathe nor blink. In the eventuality that a Living Tableau Artist turkey hunter does need to move (say to light up a seldom-used box call, turn their head to look for birds, raise or lower their gun, scratch an itch, etc), that movement is done with a steady, purposeful fluidity that is designed to deceive the sharp eyes of their prey.
This type of turkey hunter is a tom’s worst nightmare; they flat out kill turkeys.
I, for better or worse, fit most comfortably in this category. Callers can run turkey calls, but more than just having a skill at calling they also own a lot of calls, from box-calls, to pots and pegs, to push button, to gobble-shakers, and every gimmick and locator call imaginable (including peacock calls). More troubling is that they try to use every one of those calls on every hunt. Sometimes they compete in contests, other times they just like talking to turkeys. If you double up to go hunting with a Caller, you can count on hearing a lot of turkey noise and it is likely that some of it will be pretty realistic. Odds are you’ll also hear at least one gobble on the hunt, but this type of hunter has never heard of the term ‘over-calling’ and will call as long as they get a gobble back, and usually will continue calling desperately for some time after they stop getting answers from the local tom. Hot toms run to these guys, and they see and kill a lot of jakes and two-year old birds. However, older, more wary gobblers usually lay bad beats on the Caller, primarily because the Caller does not know when to shut up.
Like I said this is me. I am a Caller in almost every positive and tragic sense of this stereotype.
An important subspecies of the Caller genus is the Master Caller, and they combine all the positives of the Caller (proficiency, variety, and realism) with the notable ability to gauge a turkey’s response and clam up when the moment is needed. Get in with one of these hunters and you are going to have some fun and most likely have your fair share of success.
A Mapper can usually be found buried under rolls of topo maps and satellite photography. Their GPS has become an extension of their body and they know every ridge, field, saddle, ditch, fence, gully, pond, and clearing in their hunting territory. Mappers also go through an unsettling number of pairs of hunting boots, since they not only do the paperwork, but almost 100% of the time they also go out and walk the country (with topo map and/or GPS in hand) so as to memorize every rock hole, blow down, puddle, and stump that could trip them as they walk to their stand in the dim pre-dawn. A Mapper almost never sets up with an obstacle between themselves and the turkey they are hunting, and they can tell how many ridges away a turkey is just by the sound of his gobble. A Mapper’s view of the turkey hunting world is a bird’s-eye view, and I’ve never seen a Mapper get lost, trip over their feet in the dark, or crest a ridge and bump a turkey.
They are adept, however, at finding other ways to screw up hunts such as shooting badly, or mis-estimating distance. My favourite Mapper quote (and this really happened) was this one from a friend of mine who is an admitted Mapper.
“Google Earth says it is 50 yards from ridge top to ridge top there and my top-map seemed to confirm it. So I assumed if the bird was halfway down the one ridge and I was halfway down the other ridge than he was in range. He wasn’t.”
Luckily the bird in question here was missed clean, but it was a good lesson for that particular Mapper about how to estimate yardage.
Not to be confused with The Mentor, a Professor always has a better story than you do, has shot more and larger turkeys than you have, and always has a theory and a solution for your turkey hunting troubles, and will share these stories and tidbits of knowledge with you often without you even having to ask them to! Becoming a Professor is a negative side effect from living for too long as a Big Easy. A symptom of being a Professor is a sharp decline in respect for the game animal. I can only roll my eyes when I hear a Professor-type refer to turkey hunting as ‘easy’ or ‘simple’. I actually heard one person say that they had shot so many turkeys that they ‘didn’t even bother going out anymore’. I’ve always wondered what happened to these people earlier in their life that their sole goal only seems to be to master something as quickly as possible so that their success can be lorded over the less worthy.
This is the only type of turkey hunter that I categorically dislike, primarily because their pedantic attitude and apparent lack of care for the object of their pursuit makes potential turkey hunters intimidated and other, less arrogant, turkey hunters look bad in public. On the plus side, they usually only need to be dealt with in social circumstances and not in the field, since having a non-Professor tag along hunting with them is a cardinal sin that would only serve to cramp their style. This same mindset also prevents a Professor from mentoring green, impressionable hunters, which is good.
Bowhunters combine all the stealth of the Living Tableau Artist with the skills of the Master Caller, since their goal is to get a turkey as close as possible. They are often seen with a makeup compact full of earth tones and every inch of their bodies are covered in realistic, die-cut camouflage. They are masters of building blinds from twigs and small branches, which they obtain with the surgical use of their obligatory garden pruners. Their weapon and arrows are likewise fully camouflaged and the fletching on their arrows is usually black or orange, since red, white, and blue are off limits in the turkey woods.
I may catch some flack here, but I just flat out don’t understand those who hunt turkeys with a bow, especially with longbows or compound bows. Crossbow hunters, maybe, because that interface is primarily gun-like, but how someone can hold a compound bow, or crazier still a longbow, for the extended times that it can take a turkey to get into range is beyond me. I only know one person who hunts turkeys with a compound bow regularly (so really, these observations serve as his biography), and he won’t hunt with me because I do not own a bow and have no future plans to buy a bow. This particular individual was a Big Easy that was well on his way to evolving into a Professor. He, like yours truly, finds the turkey hunting Professor distasteful, so he found a new challenge and is now firmly ensconced as a Bowhunter. I can imagine this natural progression has headed off many a turkey hunter’s decline into Professor-ism. I don’t know any Professor-types that are also Bowhunter-types, but I’m sure they exist and I’m sure they are intolerably perfect when compared to us, their shotgun-toting brethren.
A more recent sub-category of the Bowhunter is the tent-blind Bowhunter. These people usually do not wear heavy camouflage. Rather these hunters can be distinguished by their all-black clothing, worn so as to blend in with the shaded interiors of their blinds.
Bowhunters of all stripes also rely on decoys to get birds close. And as far as decoys go, for the Bowhunter there is strength in numbers. Three of four hen decoys in various positions and a strutting tom decoy usually make up a Bowhunter’s spread. Realism or ultra-realism for that matter is also a common trait in Bowhunter decoys. Ever wonder who drops hundreds of dollars on a very effective, very real-looking Hazel Creek decoy? Bowhunters, that’s who.
Almost everybody has one to thank for getting them into turkey hunting. Mine happens to be my Dad.
Mentors in turkey hunting, like mentors in any other kind of hunting, are focused on their apprentice’s success and do what they can to put the novice in a good spot. When the new hunter has success the Mentor is proud and congratulatory. When the beginner fails (it will happen, so be prepared for it), a good mentor encourages perseverance and subtly offers advice and tips in a way that is neither condescending nor proud.
However, the most important lesson we can all take from our mentors is how to be good mentors ourselves to a future generation of hunters. Take a kid or someone hunting who has never gone before, show them the life and the beauty of the wilderness in the springtime, and just enjoy opening someone else’s mind to how great turkey hunting is.
You might even rekindle some of your fire when you see the hunt through their eyes.