When you were born and raised in Wisconsin, there's no place like Alabama in March. What could be better? Hmm. How about sharing a turkey camp with a bunch of champion callers?
My first trip of the Spring 2000 season had me at The Roost, near Aliceville, Ala. World champs Don Shipp and Larry Shockey guided for Roost owner George Mayfield, and then-Hunter's Specialties pro-staffers Matt Morrett and Alex Rutledge would be in camp later. What a lineup.
The first morning, I joined Shipp and put on a clinic, missing the first gobbler of the season. I was pretty down, but Shipp quickly lightened the mood and promised better times ahead. He was right.
That afternoon, I joined Shockey and Morrett at another property, and Shockey's first calls netted a booming gobble from a thick swamp. Morrett and I scrambled down and incline and found a decent setup. By the time we sat, two birds were well on their way.
Soon, Shockey stopped yelping and Morrett took over. I saw the gobblers crest a ridge about 100 steps away and then hot-foot through the hardwoods right to us. When the lead bird stopped and craned his neck at 18 steps, I focused hard on the shotgun's sight and fired. Thankfully, that turkey piled up dead.
I must have been a bit excited when I raced to the gobbler. "I thought you were going to tackle that turkey," Morrett said with a laugh.
The second morning, Roost guide Brian Pearson loaded up a boat and took us to an island on the Tombigbee River. "This is what the old-timers used to do a lot," he said. "If you can get on one of these islands with a gobbler or two, you have a great chance of calling him in."
We beached the boat and walked 50 steps onto the island. Within minutes, four gobblers sounded off, and Pearson motioned for me to sit right there.
For the next 20 minutes, Pearson called softly and sparingly, offering just a few clucks and a bit of soft yelping. The turkeys rarely gobbled at calling but sounded off here and there on their own. Finally, curiosity got the better of one turkey, and we soon saw a glowing white head bobbing through the woods.
Seconds later, the longbeard cleared a tree at about 35 yards and looked hard for the hen. Pearson cutt, and I fired. The gobbler collapsed.
And he was a good 'un, too, sporting a 10-inch rope and dagger-like 1-1/8-inch hooks. Not bad for a public-land hunt in Alabama.
Further, it was a tremendous start to what would become a landmark season.