I had the opportunity and privilege to turkey hunt with the amazing folks at Patriot Hunts this year, at my in-laws’ place in Georgetown, SC. Ken Barnard, the founder of Patriot Hunts, decided that this year’s hunt would be an all-women’s weekend, with our 2 hunters being Lizzie, a Gold Star Survivor, and Rory, a Purple Heart Recipient. I would guide 1 group, with Rory as my hunter, and Chris Wilson with NWTF would guide the other, with Lizzie behind the barrel. Lizzie is a successful bowhunter, and was familiar with what turkey hunting entails. Rory, on the other hand, had never been turkey hunting before. She would be my hunter, and I was super excited to be a part of her first experience. The sweet women over at Girls with Guns were kind enough to send some camo hats and koozies for our lady vets – everyone was rooting for us!
The entire Patriot Hunts group arrived in Georgetown on Friday afternoon, and after introductions, we immediately headed out to set up blinds in 2 potential hunting spots for the next morning.
Perhaps “potential hunting spots” is not the correct phrase. Having known about this hunt for a few months, and wanting to make sure these amazing women had the best chances at bagging a gobbler, I began scouting for turkeys the weekend after duck season ended. My shed hunting missions were two-fold: search for that brown gold, and search for those elusive long beards. As February turned into March, I really stepped up my game. With 5 cameras out, I could tell when my bucks dropped their antlers, and where the turkeys spent their days. I patterned those birds (as much as one can pattern a wild turkey), and slowly put together our game plan for the big weekend. If you were a turkey, I had a pretty good idea of where you’d be in the morning, afternoon, and evening. In fact, there was such good turkey sign in 2 places in particular – “Pea Field” and “Christmas Tree” – that I was completely torn as to which we should try first. I mean it was really an internal dilemma, one that I went back and forth over for days. Weeks, even.
It may sound like I was overthinking the whole thing, but there is one thing you might not know about me. For all of the hunting and fishing success I’ve had over the years, the wild Eastern turkey is the one game that I haven’t been able to conquer. Not once. This would be my 8th season hunting them, preceded by 7 frustrating years of an endless chase. I had to be successful, at least this weekend. Putting these women on a gobbler and watching them bag a Tom would have more than made up for my fruitless years. After all, pulling the trigger is really secondary if you’ve beaten your game to the punch.
So, after we set up the blinds and got everyone familiar with the fields, we ultimately decided to start the next morning in Pea Field. It’s where the most fresh turkey sign was, and I had hens, jakes and gobblers on my camera there during all hours of the day. Depending on our luck, we’d move to Christmas Tree the next day.We set a meeting time of 5:30 the next morning, since getting a hunter, guide, 2 camera men, and a back-up caller into the field and in the blind quietly and efficiently would take some extra time. It was a cool, crisp morning with a nice light wind and the promise of a warm afternoon. Before the sun began to peek through the pines, we were set up and ready to go.
It wasn’t too long before we heard a gobble towards our two o’clock, but it was far enough away to make it hard to tell if the bird was on our property, or the neighbor’s. Over the next hour, we heard 2 more gobbles, but nothing even close to us. We kept our eyes and ears open, but it seemed as if all the birds had disappeared. We sat until 10:30 a.m., hoping to catch a tom coming to feed after his morning rendezvous, but had no luck. Then we packed it up and headed back to the house for some grub and make our next game plan. After checking in with Lizzie’s crew, we discovered that they had seen turkeys that morning, including a nice gobbler, but came away empty handed as well. We would try a nearby property for the afternoon hunt, heading back out around 2:15.
Once we parked the truck, 2 of the guys familiar with the property made a quick run to check out a field a few hundred yards away. Within minutes they came sprinting back, having seen a strutting gobbler right where they’d expected. We gathered our gear and headed off, setting up in a hidden corner of the field in hopes of drawing him around the bend and into range. Rory and I backed up against 2 trees, with the rest of the crew filtering in and hiding in the brush behind us. With a single hen decoy about 15 yards in front of us, I was ready to give Rory the signal that she could take the shot.
After 30 minutes or so, the gobbler seemed to have wandered off and out of sight, so we picked up to do some more scouting. As we were coming out, one of the guys spotted the bird again, and we had to set up right in the road to avoid busting him. Rory backed up to a small tree in some thicker brush, and I was essentially lying in the road beside her. If that bird rounded the corner in front of us, she would have an excellent shot.
Of course, true to form, that turkey had other plans. Even though he had no idea we were there, he turned around and wandered back into the woods. Darn! Thankfully, the woods on that side of the property were fairly thick, with plenty of roads and trails cut throughout. With quick re-group, everyone hopped up and headed to cut him off at the other end of the same field we’d started in.
Hearing some movement through the trees to the right, Rory, Thomas and I crept up to the edge of the field to see what was coming. Right at the corner where the road met the field, there was a little mound that provided just enough cover for us to kneel down and peek over. I slid back across the road to try and set up a quick blind, and Rory got her gun ready in case the turkey came out before we could get set up. Within seconds, 3 little heads popped out of the woods beyond the hill, followed immediately by 2 more. Five turkeys were now in sight, but just a little too far to take an ethical shot. Plus, we weren’t looking at the big gobbler we’d been chasing. Instead, 3 jakes and 2 hens were trying to decide whether they wanted to feed out in the field or go back into the woods. Before Rory could get a decent shot, they decided on the latter. As quickly as they came, they were gone.
Since we could easily conceal everyone in that area, and we knew there were plenty of turkeys nearby, we decided to get set up for the rest of the afternoon in the thicket on the edge of the field.
Over the next 2.5 hours, we hunkered down and waited. Eventually, a hen came out and began to feed and dust in front of us, with no idea we were hidden just 30 yards away. Everyone immediately tensed, knowing a lonely gobbler could be just around the corner in hot pursuit. As dusk came and the hen strolled off, everyone began to shift and fidget – a sure sign it had been a long day of hunting. We decided to pack it up and call it a day, ready to rest up for the next hunt.
We planned to try our luck in Christmas Tree the next morning. Another brisk morning, it felt even more promising than the previous day. Rory, Ken, Christian and I got to the blind around 5:45, put out the decoys, and waited for the sun to rise. About 15 minutes after day break, we heard one lone gobble, but it was at least 500 yards away across the swamp. After that, silence. For all the turkeys in the area, I was shocked we didn’t hear, well, at least a few shock gobbles.
When we didn’t hear anything else by 8:30, I suggested we try out one more field that I’d seen birds in before. We wouldn’t be able to set up a blind, but could sneak in with relative ease without making too much noise. With the clouds rolling in and wind picking up, we made one last attempt at the elusive long beard.
I heard a hen cackling before we even got to the field, and prayed we hadn’t spooked her too badly. Typically, if you bust a bird and it runs off (but doesn’t fly), you can still set up in the same area; they’ll often come back to the same place within an hour or 2 after they’ve forgotten their scare.
Unfortunately, once again, our efforts were in vain. The hen never came back, and no other turkeys decided to grace us with their presence. After hours and hours of hunting, trying our hardest, Rory and Lizzie would both end the weekend with all 3 turkey tags still in their pockets. I have to say, I was impressed with both women’s fortitude over the course of the weekend. We did a lot of hunting in just a day and a half, after all. With the early morning alarms, long treks in, hours of sitting quiet and still (with no turkey action), followed by long treks out, and all of the hurried, frantic set ups in between, I know avid turkey hunters who would have given up long before we did.
As disappointing as it can be, that’s why they call it hunting, right? If it were easy, everyone would do it. It if were easy, we probably would lose interest before too long. There’s just something invigorating about the thrill of the chase. Getting to do it all with such a phenomenal group of people, especially 2 inspiring women such as Rory and Lizzie, was worth an number of hours spent working toward that weekend.
I want to give a huge thank you to Ken Barnard and Christian Sessoms with Patriot Hunts, the entire Patriot Hunts team, and everyone else who helps make weekends like this a reality for members of our Armed Forces and their families. I’m afraid I would miss someone’s name if I listed you all, but please know that my appreciation runs deep.
I’d do it all 10 times over in a heartbeat – turkeys or no turkeys. Although … do you know who showed up on camera that Monday morning?
Mr. Longbeard, you are one lucky bird!
Hollis Lumpkin writes that she is a "simple girl living in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, but I happen to have a great love for the outdoors, particularly hunting and fishing." She is a duck-hunting freak. Hollis pens an exclusive version of "The Bright Side of the Road," for The WON. View all posts by Hollis Lumpkin