12 Preseason Prep Tactics to Help You Hunt Easy

Hunting season is cranking up in the weeks ahead across much of the country. Thank God, the long awaited deer and elk seasons are nearly here once again. You’ve been dreaming about it since the final day of last season. But have you truly prepared? Here’s a look at 12 preseason prep tactics to help you hunt easy this year.

Hang LifeLines and Treestand Accessories Before the Hunt

I love the opening morning jitters. The nervous excitement of that first climb back into the stand is nearly  enough to make me pass out. But I hate the frustration of digging through my pack for tree hangers and accessories that should have been in place long before opening day. You have enough to worry about on opening morning. Don’t let the last minute prep of tools compound the problem. Hang your hooks, bow hangers, and other treestand tools before the day arrives.

Make your opening day hunt go smoother by having all your screw hooks in place ahead of time.

And don’t forget your LifeLine. Make sure every stand you hunt has a HSS LifeLine in place prior to the hunt. This makes things quick and simple once you arrive at your treestand in the dark. And HSS makes treestand chores much easier this year with the addition of their new Hanger Harness for pre-season stand prep. Check it out at www.huntersafetysystem.com.

lifeline

Don’t leave those LifeLine’s hanging in the barn. Get them out at each of your treestands.

Rise Early, Even Before Opening Day

The early mornings of hunting season can take a toll on the avid hunter that hits the woods day after day. You can quickly begin to dread the sound of your alarm clock blaring at 4:00am. That’s why I begin to creep my alarm clock earlier and earlier as we lead up to opening day. It makes things much easier when the opener finally arrives if your body is use to the early wake up call. Your body can and will get use to it. And if you’re as busy as most people, you could probably use the extra hour or two in the morning to knock out tasks around the house or just chill in the quietness of the morning before the kids wake up. 

alarm clock

Start getting your body on “hunting time” well before the season starts back up.

Wear Your Backpack While You Workout

I’ve got an elk hunt coming up soon, and it will once again test my flatlander legs like nothing else. I spent 7 years living in Montana and quickly learned that while you really can’t prepare your lungs for the high country, you can condition your legs to the abuse they’ll take when climbing the mountain. I like to wear my backpack loaded with 30 or 40 pounds of weight added while working out on the elliptical machine. It’s the same concept as when we use to put a donut on the ball bat to swing while we waited on deck during a little league game. The weighted donut made that bat a breeze to swing once we were ready for the real thing. The same principal applies to adding weight to your pack before hunting season. Wear it while you walk, jog, mow the yard, whatever. Just get use to the extra weight on your back and legs.

You also need to know how that back feels on your back and chest. Will the straps be comfy or rub you wrong in all the wrong places? You won’t know unless you try it out. Do that before the hunt.  

backpack

Add some weight to your pack while you workout, mow in the yard, or climb stairs. It’ll make life much easier when hunting the ridges or mountain.

Make Mock Scrapes in the Summer

We often think of mock scrapes as a tool for the pre-rut and rut phase of the whitetail deer season. Truth is, you can condition your bucks to use mock scrapes now, even in the hot months of summer. That’s right! Bucks will use these mock scrapes long before the rut ever draws near, making them a great option for taking trail cam inventory and conditioning your local bucks to make frequent stops where you want them. Put the Tink’s Scrape Bomb and Power Scrape combination to work on your farm, and watch the show. This is a fun and addicting tactic to put to work on the land that you hunt. Check out www.tinks.com for all the gear you’ll need for mock scrapes.  

mock scrapes

Will a buck visit and work a scrape before rutting activity begins? Absolutely! This velvet buck plowed ground at this mock scrape.

Use a Bow Training Tool for Holding Practice

I was recently introduced to the AccuBow training tool. The AccuBow was designed to help hunters rehabilitate following an injury, as well as help shooters tighten their groups through holding practice with the unit’s laser. It’s honestly the perfect tool to keep your arms, shoulders, and back in shape, as well as keeping your eyes sharp when at full draw on a target. If you can condition yourself to hold the laser beam tighter on the target, you’ll automatically be holding tighter when at full draw with your hunting setup. Check it out at www.accubow.com 

I also like to practice holding my bow for extended periods of time before making the shot. Think about all those times you come to full draw on a deer and then it hangs up behind a tree, or just shy of your shooting lane. Do you have the muscle to stay at full draw and wait him out? Now is the time to build that strength. Practice holding for a minute or two before dropping the string. Can you make the shot once your arms begin shaking? This is a realistic practice routine to prepare you for opening day.  

AccuBow

Whether you’re working on rehab, attempting to stay in shape, or learning to hold tighter on target, the AccuBow will improve your game.

Shoot Long Distance Practice Targets

You need to shoot long range targets in your practice routine. Not to prepare you for making long shots on the hunt, but to make the short shots seem much easier. I love to shoot 80 yard long bombs in the yard. It’s a fun challenge, and there’s really nothing like watching the flight of an arrow as it flashes toward the target. Do I plan on shooting deer at 80 yards? Nope. I like to shoot them at 15 steps. But I also like to know that when I have a big buck cruise by at 40 yards, I have the confidence built in to be deadly at twice that distance. Stack ‘em tight at 80, 90, and 100 yards, and you’ll find the short range shots to be a cinch.  

elk target

Short shots and long pokes. They both ought to be a part of your practice routine leading up to opening day.

Wear Your Boots Everywhere

Got a new pair of boots? Don’t save them for opening day. Get them in the mud, on the hills, and in the holes long before season cranks up. Wear them when you’re hot, when you’re cold, when it’s wet, and when it’s really dry. You need to know how those boots will perform. LaCrosse boots have been my go-to boots for deer and turkey hunting from day one. They are hard to beat. And the beauty in these boots is they require no break-in time. They are comfy right out of the box. But I still like to get them out in the woods and in the mud when I get a new pair to get rid of that new-boot smell that often comes with a fresh pair of boots or shoes. See the line of LaCrosse boots at www.lacrossefootwear.com 

lacrosse boots

Whether you’re breaking in a new pair, or just trying to get rid of the new boot smell, wear your boots prior to hunting season to get them ready for opening day.

Get Your Meat Pole Ready to Go

All the excitement of opening day success comes to a halt when you get home and realize you have failed to prepare for the butchering process.

tripple deer kill

The tags are filled. Will the meat pole be in place and ready to go when you get back to the house or camp?

The temperatures are smokin’ hot and you got a dead deer in the back of the truck. You really don’t want to spend another hour setting up the game hoist and preparing your deer for the freezer. Get things in place before opening day so the chores are quick and simple when you find success. Nothing is as handy as having your game hoist in place prior to punching tags so you can simply back up the truck or ATV and lift your deer in to place.  

Shoot Your Broadheads Like They’re Practice Heads

Mechanical broadheads are awesome. I love them. In most cases, they fly like darts, and truly hold up to the claim, “They fly like field points.” But many hunters make the mistake of trusting the company’s sales pitch and never actually shoot the broadhead before opening day. Or, they shoot it one time, like what they see, and then put them in the quiver, and hope for the best. The deadliest hunters will shoot the heck out of those broadheads until there is no question as to how they will perform. You need to know how that head performs in the wind and rain, when you shoot through grass, or when you execute a less than perfect shot. If you’re afraid you’ll tear up your broadheads by practicing with them, then you probably need to be shooting better broadheads.

napfixedblade

Practice with your broadheads until you are completely confident in how they perform, no matter the circumstance.

Shoot Your Bow While You’re Breathing Hard and Shaky

It’s been said many times, practice while your heart rate is running fast. A practice session immediately following a nasty cardio workout can be as close to buck fever as you can simulate in the off-season. A couple dozen Burpees or running up and down a flight of stairs oughta do the trick. Knock them out and then immediately grab your bow to shoot. Learn to make the shot when your heart is pounding, and your arms feel like noodles. It’ll make you a better hunter in crunch time.  

3D target practice

Practice immediately following an intense cardio workout to ensure you can make the shot, even when your heart is pounding.

Sharpen Your Knife

You’re headed to the woods to kill an animal with your bow. That is the goal. Be prepared to turn that meat into groceries for your family once your tag is punched. More than once I’ve found early season success and scrambled to round up a knife to do work after returning back to the house or camp when my tag was punched. I’ve used Leatherman’s, dull knives, and worse when I wasn’t properly prepared. Nowadays I try to keep at least a couple good, sharp knives ready to roll when I score on game. 

knives

Whether you use a lockblade, or the new surgical skinning blades, make sure your knives are ready to go when you punch a tag this season. Here’s a couple of my favorites from Steel Will and Outdoor Edge.

Shoot Your Bow While Wearing Your Hunting Clothes

Call it a dress rehearsal or whatever you want, the bottom line is you ought to practice shooting your bow with the same exact setup you’ll be shooting on the hunt. We easily get accustom to slinging arrows from the porch in shorts, tank top, and flip flops, then scratch our heads over why we missed a shot when in full camo, with gloves and mask on. Yes, you’ll look stupid if your neighbor sees you in the yard in full camo and a mask on slingin’ arrows. Big deal. Invite them to come join you, and keep shooting. And don’t skimp on the face mask and gloves. These two items can make or break your shot in the stand. Be sure you know how well you can shoot while wearing these items.  

These are just a few of the many items you should be doing now to prepare for opening day. Some may call it overkill. I call it preparing for battle. Prepare now for your best deer season yet with these simple prep tactics.  

What about you? Do you have a pre-season regimen? Comment below and let us know how you prepare for opening day.

 

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How Were Wild Turkeys Domesticated?

“I know that wild turkeys were domesticated in Mexico, but how were they domesticated?” — Dan Strobe, New York

You’re right, they were domesticated in Mexico. Exactly how the turkey was domesticated was not recorded. Recent writers have said that wild turkeys were merely captured, fed and “tamed,” but the wild turkey did not become domesticated by merely being penned up.

The path to domestication likely occurred through the process of parental imprinting of newly hatched wild poults. If wild turkey eggs are hatched in captivity or the young are captured soon after hatching, and the young are allowed to associate only with humans for the first few days of life, the poults bond socially with humans. The bonding is permanent, and thereafter the poults are unafraid of humans and can be raised in captivity. Because imprinted behavior is not heritable, the Mexicans had to imprint successive generations and use only the tamer individuals of each generation as breeding stock. That way, wildness was gradually culled from the breeding pool, and the Mexicans developed a bloodline that exhibited the dependent and trusting behavior of the barnyard turkey we think of as domesticated.

Spanish conquistadores took domesticated turkeys to Spain around 1520, and from there, turkeys spread through much of Europe and the Middle East. The domestic turkey got to England sometime between 1524 and 1541 and to the English Colonies in North America not long after that.

The wild turkey indigenous to the eastern United States has never been domesticated, although Easterns have been crossed with domestic stock to produce a breed tame enough for captive rearing.

— Lovett Williams, 2013

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Do Wider Broadhead Designs Kill Faster?

Is a bigger, wider broadhead more deadly than a smaller, more streamlined head? Let’s look at the basic facts on broadhead design and what that means for you, the hunter.

I’ve avidly collected broadheads for some time. I find it fascinating, an insight into the virtual history of the sport. A common theme of many early heads was an obvious desire to create larger holes in critters. Easy examples including broadheads like the Goshawk (1952), Ben Pearson Deadhead (1964) or Magnum (1971), all providing 1 ¼-inch-plus cutting diameters. As common were strange, yet eye-catching, designs concocted in the attempt to spill more blood. Of the later, since many of these were dismal failures from a practical standpoint, more pointedly from a commercial respect, they have become highly collectible and prized additions to any collection. The earliest broadheads were universally small and streamlined, but with the widespread acceptance of recurves and the energy advantage offered over classic longbows, broadhead designers begin tinkering with the idea of inflicting larger wound channels, no doubt believing bigger holes lead to faster game recovery.

Small fixed blades still work. The author shot this fat doe while still-hunting to fill his extra doe tag. He used a small Muzzy Trocar D6 and hit slightly too far back. Still, the blood trail was good and she didn’t travel far.

Mechanical broadheads appeared in these early experiments. You may believe mechanical broadheads are a relatively new development, but deployable-blade broadheads appeared as early as the 1950s, most failures due to the material limitations of the day, but mostly because developers regularly bit off more than the traditional equipment of the day could chew. Pushing a 2-inch-wide Rage Hypodermic riding a stiff carbon arrow through a deer with a modern, 60-pound compound is one thing, but try to do that with a 2-inch cutting diameter ’57 Mohawk mechanical set on the tip of a Port Orford cedar shaft. I can only imagine what followed, and it wouldn’t be pretty. The 1959 Geronimo (2 ½- to 3 ½-inch swing blades attached to cut-on-contact head) and 1955 Mechanical Killer (resembling a fish point more than a broadhead) suffered similar fates.

Of course modern mechanicals work just fine, with thousands of big game animals falling to them annually.

bloody arrow

It’s always preferable to achieve pass-through penetration on big game, no matter what kind of broadhead you’re shooting, as two holes spill more blood than one—especially on high hits from elevated positions.

 

Better engineering and space-age materials make them more efficient and dependable each season. Even those creating the widest cutting diameters, which seems to have settled in the neighborhood of 1 ¾ to 2 inches (though there are the rare mechanicals that are wider). Fine and good, as long as you are shooting enough energy for full penetration. I say this only because bowhunters must always remember (especially those hunting from elevated positions and shooting down on their quarry) that two holes—entrance and exit—are always preferable to just one. You can shove a 2-inch wide mechanical into an animal from above, kill him cleanly and quickly, but without a low exit hole to spill blood, recovery—especially in wet conditions or thick brush—can prove more time consuming. This becomes more pointed with marginal-but-lethal hits where an animal might travel 200 or 300 yards.

Remember, too, physics remain constant: moving parts, wide cutting diameters and blades that chop instead of slice always equal reduced penetration, all other factors remaining equal. If you’re not realizing pass-through penetration on deer-sized game on each and every shot (save those where heavy bone is encountered), it really is time to seek a more efficient broadhead design.

Even if you’re shooting enough energy to achieve pass-through penetration on any game you regularly hunt, the question still bears asking: Do wide-cutting broadheads automatically kill faster than those with less cutting diameter? Or maybe more fairly, since distance traveled after the hit and not time passed is what really counts: Do wider heads always create shorter recovery distances than narrower designs? Or, in the interests of putting hard numbers to the question: Will a 2-inch-wide Trophy Ridge Meat Seeker 3-blade kill a deer twice as fast as a 1 1/8-inch wide Muzzy Trocar 3-blade due to twice as much hemorrhaging—assuming identical hits through vitals and equal penetration?

Instincts likely tell you yes; a bigger hole, more blood spilled in a shorter timeframe, should automatically spell shorter recovery distances, as well as blood trails that are much easier to follow.

But alas, the real world doesn’t always back intuition. After putting arrows through literally hundreds of big-game animals, I’ve certainly witnessed whitetails and wild hogs, most especially, shot with aggressive mechanicals spin in circles and drop dead without covering 10 yards. But what of all the animals I’ve shot with sleek, low-profile cut-on-contact heads (many from traditional bows) that also dropped within sight, or didn’t even seem to know they had been shot?

Any arrow that skewers lungs or the heart—whether led by 2-inch mechanical or 1 1/8-inch cut-on-contact—eliminates the negative pressure created after exhaling, making it difficult or impossible to draw another breath. Add to this a quick accumulation of resulting blood and loss of consciousness and death soon follow. This is something we can all agree on.

turkey kill

The turkey exception. The only exception to smaller heads remaining just as lethal as wide-cutting heads is on turkeys. Small vitals and a shifty nature almost demand a wide-cutting broadhead for regular success on spring gobblers.

But another factor many bowhunters fail to acknowledge is how an animal reacts immediately after being hit with an arrow. This is generally a matter of how wound up an animal is immediately before the shot, but maybe more importantly how much shock is imparted by your broadhead. That “watermelon thump” or “thwack” heard after a successful hit is an indication of how much shock an arrow/broadhead is delivering. The less efficient the broadhead design, the louder the sound of the hit will prove. It’s the difference between being poked with a sharp stick or punched with a closed fist. Big game animals become understandably alarmed when something slams into their side with a dramatic punching-bag thump. Sure, these animals are dead on their feet, but natural fight-or-flight responses kick in, adrenaline flows and they automatically begin gobbling ground in an attempt to distance themselves from eminent danger. An Olympic-caliber sprinter can cover 100 meters in 10 seconds, and I’d never bet on a man in a race against a white-tailed deer at the same distance, especially one on a panicked death run.

I could describe several instances where a 12-ringed animal hit with an aggressive, wide-cutting head traveled a remarkable distance, but a beautiful Oklahoma buck is the experience freshest in my mind. Shot on the level from a pop-up blind at only 18 yards, through both lungs with a nasty 2.3-inch two-blade mechanical, that buck traveled 200 yards. I was forced to track him following little scars in the dirt, as he also left little blood behind.

A 5×6 big-woods whitetail shot in Idaho last November makes an ideal contrast. This was a 6 ½-year-old buck who’d survived mountain lions, wolves and heavy rifle-hunting pressure. North Idaho white-tailed deer are as jumpy as they come. Simply hitting anchor is normally the biggest challenge to any encounter. This buck inched his way out of tight brush for a full 10 minutes, surveying the situation for danger before approaching a scrape and turning broadside at only 18 yards. As I tugged the bowstring to anchor the buck tensed. So I waited. But when he twitched his tail, indicating he would step forward, I released. The sleek G5 Outdoors Striker blasted through both lungs so fast, I initially believed I’d missed. But after running only 5 yards, ambling another 15 or 18, that buck paused and simply tipped over. He never knew what hit him. Even if he hadn’t settled within sight, the blood trail was impressive.

idaho buck

The author shot this ancient Idaho mountain buck with a 1 1/8-inch-wide mini fixed-blade head. The buck dropped in sight and left generous blood behind.

More dramatically, I well remember a B&C-quality black bear I killed off of bait nearly two decades ago. I was shooting a longbow, cedar arrow and two-blade, shaving-sharp Zwickey Black Diamond. The bear walked in, plopped before a barrel lying on its side and began raking pastries from the opening. Each time he did his armpit was exposed. I timed my draw to coincide with one of the big boar’s reaches, picking a spot tight in his armpit and releasing when it came into view. The arrow zipped through the bear and stuck into dirt on the opposite side. Blood began to pump from the wound. Yet the bear continued feasting. Finally, he seemed to hear his own blood spilling, rising to his feet and turning tight circles as if sniffing his own side. He promptly fell over without covering a single yard. It was one of the quickest kills I have ever witnessed with bow and arrow.

meitin with black bear

Author, Patrick Meitin, used a conservative-width cut-on-contact to cleanly take this P&Y-quality black bear with his recurve. The bear traveled only 70 yards and left a good blood trail behind.

A streamlined head, obviously, slips through animals so quickly and sleekly that animal often has no idea it has been hit at all. Try this: take a piece of rough carpet or leather and nail it between two heavy rail-road ties. Take two arrows; one tipped with wide-cutting mechanical and another with a sleek cutting-tip broadhead and attempt to push each through the stretched material. Most mechanicals require considerable effort to push through that material. A cut-on-contact head goes through effortlessly.

I don’t offer this information to encourage abandoning wide, aggressive mechanical designs (unless you’re not shooting enough energy to achieve complete penetration). I only offer this insight so those who must use a fixed-blade broadhead by law (like here in Idaho) or due to equipment limitations will understand forgoing the wider option does not necessarily mean tougher trailing after the hit–because wider heads don’t automatically lead to faster recovery.

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In Memorium: Lovett Williams

Lovett Williams, longtime Turkey & Turkey Hunting contributor and one of the most recognized turkey biologists in history, died. Lovett was a dear friend and a true turkey man. I thought it was appropriate to post a feature Jim Casada wrote about Lovett in the April 2013 T&TH. Rest in peace, Lovett. — Brian Lovett

As many folks in the world of the wild turkey already know, thanks to the sport’s extremely active grapevine, iconic wildlife biologist, researcher, author and hunter Lovett Williams has been stricken by a neurological disease that is progressive and irreversible.

I learned of this a year or so ago and found the news devastating. Not only was Lovett a longtime friend, but we had hunted together, exchanged ideas and swapped stories, and through the years, he had been the subject of several of my articles. When I needed an unfailing reference source for information on controversial matters — such as turkey behavior, whether to shoot jakes, the biological impact of fall hunting or anything connected with the wild turkey— he was the man. Qualified responses — words such as “possibly,” “perhaps” or “maybe,” and thoughts such as, “We need more research,” or, “The jury’s still out on that” — did not exist for Lovett. When you asked him a question about turkeys, one of two things occurred. He offered a straightforward answer backed by intimate first-hand knowledge, or he simply said, “I don’t know.”

In other words, Lovett is not given to equivocation or beating around the bush. He is forthright, almost brutally honest and willing to step on toes — whether they belonged to academic types, field biologists or know-it-all hunters — when they need a bit of tromping. Everything he says or writes comes from an immense reservoir of knowledge.In doing background for this article, I discovered a piece on Lovett I wrote for this magazine almost two decades ago. In it, my opening paragraph concluded, “There is little question that Williams is unrivaled when it comes to name recognition as an expert on the wild turkey in both the scientific and hunting communities.”

Through the ensuing years, he enhanced that already stellar reputation in impressive fashion. Part of that process involved regular contributions to these pages. From the beginnings of Turkey & Turkey Hunting, readers have been richly blessed by his consistently insightful, interesting and informative pieces. Typical of the man and his stellar work ethic, when it became clear that he would soon be unable to communicate verbally or through the written word, Lovett put his nose to the grindstone and churned out dozens of features and columns for this magazine. That explains why, despite his health problems, you have continued to read his material.

Famed Western artist Charles Russell once said that in his paintings, he wanted to “get it all down before it’s all gone.” He was referring to the rapidly vanishing old West. Lovett took a similar approach, although in his case, he wanted to get it all down before his mental capacity to do so was gone. His gritty determination to share as much accumulated knowledge as possible while he still had time provides some measure of a remarkable man.

Man of the LandWhile pondering an appropriate way to pay tribute to Lovett, I thought it would be fitting to touch on dimensions of his Renaissance-like qualities it was my privilege to experience. Accordingly, what follows is a series of brief snapshots of him in a variety of capacities. They come from correspondence, shared times in hunting camps at his Fisheating Creek operation and elsewhere and numerous occasions when our paths crossed through the years.

To venture afield with Lovett was to be privy to a continuing, in-depth education in natural history. You could ask him about a dainty flower or giant tree and be assured of an informed response. For example, on a live oak, he might point out resurrection fern, offer a learned dissertation on Spanish moss — including some of the uses humans had historically made of it — or talk about the critters that feasted on its mast in fall. Incidentally, all of that actually happened one afternoon when we each shot a limit of wood ducks that flew into a grove of oaks to feast on the acorns. A passel of gray squirrels also figured in the game bag, and as we headed back to camp in the gloaming, we had a delightful afternoon of hunting behind us and the makings of a fine game supper ahead of us. Best, my knowledge of the flora and fauna of Florida’s woods had been upgraded appreciably.

Speaking of the food we carried home from the woods on that hunt, I cleaned it, and Lovett cooked it. He was a first-rate hand in the kitchen, and if ever a man knew how to live off the land, it was him. During a memorable stay of several days at Fisheating Creek, much of the menu featured products of the nearby woods, swamp and creek. That was when turkey hunting was limited to a half day in Florida, so afternoons were open for other pursuits. About toddy time each day, Lovett would head to the woods with his .22 rifle. Soon, he would return with a couple of armadillos in tow. They would, soon enough, become appetizers for his guests.

Similarly, when I decided to spend a few hours fishing in the creek that gave the camp its name, he said, “If you catch any decent-sized gar, bring them back to camp. I know how to use them.” Daily, we whetted our appetites on armadillo, rattlesnake and gar as a prelude to serious dining on Earth’s rich bounty. At one time or another, the menu featured “swamp cabbage” (hearts of the Sabal palm) in a rich, savory stew; raw as the main ingredient in a salad; and pickled as an hors d’oeuvre. Then there was succulent meat from a young wild hog, first as the main dish one evening and then as leftovers turned into chopped barbecue for sandwiches, not to mention the incomparable delight of wild turkey tenders.

That might not be normal camp fare, and I suspect that today’s uppity bureaucrats would make much of it off limits in a commercial operation, but man alive was it fine. In fact, having some experience in producing such books, I suggested that Lovett compile his recipes and knowledge into a volume such as Florida Cracker Cooking or Eating Wild the Florida Way.

Unparalleled WriterHe never wrote such a book, yet there was no shortage of production from his prolific pen on other fronts. In fact, I always benefitted from chatting with him about his approach to writing, work habits and the next project. The articles and columns he contributed to Turkey & Turkey Hunting, numerous though they are, form but a tiny portion of his prodigious literary outpouring. In terms of a legacy — and his contributions in many fields are sure to endure — his books will have the greatest prominence. They include, in original order of publication, The Book of the Wild Turkey (1981), The Voice and Vocabulary of the Wild Turkey (1984), Studies of the Wild Turkey in Florida (1988, co-authored with David H. Austin), The Art & Science of Wild Turkey Hunting (1989), Wild Turkey Country (1991), Managing Wild Turkeys in Florida (1991), After the Hunt (1996), Hunting the Gould’s Wild Turkey in Mexico (no date, circa 2002), Wild Turkey Hunting & Management (2006) and The Ocellated Turkey in the Land of the Maya (2010, co-authored with Erick H. Baur and Neal F. Eichholz). Several of these books appeared in paperbound and hardbound versions.

Lovett was equally active in recording and filming wild turkeys. His Real Turkeys tapes (later CDs) remain invaluable for anyone wanting to master turkey talk. Once, he showed me how he set up blinds, arranged equipment and meticulously prepared — a bedrock quality of everything he did — to capture turkey sounds on tape or video birds in the wild. He was equally devoted to the history of the sport, which, given my background in that field, particularly appealed to me. In company with two other veterans, Larry Hearn and Parker Whedon, in 1984, he founded Old Masters Publishing. Under that imprint, they reprinted three rare classics of the sport’s literature: E.A. McIlhenny’s The Wild Turkey and Its Hunting, Simon Everitt’s Tales of Wild Turkey Hunting and Henry Edwards Davis’ The American Wild Turkey. Lovett would later buy out his partners and reprint a fourth volume, Tom Turpin’s Hunting the Wild Turkey.

Callmaker, HunterLess well known is Lovett’s work as a callmaker. He told me that for years, his turkey hunting involved only woodsmanship, with calling having no role. Even after he became a trained biologist, he harbored doubts about the efficacy of calling, but an experience with a master using his natural voice and a hunt where he listened to Parker Whedon run a wingbone changed his perspective. Lovett became an exceptional hand with a wingbone call and crafted many of them through the years, complete with an attractively designed lanyard attached with a separate piece of turkey bone. Quite small, these two-piece calls are particularly effective for kee-keeing and producing high, keen notes associated with young hens.

Then there was Lovett the hunter. He began hunting turkeys as a college undergraduate, and I think one of the many characteristics that separated him from the standard run of wildlife biologists was his extraordinary skill as a hunter. Unquestionably, hours without end in blinds observing turkeys — this was in pre-Thermacell days in mosquito purgatory — helped mold him as a hunter, but so did infinite patience, superior woodcraft and that indefinable but real feel for the sport that defines a true turkey man. I was privileged to accompany him in successfully stalking a fall turkey. From the outset, I doubted it could be done and stated that my presence would only complicate an already problematic undertaking. Lovett just smiled and said, “Follow in my footsteps, and do what I signal or say.” Forty-five minutes later, we stood admiring a fine Osceola as I tried mentally to encompass what had just transpired. Suffice it to say, I’d experienced a brief but impressive lesson in turkey hunting woodsmanship performed at the highest level.

Viewed from any of the perspectives mentioned — author, hunter, researcher, videographer, photographer, camp cook, wildlife biologist or student of natural history — Lovett was a master. Yet those aspects of his career I was privileged to know personally, although undeniably impressive, form only part of the picture. He was also a teacher, shrewd entrepreneur, mentor to aspiring biologists, leader in pioneering hunts for the ocellated subspecies and dedicated to working with indigenous peoples to help them use wildlife resources to improve their way of living.

A Turkey Man For the AgesDuring almost four decades as a writer and someone who has wandered in constant wonder through the world of the wild turkey and mingled with those captivated by the grand bird’s allure, it has been my privilege to venture afield with scores of talented hunters. Moreover, I have shaken and howdied with many other stalwarts, and through assiduous reading and research have cultivated at least a vicarious acquaintance with most of the sport’s luminaries, past and present. With that as perspective, let me conclude in a Lovett-like unambiguous fashion. I believe that in the sweeping compass of turkey hunting’s rich history, no individual has had an impact comparable to that of Lovett. He is a treasure who gifts us with a mark beyond measure. He has enriched the sport in a fashion that places those of us who cherish the lure and lore of turkey hunting forever in his debt.

 

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A Turkey Hunting Legend: Personal Memories About the Great Lovett Williams

I want to share a few personal memories of Lovett Williams, with whom I worked regularly since 1995. As most of you know, Lovett died recently, and his passing has left a huge void in the world of the wild turkey.

I actually “met” Lovett before I started at Turkey & Turkey Hunting, courtesy of his Real Turkeys audio cassettes. As an aspiring caller, I needed to mimic real turkey sounds, and Lovett’s recordings were the best examples in the industry. I recall trying to replicate his recordings of a flydown cackle and can hear his matter-of-fact voice — “Purring is a sound of contentment” — narrating the tapes.

The most obvious connection I share with Lovett is, of course, our names. I can’t tell you how many folks through the years have confused me for him, asking me biological questions or seeking advice on Florida hunting. Many even think he’s my father, and have asked me time and again how “my dad is doing in Florida.” I can only chuckle. I gave up long ago pointing out that Lovett is my family name but Lovett’s given name.

We had to recognize the coincidence in late 1995, however, after I first put my name on an issue of T&TH. In an odd twist, the photographer who scored the cover shot for that issue was Scotty Lovett of Georgia (again, no relation). When I pointed that out to Lovett, he chuckled and said, “The Lovetts are taken’ over.”

Through the ensuing years, I read hundreds of Lovett’s columns, features and emails. I might have taken the most enjoyment from the latter, as I’d regularly send biological questions — personal or sent from readers — to Lovett for his take. The answers were always quick, direct and insightful — sometimes even blunt. Once, an online forum member posted some quasi-biological blather that struck a raw nerve with me, and I forwarded the man’s post to Lovett so he could (hopefully) confirm my opinion. His response was classic: “He either doesn’t know what he’s talking about or is full of (expletive).”

Lovett and I butted heads a few times during the years, mostly when he was miffed at my copy editing. Typically, we’d explain our positions in emails and then shake virtual hands, agreeing to disagree on minor style or grammatical points. I always appreciated that he took pride in his work and read it after publication.

I only spoke to Lovett in person two or three times, at National Wild Turkey Federation conventions. I’d stop by his booth, we’d chat for a bit and then I’d be on my way. I meant to visit him once in Florida, while on my first Osceola hunt, but that never materialized. I regret not being able to spend time with the sixth-generation Floridian in his home territory.

A couple of years ago, Lovett began turning in features and columns at an unprecedented pace. I eagerly accepted them all, of course, but finally told Lovett I could only pay him for a year’s worth of material at a time. Only then did he reveal his predicament.

I assume he didn’t advertise it because he’s a strong, proud man who had no interest in sympathy. I appreciate that. But I still had to tell him that, as always, he had my respect, admiration and friendship.

We should all share in that. Without Lovett’s tireless work, we’d know quite a bit less about turkeys, and America’s turkey hunting culture would be poorer indeed.

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Turkey & Turkey Hunting Retro Minute: The Crawl For It All

Editor’s note: In this recurring blog, Editor Brian Lovett looks back at some of the most memorable hunts of his career. This hunt occurred in late April 2000.

There’s just something about an airport in spring. You catch glimpses of a gun case here or some camouflage there. Then you hear snippets of stories and start to pick out your turkey hunting brethren, who, like you, are in transit to or from another lifetime adventure.

There’s an extra something about a South Dakota airport in spring. When you walk in and see a “Welcome hunters” banner displayed proudly in the main concourse, you get the feeling you’re in a good place. Then when you see Matt Morrett stroll into view and chat with him for an hour about his upcoming hunt, you know you’re at the place.

That’s where I was one rainy April afternoon, ready to embark on my first hunt for Merriam’s gobblers. I had no idea what to expect, but I’d heard the turkeys were gobbling fools and the terrain was wide open. I figured the former would let me wing it on the latter.

The first morning, near the White River south of Kadoka, veteran prairie guide Jerry Murphy and I settled down near some dead cottonwoods near a ditch that overlooked a huge field … and one tree.

“So,” I whispered, “that’s the roost?”

I could almost feel Jerry’s eyes rolling in the darkness.

“Yep,” he said. “That’s where they’ll be.”

And they were — about 100 of them. And from flydown time till several hours later, they put on an incredible show, complete with incessant gobbling and yelping and many seemingly close encounters. Then, as Merriam’s do, they walked away. We tried to get around on them. We tried to get above them. We tried to outflank them. And they beat us to the punch every time.

Finally, at midmorning, the prairie was quiet, and I was out of ideas. That’s when Jerry stepped in.

“We’ll go up here to this big flat they like,” he said. “I think we’ll get one.”

The big flat looked like an endless sea of prairie grass with a small corn stubble field near the far end. It also appeared to be devoid of turkeys. I suggested that we walk to a ridge line and call.

“Wait,” Jerry said, eyes fixed to binoculars. “There’s some. And there’s a gobbler.”

I raised my binos and looked. Nothing. Wait, there they were. The birds were barely visible, cruising in and out of the stubble field.

“There’s a fence line about 150 yards up here,” Jerry said. “If we can get to it, we might call them in.”

I nodded and prepared myself. It wouldn’t have been a bad walk, but there was no way we could walk. At first, we crept forward on our hands and knees, peering now and then at the distant birds. Closer to the fence, it was full belly-crawl mode, until our necks ached and I’d probably picked up every tick east of the Rosebud Reservation.

But eventually, we reached the fence line and settled in. I yelped once or twice on a mouth call, and the gobbler responded, as did several hens. Within minutes, we were surrounded by turkeys, and I dropped the longbeard at 25 steps.

My first true Merriam’s was memorable for many reasons. First, it completed my career royal slam. Second, it had sharp 1-inch hooks and three beards; a true prairie trophy. Also, it looked almost unscathed, even though it had dropped like a stone and barely flopped. Apparently, only one or two pellets had found their way to the turkey’s head. I’d almost missed it.

Hey, I always seem to make things interesting … even when the landscape and turkeys are interesting enough.

 

 

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