Hunting the Eastern Tom in Alabama is one of the biggest hunting challenges I’ve ever had. I’ve hunted these birds for years, but if you haven’t hunted pursued wild turkey, you will quickly learn just how difficult killing an Eastern in Alabama really is.
There isn’t a morning spent in the woods that I don’t learn a new trick or another way to fool these crafty ole birds. Often times these lessons come the hard way, through failure. But putting all of those hard won lessons learned to work eventually gives a hunter the edge needed to bring home a bird or two. All that being said, remember that these birds will test your patience.
Recently I found myself driving 100 miles to meet up with a couple of friends, Blake Dial and Cole Thomas with Sookalo Creek Outfitters to chase a wily tom. They’re located just south of Tuscaloosa, a virtual hunters paradise. For this hunt I was packing my Remington Versa Max, a shotguns that’s proved to be reliably deadly time and again.
I arrived at their family’s restaurant Diamond Jim’s around 6:45 on Friday night just in time for an epic thunderstorm and flooding rain. Upon arrival Blake, Cole, and I discussed the next morning’s hunt. Our plan was to hit a nearby farm where Blake had seen several two-year-old birds recently.
Morning came too quickly. Rushing around in my eagerness to get out there, I left my ammo in the truck. Fortunately, Blake had me covered. With the sun rising, the woods were abnormally quiet due to the overpowering storm. We heard a couple of gobbles, but given the previous night’s storm, it was nothing like we would have on a crisp spring morning.
We walked a mile or two trying to locate the lone bird we heard, but no such luck. Throughout the day we tried numerous farms hoping to strike a gobble. As the day passed the all-too-familiar realization of failure was present, though not from a lack of effort. Sometimes the conditions and the birds just don’t cooperate.
We finished the evening with an outstanding ribeye at Diamond Jim’s. That took some of the sting off.
Day two looked more promising with a cool, crisp Alabama sunrise filled with the sound of gobbling turkeys all around. With each call, the birds helpfully let us know where they were, thus allowing us to make the necessary move for setup.
On this particular morning we were hunting with Slade Johnson owner of Grand Slam Outdoors, who has a passion for turkey that was handed down by his grandfather. The bird we were targeting gobbled every minute or so without paying the least bit of attention to us.
We maintained our stealthiness as best we could while closing the distance to the bird. But the tom showed no interest in our calls or decoys…pretty typical behavior for an ol’ Eastern. We moved on toward a few other gobblers, but none of them were any more accomocating.
Once again we found ourselves “land hopping” if you will, in search of a more promising tom. We arrived at another farm that hadn’t been hunted much and hopped into “The Beast” basically an electric golf cart that let us sneak down the roads under power.
As we closed the distance on the opening of a cutover, Cole stopped the cart and we slowly, quitly approached the area. It wasn’t long before we spotted a beautiful tom strutting on a nearby hill. Blake and I crawled into position amongst some thick vegetation and began calling. Cole had set up behind us in case the bird scooted around us.
With a couple of yelps the bird broke strut and walked down the road directly toward our position. The brush was so thick I could barely see him. Blake and Cole urged me to take him, but but I couldn’t see what’s was shooting at. I slowly repositioned my gun to the left, assuming the bird saw or heard the rustling and he stuck his head up above the brush just enough for a shot.
He was only five yards away and the Versa Max did its job, dropping the bird where he stood. Cole was already gone, jumping through brush like a dog after a rabbit, getting to the bird almost before I stood up.
Much to my surprise, the ole tom didn’t have any spurs, I thought I might have bagged a jake, but my bird had an eight-inch beard and a full symmetrical fan. While I was puzzled, Blake told me he’d shot a couple of birds this year exactly like mine. Whatever, it was an exhilarating hunt that ended with a beautiful West Alabama bird.
I have been all over the country hunting all kinds of birds, but the Eastern tom is a bird that never ceases to intrigue me. Their so smart that it makes bagging them a challenge every time you step in the woods. I have to say that Blake and Cole not only live to hunt turkey but they have an outstanding operation. Friendships, whether they begin in a duck blind or in the turkey woods, frequently last a lifetime.