Preston Pittman, the only turkey caller ever to have won all five divisions of the World Turkey Calling Championship as well as the Grand National Championship, has hunted in Mississippi for more than 40 years, and has won 150 other turkey-calling contests. Many believe that in the late spring and early summer, Pittman goes into the woods and teaches young turkey poults how to talk turkey.

"In the Deep South, including Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, the eastern strain of wild turkey always has existed and wasn't wiped out during the Great Depression of the 1930s as they were in many other states," Pittman said. "So Deep South turkeys have had more hunting pressure than any other turkeys in the nation.

"I've hunted with turkey hunters from all over the country, and I believe the Mississippi turkey hunter is one of the most highly skilled because the birds he hunts are some of the most-educated turkeys anywhere. Mississippi turkeys have heard every call and have had every trick played on them. Many of these birds know more about turkey hunters than they do about themselves."

Pittman defines woodsmanship as the hunter's ability to learn all he can about the woods he'll hunt.

"A good woodsman scouts for turkeys when he's squirrel hunting, deer hunting and any time he's in the woods," he said. "A good woodsman is one who's constantly thinking about where turkeys will be during the spring. He's someone who knows where every stream, clearing, thicket, fence, pond and puddle is located in the woods he hunts. Knowing the lay of the land prevents turkeys from being hung-up and not coming when you call them. Most of the time, turkeys won't come to your calling because of a natural barrier the turkey doesn't want to cross.

"If you know your woods, when you hear a turkey gobble and begin coming to you, you'll immediately be able to see in your mind's eye what will cause that turkey to stop coming to you or to go around you. Then you can change your calling position so that the turkey may reach you by a different route. Or you'll cross that barrier well ahead of the turkey, and he won't see you."

Some turkeys will gobble to you in the morning and even come toward you, but they'll walk past you out of sight. They won't come to your calling because they already know where they're planning to go when they fly off the limb.

"If you don't take a stand along the route they plan to travel, you probably won't take any of those turkeys," Pittman said. "All you have to do to bag this gobbler is determine where he wants to go and get there before he arrives.

"For instance, if the turkey walks past you, and you know there's a power line 200 or 300 yards behind you, you'll know that turkey will more than likely walk to the power line because it's in an open area. Then he can strut there where hens can see him, and he can see predators while he feeds on insects and grass."

During the spring of the year, the gobbler has one thing on his mind - finding girlfriends.

"If you've identified what the hens are thinking, and where they're going, you'll know the gobbler will be with the hens," Pittman said. "In the world of turkeys, the hen has the most-important job - raising future generations of turkeys. During the spring, the hen will look for a nesting site with certain key elements - thick cover so that she can hide from predators, a water source close by and grasshoppers, which are high in protein and one of the preferred food sources of young turkeys, that will appear later in the year when the poults have hatched. If you start calling from these areas, you'll more than likely be able to call in and take a gobbler."

Ronnie Strickland, vice president of Mossy Oak in charge of television and video production, lives in West Point. He's hunted turkeys for more than 40 years, and each season he attends 30 to 40 turkey hunts in Mississippi and around the nation. But today he often carries a camera with him instead of a gun.

"I really like calling turkeys," Strickland said. "For me, who pulls the trigger isn't important. I enjoy getting the birds close enough. When I'm filming a turkey hunt, I have an excuse to be there with the hunter without the hunter feeling like I'm his guide.

"I start hunting turkeys in Florida in early March, and then I hunt all over the nation, until all the turkey seasons are closed in every state. Some of my favorite hunts are here in Mississippi - particularly with family and friends. About every little block of woods in Mississippi has a hunting camp on it. So, it's a rare day when you find a gobbler that someone hasn't called to at one time or another.

"Mississippi turkeys have been bred to dodge turkey hunters. The turkeys that gobble the most are usually taken the quickest. The turkeys that gobble the least and know how to dodge hunters survive to breed new generations of turkeys. I believe that over the years, since our turkeys have had so much hunting pressure, we've caused some evil traits to be bred into the Mississippi gobblers.

"Everyone asks me the secret to taking Mississippi turkeys. My answer is simple - geography. The best way to be the most successful turkey hunter you can be this season is to spend 80 percent of your time pinpointing a good spot to turkey hunt, and 20 percent of your time turkey hunting."

Strickland grew up hunting in the Homochitto National Forest, then named the Sandy Creek Wildlife Refuge.

"If I heard a turkey gobble out there, I had a real event," he said. "Some years ago, I hadn't hunted down there in a long time when I returned with a buddy and his son. I told them, 'I've hunted turkeys all over the nation, and I've learned some tricks to taking gobblers. I know this property really well. We should all get birds.'

"Well, we hunted hard for four days, but the turkeys in the Homochitto National Forest really humbled me. I only called in one turkey, and he never gobbled, although he did half-strut to make enough sound for a hen to hear. Those turkeys dodge hunters, keep their mouths shut and stay hidden.

"The best advice I can give you for taking a turkey this season is to find a place where turkeys like to go and few, if any, other hunters go. I believe that having a good place to hunt is 80 percent of your success rate in taking a Mississippi turkey."

Strickland enjoys blowing his turkey calls, especially a tube call early in the morning.

"I love to blow a turkey call anytime and make a turkey talk," he said. "However, when I'm hunting Mississippi turkeys, I call less than I do when hunting in any other part of the country.

"When a gobbler answers me, I don't call right back to him. I don't want that turkey to know exactly where I am. When a turkey is coming to me, I'll keep a diaphragm call in my mouth, and give soft clucks and purrs like a feeding hen. I may scratch in the leaves with my hands a little bit to imitate the sounds of a hen-turkey scratching in the leaves, looking for food, if I think I can move that much without the turkey seeing me."

When Strickland sets up, he doesn't use a blind, put limbs in front of him to break up his silhouette or try to get in bushes either.

"I like to sit in open hardwoods in the shade where I can see long distances and see how the turkeys respond to my calling," he said. "When I first began hunting, I'd cut limbs and put them all around me building a ground blind before calling a turkey.

"But now I don't hesitate to sit out in open woods with my back against a tree. I've learned that when wearing a head net and gloves, I can be invisible as long as I don't move when the turkey can see me. One of the real secrets to getting turkeys in close enough for a shot is to be completely camouflaged and sit absolutely still. The longer you can sit still when you're calling a turkey, or when a turkey's coming to you, the better your chances are for taking that turkey home to supper."