When it comes to talking turkey, there’s no better resource than Mississippi turkey legend Preston Pittman, a native of Hattiesburg who now resides in Canton.
The world champion competitive caller, call maker and veteran hunter, has chased turkeys in Mississippi for nearly 50 years, so when he offers advice, it comes from experience. Here’s his approach to the first days of the season.
“First, allow me to say the youth get a first stab at turkey season,” Pittman said. “Take a youth hunting during those first days, encourage them to listen to the sounds and look at the morning coming alive in the woods. You may never know the influence you have on that life, on that day.”
Youth season is open statewide, unless otherwise stated by the MDWFP, March 8-14. Flooding along the Mississippi River may close some areas. Visit www.mdwfp.com for details.
Pittman said being a turkey hunter requires thinking past a lot of the pre-conceived ideas.
“For example, if you know where a flock of hens are roosted, and can hear them limb yelp and fly-down cackle, and maybe even yelp for a rendezvous with a gobbler, and yet no gobbler responds vocally, what makes you think your calling is going to change his mind?” he said. “Turkeys are not stupid. A mature gobbler has made it to old age by being cautious. As they get older they become more cautious.
“If you are new to turkey hunting, try to find a mentor. If you have no relatives that turkey hunt look to friends you know and trust. You can learn from scratch, by trial and error, but the learning curve gets mighty steep.”
Pittman suggests starting easy and more quietly. If a gobbler responds to your call, let it rest and give the gobbler time to approach. Use the same call to entice a gobble no more than every 10 to15 minutes, if that often.
“Once you know a gobbler is coming to you, be quiet, keep alert and don’t move,” Pittman said, emphasizing the latter. “The gobbler is looking for a hen that he thinks is in the area. He will be listening for a cluck or a purr, looking for a hen’s form in the woods.”
This is where a decoy can be a friend or a foe, he said.
“If he sees the decoy, he may stop, wanting the hen to approach him,” Pittman said. “If you try to outsmart him by placing the decoy behind you, so as to draw him closer, he may circle your setup and approach from the other side. I’d suggest for opening day leaving the decoy at home, and calling soft and seldom.”
According to Pittman, turkey habits and attitudes change greatly between March 15, when season opens statewide for most hunters, and May 1, when the season closes for all. Vast differences in weather, breeding habits, nesting and feeding opportunities occur during this time. A hunter has to be aware of where the gobblers are and how the birds as a whole modify their daily routine.
Early in the season, the morning is a fine time to hunt, but later in the season when the majority of hens are nesting afternoons may be better.
“Every trip afield is a learning experience,” Pittman said. “I encourage hunters to go often, stay as long as possible, and never give up.
“And, take a child hunting.”