MARION, S.C. — Long before daybreak, the headlights of a pair of pickup trucks bounced along a washboard road, dust clouds rising from their tires. Only turkey hunters drove the road so early, hoping to get a prime parking spot at one of the trailheads leading to a turkey roost or field at a wildlife management area.
The hunters had traveled nearly three hours from their homes in Wilmington, because the North Carolina wild turkey season had yet to open.
“I also hunt in South Carolina because the state has lots of turkeys,” said David Franklin, a retired federal employee.
The other hunter was Rich Shively, maker of Super Yelper Turkey Calls. While he had hunted in many states over five decades, he had not hunted turkeys in the Palmetto State recently. Both were proficient hunters, having honed their success by embracing each new development of the sport. Shively, who resurrected a scratch box call made in the 1800s and brought it to modern-day hunters, had been slower to evolve his hunting beyond much more than taking a shotgun and one of his calls into the woods. However, he was now carrying a top-of-the line shotgun with an illuminated red dot sight. He had also begrudgingly embraced turkey decoys.
Shively fitted together a plastic frame for supporting an expanded foam hen decoy and poked it into the pink loam. He put his fist inside the decoy to puff it out before setting it on the frame.
“There weren’t any decoys when I started hunting turkeys,” he said. “I have only used them in the eight years since I moved to Wilmington from Virginia. Turkey hunting is different in the Carolinas. I used to hunt them with run-and-gun tactics, but it takes lots of territory to do that. If I hear a gobbler, I still want to move as close as can, as fast as I can, to close the distance before I set up and call. However, on smaller tracts or on crowded public lands, it is unproductive and may interfere with another hunter who has already set up on the same gobbler. It is better to set up in a good spot, call, and wait.”
Shively began turkey hunting when gobblers were scarce – and turkey hunters even more so. Even the hunting vests with folding seat cushions that are so commonplace now did not exist. Back in the day, he sat on a newspaper to keep his back pockets dry.
“I tried hunting with decoys in West Virginia and Virginia and didn’t have success, so I never owned one until I moved to North Carolina,” he said. “I have taken three or four gobblers with the help of decoys and I have found they are about 50 percent successful. A hen decoy might bring the gobbler closer, or he might hang up or even go the other way. It’s one more tool that might help, but it might not.”
Franklin has always been up-to-date in his tactics because his turkey hunting began long after decoys were available. He is as modern as a turkey hunter can get. His shotgun held the latest in tight-patterning loads and wore a red dot sight, and his silhouette was covered by his equipment as he walked into the woods. He carried a bag of decoys in one hand and a tent-style blind across his shoulder.
“I use Dave Smith decoys because they are so realistic,” said Franklin. “The hen lays flat with her head up and I set the jake nearby to make a gobbler jealous. They are heavier than most other plastic decoys and cost a lot more, as much as $150. I had a situation using only the hen decoy with a gobbler hanging up. I’ve never had that happen using a jake-and-hen combination. The gobblers come to get at the hen and beat the jake up. Quite often, they come directly to the jake.”
While Shively said he used decoys occasionally, Franklin said he uses decoys more than 90 percent of the time. The first long-bearded gobbler he ever took came to a decoy.
“Decoys are not essential, but in open settings you are better off having them,” he said. “In thicker areas, you can still hunt effectively without them using only a call.”