The sound of a shot echoed through the tall timber in a Pender County swamp. When anyone hears a shot during turkey season, about 90 percent of the time, a hunter will walk out of the woods wearing a turkey over his shoulder. However, hunters also miss because a lot can go wrong. This time, Mike Wiston walked out of the woods, carrying a gobbler that weighed 19.4 pounds on a digital scale. It had a 10-inch beard. The longest spur measured 1.5 inches and the other spur was shorter by only a quarter-inch.
“I hunted this morning and did not see anything,” said Wiston, 36, a heating and air conditioning technician who lives in Hampstead. “I got in the woods at 6 a.m. and hunted until 9:30 a.m. I heard some gobblers from far off, but they were on the other side of a swamp and too far away for me to call to them.”
Wiston was hunting on a game land in Pender County. He moved to Hampstead two years ago from Ohio and said he had been hunting turkeys for 10 years. Turkeys had been scarce in his neck of the woods in Ohio. Now, it seemed as though it was going to be more of the same, with walking out of the woods as easy as walking in.
Fortunately, while he was walking out of the woods, he met Scott Martin, 47, an executive producer of Trophy Room Adventures from Elkin, who was in the area to video some turkey hunts. It was a fortuitous meeting.
“We come down from Elkin every year to video some youth turkey hunts,” Martin said. “I told him where there was a good place to hunt that he could try in the afternoon. When I saw him walking out of the woods this morning, he was dejected. Now, look how happy he is.”
Wiston went back into the woods about 3 p.m. and set out a hen decoy a few yards away. He sat on a turkey vest cushion after making a pad on the ground by raking a mound of pine needles with his fingers. Then, he waited, calling every so often on a Super Yelper scratch box call. His firearm was a Benelli Nova pump-action shotgun with a camouflage finish. He loaded it with Federal ammo containing No. 4 lead shot.
“The Super Yelper is a great call,” he said. “I usually get a response when I use it. I was calling softly, mostly clucking and purring. About 5:30 p.m. a gobbler came in. He wasn’t making a sound. I shot him when he was 35 yards away.”
Despite the fact that a turkey can weigh more than 20 pounds, a hunter’s target is very small. To make a successful shot, at least one pellet must strike the neck vertebrae, brain, carotid artery or jugular vein. The total target area is about the diameter of man’s index finger and as long as three index fingers, if the turkey is not strutting with its neck tucked back into his chest. Shooting at a strutting turkey is a long-odds gamble because the entire length of the neck is not exposed. The brain is a bonus target about the size of the first digit of a man’s thumb. Trying to kill a gobbler by shooting at its body is fool’s play because the bones and breast muscles are too thick and tough for small shot to penetrate and disable the lungs, heart or other vital organs.
A tight-patterning shotgun like Wiston’s Benelli is what most turkey hunters carry, fine-tuning the pattern by trying several different brands of ammo and different sizes and metal compositions of shot. The down side is that the pattern may be too tight if a gobbler is very close. Forty yards is the accepted maximum shooting distance for a sure kill. As Wiston’s success demonstrated, 35 yards is even better.
While his hunt had been a success, 14-year-old Jordan Sholar had not been as lucky. She lives in Rocky Point and is a student at Heide Trask Middle School.
“I missed one this morning,” she said. “I was hunting with Scott Martin and he was filming. It was the third year in a row that I missed a turkey on video. They were gobbling everywhere. A hen flew down and walked over. Then I saw a bearded hen but did not shoot. It was legal, but I did not want to shoot it. Another group of hens came and they had two toms behind them. I shot at one of them and missed it at 35 yards.”
The old saying among veteran turkey hunters is that anyone who says they have not missed is telling a lie or has a short memory. The hunt is so exciting that hunters can make many mistakes, including moving the tiniest bit and alarming a gobbler as it is approaching or shooting too soon. Sometimes the sight and sound of a displaying gobbler is so overwhelming the adrenaline rush gives the hunter a case of “turkey fever.”
“The blind was shaking she was so excited,” Martin said. “I think she was just too excited to hold her shotgun steady.”
“That was probably it,” she said. “I was way too excited and rushed my shot a little bit.”