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The Eastern Wild Turkey: An Evolution of the Hunter and the Hunted

By: Charles A. Norvell II

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     I consider myself fortunate to be friends with Charlie, I've known him about four years and in that time, I have learned many things from him. Charlie is probably the best turkey hunter I have ever known with well over 100 birds to his credit, I could think of no better person for this article. - Jason W. Gatliff

Charles A. Norvell II
Photo of the Author outside of Mansker's Station, taken by David H. Wright.

The pleading yelps, caused by the drawing of air through the turkey wingbone call of the hidden hunter, were interrupted by the rolling gobble of a huge tom turkey. The hair raised on the back of the hunters neck; his heart raced a bit faster. This hunt took place nearly 4,000 years before the Egyptians built the pyramids. Countless generations of hunters have since pursued the Eastern Wild Turkey for table and sport. The wingbone call has been dated back over 6,500 years, a unique tool to call a unique bird. Of course the documentation of the first use of natural voice or even the wild cherry leaf to lure in turkeys is impossible to obtain. As a youth in the river bottoms of West Tennessee, an old chickasaw gentleman named Ben Wolfe taught me the language ad he habits of these wondrous birds. He taught me also how to use leaf, voice and bone to imitate them, this teaching must also have occurred countless times over the centuries. I was an am fortunate to have had this oppurtunity.

It was not until the coming of Europeans and firearms that the big evolution of the hunter and the hunted began. By the 1750's, wild turkey were disappearing from many areas around the large colonial cities such as New York and Charleston. In the wilds of Tennessee country, however they remained numerous, and were remarked on in the writings of both noted Naturalist, William Bartram and the dashing English spy and adventurer James Adair. Bartram wrote, "Having rested very well during the night, I was awakened in the morning early, by the cheering converse of the wild turkeycocks (Maleagris occidentalis) saluting each other, from the sunbrightened tops of the lofty Cypressus disticha and Magnolia glandiflora. They began at dawn, and continue til sun-rise, from March to the last of April. The high forests ring with the noise, like the crowing of the domestic cock, of these social cetinels; the wath-word being caught and repeated, from one to another, for hundreds of miles around; insomuch that the whole country is for an hour or more in a universal shout." James Adair reported, "The wild turkeys live on the small red acorns, and grow so fat in March, that they cannot fly farther than three or four hundred yards; and not being able soon to take wing again, we speedily run them down with our horses and hunting mastiffs. At many unfrequented places of the Mississippi, they are so tame as to be shot with a pistol..."

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