By Jason Herbert
When we think of the Bone Collector team we think of Michael, Nick and T-Bone. We think of the fun loving trio of hardcore road warriors, chasing big game all across the planet. We think of giant Midwestern whitetails hitting the ground, grueling spot and stalk Western hunts for trophy class elk and mule deer, gigantic North American moose, and all sorts of other game. Along with chasing trophies, another passion for the Bone Collector team is spring turkey hunting. In fact, ScentBlocker’s new Thunder Chicken turkey vest was designed in part by the input and based on supporting the product needs of the Brotherhood themselves. I recently had a chance to talk with the Bone Collector trio and pick their brains about how they like to chase spring longbeards.
Local natural resource agencies and the National Wild Turkey Federation have done a great job in recent years bringing healthy turkey populations back all across the country. Growing up in Georgia, T-Bone and Michael started chasing turkeys when they were teenagers. Without being too specific about his age, Michael shared “… I’ve been hunting turkeys since I was fourteen years old, so I guess I’ve been hunting about twenty six or twenty seven years.”
“I started hunting turkeys when I was twelve.” Nick shared. “My dad and I would hunt them in the fall while we were deer hunting. Once I turned fourteen and got my drivers license, I started hunting them in the spring too.”
Calling turkeys is certainly an art. In fact, at a turkey calling content is where Michael got his big break, and caught the attention of Bill Jordan. “I started to listen to every tape or video I could get my hands on. People like Paul Butski, Ray Eye, Billy Mccoy, Dick Kirby, and Eddie Salter where my idols. I loved to hear them call and hunt turkeys and wanted to sound not only like a hen but just like them too. I started competing in contests around my senior year of high school in 90 and 91.”
Appreciating the fellowship of hunting with others, T-Bone admits, “I’m not the best caller, but I ain’t afraid to try”.
Nick remembers, “In 5th grade I got my first diaphragm call and drove people nuts with it. Not long after, I got my first box call.”
When asked about their preferred style of hunting, the Bone Collector’s had differing opinions. Travis once again expressed how much he enjoys sharing turkey hunts with others. “I really like having a caller. It is a lot of fun to have two or three guys on the hunt, to share in the experience… group hunting for turkeys is my favorite.”
Nick’s favorite way to chase longbeards is to run-n-gun, but he also likes to bowhunt them. “I like to set up a blind in a high traffic area and wait for a nice, close bowshot.”
“I’ll do whatever it takes to put a gobbler in the back of my truck, but my go-to style of turkey hunting is runnin’ and gunnin’ all the way” Always limited on time as a youngster, Michael learned to hunt turkeys fast and aggressively. He was either trying to put his tag on one before school or later in life, before work. “… you can bump some turkeys this way but will also only learn things you can get away with my run-n-gun hunting.”
Every turkey hunter, be it bright eyed rookie or weathered veteran, has their dream setup. For many, it’s the flydown-right-into-my-decoy morning where they’re back at the local diner while breakfast is still being served. Others dream of that stubborn old-field bird. The same tom that has eluded them for years, finally giving in to his curiosity and putting on quite a show, dancing in the glistening spring hayfield before belting out his last gobble. Still some dream of the hardwoods longbeard, the one who continuously seems to be just over the next ridge, making his last mistake and poking his bright red head over the hill just a bit too high. T-Bone’s ideal setup is on a field, with a decoy spread. He likes to watch the tom’s slowly move across the open field, stopping to strut and wait, gobble a bit, then come ever so closer. “… they are all pretty cool, but I like the field, lots of eye candy action.”
“My favorite setup is when I know where the birds are roosted. I like to sneak in nice and close in the dark and hope for the best. Usually it doesn’t work that way, and they head in another direction. So really, I guess my best setup is the one that works and I kill a bird!”
“My favorite setup is when the odds are in my favor, which rarely happens, because the turkeys always have the advantage. I like to be in the rolling hardwoods mixed with small pasture fields.” Waddell continued to elaborate on his favorite hunting strategy. He uses the varied terrain of the rolling wooded hills and fields to “take the birds temperature” and predict how he will react. If there’s a bird gobbling in the woods, Michael will either let him make it to the field to visually check to see if he has hens, or get in the woods after him. Once Waddell has observed whether or not the gobbler is alone, and what sort of mood he seems to be in, the strategy really comes together. He’ll set up a decoy, start “talkin’ smack” to the bird, or simply crawl around and set up an ambush. “Some people say they will only shoot a turkey if he comes to a call. I don’t feel that way! Its turkey hunting and being a great turkey caller is just one good tool to help you consistently bag a gobbler. Turkey hunting can use every bit of your predatory instinct to be successful.”
Along with dream setups, we all have memorable hunts as well. Travis described a great hunt at “County Goes A Huntin’” a few years back. It was the last day of his hunt, and a huge powerful storm was rolling in soon. “We ended up calling in two gobblers at the last minute. We killed one of them, and he’s still my best bird. He had 1 9/16” spurs!… great memories.”
When asked the same question, Michael shared that he’s been able to enjoy every turkey hunting parent’s “dream hunt” three times! “I don’t have a most memorable one because I love every hunt, but it has been hard to beat seeing all my boys, Mason who is now 12, Meyer 8, and Macoy 6 shoot turkeys in booger bottom with me and my daddy; all on camera. Mason was 7, Meyer was 7 and Macoy was the youngest at 6 to get it done. Great memories, and really cool to see your kids love something that means so much to you.”
Nick remembers his most memorable hunt vividly. “My most memorable turkey hunt happened this spring in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Waddell, Steve Dooley, Al Kraus, Stephen Mcnelly from Realtree and our own producer, Jason Heathcoe were after Merriam’s in the snow. We had been on the property about 15 minutes when we struck a bird on our very first spot. The bird was answering well to my box call so I walked to the top of the ridge a few times to make sure he could pinpoint us. On my third time up the hill the turkey crested the top and I was stuck in the wide open! I stood motionless as the gobbler strutted by me at 5 yards and went straight to the Thunder Chicken Decoy Waddell had in his lap. As that turkey was about to be lit up by Waddell at one step, the boss Gobbler and the rest of the flock crested the hill where the first gobbler had come over. Waddell shot and the turkeys moved off. The guys kept calling, Waddell crawled behind the decoy to me and handed me the gun. As they called a hen came right to us. The boss gobbler saw the hen right by the decoy and it brought him into range. I cracked him at about 50 yards and we had a snowy day double in the beautiful mountains of South Dakota.”
When asked if there was anything else the fellas wanted to share with me about turkey hunting, T-Bone shared a few things, “Out of the three of us, I’m probably the least experienced when it comes to turkey hunting, but this spring I have a fire lit under me to hunt a lot more. I’ve also learned that you can never have too much land to turkey hunt”.
Nick appreciates the camaraderie that the spring turkey woods can provide. “Turkey hunting is about spending time with friends and family, its the challenge of making a lovesick tom drop his guard and come to a call. The feeling you get from a successful turkey hunt is the best. The coolest part is you almost always have someone to share the experience with.”
Waddell had an interesting opinion that I completely agree with. “…I get that all turkeys look similar and they don’t have antlers like a deer, but I stand by that the best hunters in the world are die hard turkey hunters. In my personal opinion, a good turkey hunter can hunt anything in the world. Turkey hunting is less about luck and more about strategy; going head to head with wild game and being able to have a conversation with that game. You have to know the terrain, structure and the property very well to be efficient. If you hunt deer or anything else, you owe it to yourself to turkey hunt and get good at it. When you do that I promise it will make everything else you hunt easier.
When asked about what ScentBlocker gear they appreciated the most during turkey season, Nick and T-Bone had a hard time choosing one. Nick shared, “I really like all of my ScentBlocker gear. It’s built for use and abuse, but I guess if I have to choose one thing, it’s the BOA knee boots. I appreciate how light and tough they are. I use them all year, but they’re perfect for run-n-gun turkey hunting.”
“I like the versatility and variety clothing the most.” Travis added, “For spring, I appreciate how ScentBlocker gear is quiet, lightweight, and waterproof. Also, I like the scent control features so I don’t bust deer everywhere I go. I like watching deer all year long.”
Waddell didn’t take so long to answer. “The Thunder Chicken turkey vest of course! I helped design it. It’s awesome. Do I need to say more?”
Some may think that “pros” like Michael, Nick and T-Bone who have killed countless trophy animals across the globe wouldn’t get too excited about a spring turkey, but just the opposite is true. I could tell by talking to all of these guys that turkey hunting is in their blood, they all grew up chasing beards and spurs and it’s as much a part of them as deer hunting.
It’s also surprising to some that guys like these still face the challenges the rest of the hunting public does. They’re still out knocking on doors and making phone calls to gain hunting access, they still have days where they don’t hear a gobble. And when they do hear that first sweet call of spring, their hearts still pound with excitement.
Photos: Robinson Outdoors