November 04, 2010
An unforgettable turkey hunt involves far more than a big gobbler in the bag.
My first turkey, taken with tackle I crafted myself, proved to be my gold medal in life.
The morning light was still dim in western Georgia when I spotted the silhouette of a turkey roosting in a knurly oak tree. The night before, my younger brother Teddy and I had seen several birds fly up to roost, so we had returned before first light the following morning and set up a Primos Double Bull blind and a lone hen decoy with hopes of luring one of the turkeys within bow range.
Shortly after our arrival, the entire flock awoke. One thunderous gobble initiated a chain reaction from the others as several gobblers bellowed behind and to the right of us.
Many turkey hunters have experienced mornings just like this, but this isn't just another story about just another turkey hunt. For me, this hunt was special because my weaponry was literally prehistoric. In my left hand I held a longbow I'd carefully crafted from an Osage orange tree. On the string was an arrow I'd made of river cane, a native plant very similar to bamboo, and fletched with white turkey feathers.
On the tip was a finely serrated, black flint arrowhead I had carefully knapped using a deer antler tine. To complete the arrows, I had secured the fletching and stone point to the shaft with wrappings of deer sinew.
With all the high-tech equipment available to modern hunters, why would anyone choose to go backward in time and use a stone-age weapon? For me, the answer is defined during a moment many years ago that would forever change my entire hunting experience.
While deer hunting in Virginia with my dad, I found my first arrowhead. It was made of quartz, and although it was broken, that one discovery sparked a flood of questions. How did the Native Americans make arrowheads? How did they use them? My childhood curiosity soon turned into full-blown fascination. Just at the time when I would have begun hunting with a rifle, I abruptly reversed direction by delving deep into the past.
Not only did I want to know how primitive hunters made these weapons; I wanted to learn to make them myself.
My first attempts at making arrowheads were very crude, but with practice I learned to make surprisingly sharp, functional points. Making arrowheads led to the making of arrows, and, finally, wooden bows. I followed a natural progression to master related skills and soon was able to make a bow and arrow from materials gathered in nature.
Although these weapons had been putting food in the pot for thousands of years, I had always questioned their effectiveness. How would they perform in a real hunting situation? To answer that question, I had to put them to the test.I wanted to match my skills with animals directly, just as ancient cultures had done. In doing so, I experienced hunting in its purest form, but I also found it incredibly difficult.
Game animals today have been well-schooled during short, intense hunting seasons, and getting within range proved nearly impossible. For six frustrating years, I tried but was never successful -- until the morning of April 21, 2007.
Now, almost 15 years after finding that first quartz arrowhead, I was sitting in a blind with my brother, armed with my own handmade bow and arrow. Nearly surrounded by gobbling birds, we seemingly had set up in the perfect spot. However, as Teddy delivered several raspy clucks from his mouth call, the turkeys remained in the trees, preoccupied with challenging each other.
Then, as the morning light brightened and the turkeys began flying down to forage, they obviously were moving away from us. Calls that had been loud and close eventually became soft and distant. Teddy and I could do nothing but watch as the entire flock -- and our hopes of getting a turkey -- vanished.
My journey into primitive archery began when I found this broken quartz arrow-head in Virginia.
Suddenly Teddy spotted the red head of a jake swiveling like a periscope over a small hill.
"Billy, don't move," my brother warned. "There's a jake looking this way."
After scanning for danger, the turkey began cautiously moving in our direction. And he was not alone. A mature gobbler accompanied him, and once he spotted the hen decoy, he took the lead.
With the jake now following at a distance, the gobbler carefully made his way toward the decoy, and the closer he got -- 40 yards, 30 yards, now 20 -- the faster my heart beat. At 18 yards, he began flaring out his feathers to impress the lone decoy. Waiting patiently, I refused to move as the gobbler passed the 15-yard mark and kept coming. At 10 yards, the gobbler was focused completely on the decoy.
"He's not even paying attention to you!" my brother whispered. "Take your shot!"
Slowly I raised my bow, looking at the precise spot on the turkey's side where I wanted the arrow to make its mark, and inch-by-inch I began to draw.
At half draw, my hand began to tremble, but I continued to force the string back. At three-quarters draw, the gobbler walked between the decoy and the blind. Now only eight yards away, he still hadn't detected us. As my shaking got worse, I knew it was now or never. Six years of frustration and failed attempts could be erased right here, right now, with one well-placed shot. I held as steady as possible, relaxed my fingers, and let the bow pull the string from my grip.
The wooden limbs snapped forward, and the cane arrow rocketed off the bow, covering the eight yards in an instant. As the arrow slammed into the turkey's side, precisely where I was aiming, the gobbler jumped straight up and flipped in midair.
When his feet touched the ground, he sprang up again and the arrow fell free. At the same moment the arrow hit the ground, the gobbler landed on his feet and ran off to my left.
Thinking the arrow had bounced off, Teddy immediately hissed, "The arrow didn't hit him hard enough!"
But watching the gobbler run 10 yards, slow to a walk, and then stop, I knew different.
For a few seconds he stood motionless and then sank to the grass.
After much practice, I have learned to knap sharp arrowheads. This one killed my first turkey.
"He's down!" I said excitedly.
"He's down?" Teddy asked in disbelief.
"Yes, he's down!"
Teddy quickly unzipped the blind, and we both ran to the turkey lying dead only 25 yards away. Teddy looked at me with wide eyes. "Billy, you just killed a turkey with your primitive bow!"
We shared an excited hug, scarcely believing what had just happened. The stone arrowhead and primitive tackle had proved surprisingly lethal.
This was my first turkey ever; what had seemed unattainable for years now lay at my feet. Kneeling beside the bird, I felt the soft plumage. At that very moment, I understood the exhilaration a climber must feel when, after numerous failed attempts, he finally stands atop Mt. Everest with the entire world below him.
I shared the emotions that must flood through Olympic athletes who, after years of training, practice, and sacrifice, stand for brief moments above all others with gold medals around their necks. The feelings of pride and accomplishment I felt cannot be described with the subdued meaning of any word. This was my Mt. Everest. This was my gold medal.
This test of determination had lasted for six years, but I had finally achieved my goal before sunrise on that unforgettable April morning. Maybe primitive cultures weren't as disadvantaged as I'd thought, after all.
The author is a serious primitive archer from Canton, Georgia.
Author's Notes: I used a 61-inch Osage orange selfbow pulling 52 pounds at 30 inches; a 460-grain, 35-inch river cane arrow; and a stone point I personally knapped from north Georgia flint. Weighing 23 pounds, my turkey had a nine-inch beard and one-inch spurs.