Five Babes, Five Birds

By John James Audubon (1785–1851)

by Brooke Chilvers

While my husband recalls his many years hunting lions and buffalo as a professional hunter in Africa, I cherish my single, all-American memory of a spring hunt for wild turkey in the Ozarks, with four other female outdoor writers. Which means we were five bitches, I mean babes, chasing five birds.

Just as there are classic African safaris, this hunt unfolded like a blueprint for sport and fun, organized and overseen by world-class hunter and caller Brad Harris of Lohman Calls.  

I thought I’d feel silly dressed from head to toe in a new line of women’s camouflage clothing we ladies were tasked with testing for Bass Pro; peeing with male guides and multiple layers was still complicated.  Instead, it felt good to blend into the cedars, oaks, and sycamores as we tromped through the woodlands and hills of this storybook-pretty country. 

By Richard Evett Bishop (1887–1975)

As I was the only novice turkey hunter, Brad volunteered to be my guide, and he explained the contents of his bag of tricks he’d be using during our pursuit of a single suitable gobbler. To outsmart the birds into divulging their whereabouts with a giveaway yodel, he used locator calls such as the bagged owl hooter, or shock calls such as the cawing crow call.  That evening, we’d also go roosting in order to determine the trees in which the birds would actually spend the night, so we could be in place in the 5:30 a.m. darkness in time for the fly-down just after sunrise. 

I fell asleep with images of wild turkey by Audubon, Richard Bishop, Lynn Bogue Hunt, and others swirling in my head.  Before dawn, my mental radar kicked in, and I visualized where we’d be when the legal spring turkey hunting season opened at the crack of dawn.  Yet even for top-notch turkey killer Laurie Lee Dovey, the score that year was Turkeys: 14 days, Dovey: one tom.

Currier & Ives, “Wild Turkey Shooting” (1871)

Having spent years listening to discussions of .375 H&Hs, .416 Rigbys, and my husband’s .505 Gibbs, this was a new universe for me: a specialized vocabulary, plus new tools and skills.  Brad handed me a 3-inch, full choke, 12-gauge Remington 870 pump-action shotgun. And instead of simply encountering or intercepting or tracking the sought-after game, we’d be using our trophy’s very own language to tickle his curiosity in our attempt to seduce him away from the other flirting hens.

As one huntress explained it:  “First you seduce this big old tom away from his existing mate. Then you call him, and call him again, closer and closer. Then when you get him close enough, you blow his head off.”  We could also invite him to show off his dominance and defend his territory while secretly drawing him to within shooting range of less than 40 yards.  

By Lynn Bogue Hunt (1878–1960)

Among this group of experienced women hunters were three sharp-looking grandmother writers who’d bagged, photographed, and written about dozens of turkeys in a dozen states. Yet their unexpected support and enthusiasm for my success—their genuine welcome of me into the fold of female turkey hunters—was apparent even as we patterned our guns. Using No. 5, No. 6, and No. 7 1/2  shells, the object of the exercise was to compare the relative number of pellets that hit our turkey-headed targets in the vulnerable neck and head vertebrae. At least for our group, the No. 7 1/2 Federals consistently put a densely patterned 15 to 20 holes in that critical zone.