A Bunch of Wild Turkeys Later

By author of Turkey Blog with Steve Hickoff

Our longtime turkey hunting editor weighs in on his time with Realtree

Loafing under a sky full of stars after a big meal of barbecue. Turkey camp, decades ago. A “writer’s hunt,” as they used to say, where media pros are invited to field-test the latest gear. And yeah, to network with the folks who write and assign the work.

Realtree was a sponsor.

That's me thinking about lunch back at camp, with a Wyoming Merriam's on my shoulder. Image by John Hafner

I’d been contributing to several dozen hunting print magazines back then (many are gone). Much of what I wrote was on wild turkeys. I was cranking out a Sunday newspaper outdoors section (remember those?) plus posting digital stuff for several emergent dot-coms, including my own blog — still a relatively new platform to many, including us old-school print writers.

My dive into the digital world was an effort to stay ahead of the curve. I made mistakes, learned from some of those lessons, kept going — and grin now to think how some people felt online content wouldn’t compete with what print could deliver. I think the same thing was once said about the printing press and word of mouth.

A chilly, early-season West Texas night. A roaring firepit to stave it off. Some tagged turkeys to lift the mood. And plenty of laughing and storytelling. It’s the intangible stuff you remember most. And that was when Realtree’s Dodd Clifton, a glass of something smooth in hand, announced: “Hickoff’s going to be writing on turkeys for us.”

Well yeah, maybe we’d discussed it a little between gobbling birds that morning. Surrounded by some established writers and editors, I played it cool. In “act like you’ve been there before” mode, I nodded, grinned, scarcely believing my fortune. I couldn’t wait to get started.

I’d met Clifton way back in the early 1990s, up in Orono, Maine, of all places, a few years after HE started. Now, after 30 years with Realtree, he’s retiring. And suddenly, just like that, I’ve been at this a long time, too.

I first turkey hunted Pennsylvania in the early 1970s. This New Hampshire longbeard is a more recent bird. Image by Steve Hickoff

Over the years I’ve said to close friends on this team: “When Dodd goes, I go.” Well, after careful consideration — and sure, a bit of waffling and trying to talk myself out of it — thoughtful counsel from friends and family has prevailed.

It’s time. I’m stepping away from writing on America’s greatest gamebird for Realtree.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I loved this gig. I’ll miss it. And while it was a tough decision, I’m looking forward to a new chapter. Some new projects, no doubt. What’s next?

Will Brantley said it best after hearing my news: “It’s a good time of year for a turkey guy to be clearing his calendar.”

Yes it is.