Alabama birds are tough. But this gobbler became a legend.
After decades of turkey hunting, I think I’ve seen just about everything a gobbler can do to avoid taking a ride in a hunter’s pickup. In fact, I’ve been after them for so long that I’ve developed a system for categorizing the turkeys I hunt.
The worst of them has been the Devil Turkey of Martin Creek, an Alabama bird that’s performed mind-boggling feats of elusiveness. © Tes Randle Jolly photo
The Volunteers: These are turkeys that make you look like a genius. Park your truck, walk into the woods, yelp a few times, shoot him in the face, and brag about your hunt while eating a hot breakfast at the local cafe with your friends who are headed to their 9-to-5 jobs.
The Characters: Character turkeys are difficult. They are stubborn, but not sophisticated enough to shield their survival secrets from a seasoned, persistent hunter. Eventually a character makes a mistake that allows a hunter to decorate his fat-toed, scaly leg with a beautiful adornment known as a turkey tag.
Grudge Turkeys: These are a different breed. They were character turkeys at one time. Somewhere along their journey to now they learned that the sweet hen in the bushes is a jezebel. The sexy hen impersonator they see is a fake. The sound of a snapping twig or rustle of leaves is ample reason to shut up and run. Roosting in the same place ain’t a good thing and doing tomorrow what you did today is bad for your health.
I have had dealings with all three categories. It’s strange that the least-remembered turkeys are usually the volunteers. Volunteers are good for your ego and boost your morale, but character turkeys elevate your prowess to new levels. The turkeys that exist in these two categories consume almost all of your tags.
Few tags are ever filled with grudge turkeys, however (unless you resort to unscrupulous tactics). I have had my share of encounters with them. There was Pencil Beard in Mississippi. The Runner in South Dakota. Swamp Ghost in Louisiana. But the worst of them has been the Devil Turkey of Martin Creek, an Alabama bird that’s performed mind-boggling feats of elusiveness over the past three seasons, and left two veteran hunters frustrated, confused and humiliated.
That spring there was an uptick in turkey sightings. © Tes Randle Jolly photo
Martin Creek is a 2,000-acre farm in east-central Alabama that’s owned in part by my friend and longtime turkey hunting partner, Steve Guy. Steve is a seasoned veteran who, after four decades of hunting turkeys in Alabama, has achieved a status of his own: Good.
The first time I hunted Martin Creek was over two decades ago, when it was a portion of an 11,000-acre hunting club. It’s had its ups and downs, with land sales and improvements like roads and food plots, followed by clearcutting and replanting in longleaf pines. There was a time when there were very few turkeys there at all, and the ones that were lived in the small Stream Side Management Zones (SMZ) on the property. Moving from one strip of timber to another undetected was almost impossible. The hunting was difficult, but it was during these years that Steve and I realized there was a lot of fun to be had if we hunted turkeys together.
By the spring of 2017, the longleaf pine plantations at Martin Creek had grown substantially. Turkeys mostly avoided them but they did provide adequate nesting cover for hens and allowed us to move from one SMZ to another undetected. The firebreaks around the plantations also served as travel corridors for turkeys to move from one hardwood drain to another. And so that spring there was an uptick in turkey sightings.
More days than not, Steve and I were able to locate and try to “borrow” a gobbling bird from the neighbors on the east or west side of Martin Creek, where the timber had not been cut. And it was during this season that we began playing the game with a gobbler that lived in the center of the farm. At first he seemed like any other Alabama turkey, but over the duration of that season we realized that he was anything but ordinary.
He's a Character
He spent all his time in and around the hardwood drain in the center of Martin Creek. © Tes Randle Jolly photo
On the eve of the final morning of the 2017 season, Steve roosted the turkey in the long, narrow SMZ where most of our encounters with him had occurred. At camp that night we devised a divide-and-conquer plan that we felt certain would end with success.
The next morning we set up on opposites sides of the roosted gobbler. The plan was for each of us to make one set of calls at fly-down time, and then shut up. We were convinced one of us would be able to pull the trigger. It didn’t happen that way.
We were far enough apart that I did not hear Steve call, and he didn’t hear me. We trusted each other enough to know one would not call and unfairly shoot the turkey as he slipped away from the other’s calls. After gobbling several times on the roost, none in answer to our calls, the gobbler flew to the ground and gobbled one time. I was certain Steve was in the cat bird’s seat.
One hour later no shot, no gobbles, no turkey. I grabbed my phone and sent a text to Steve: “What?”
He replied: “WTH?”
We decided to wait another hour before giving up. At the end of that time I received a message to meet at the truck. When Steve arrived he shrugged, shook his head and asked, “Where did that devil go?”
When the 2018 season began, Steve and I focused on turkeys that we hoped were volunteers, and we had some success. But there were days when the turkey gobbling in the hardwood drain in the center of Martin Creek could not be ignored.
At first we approached hunting the bird as we would’ve any other turkey. It did not take long to realize that wouldn’t work because he was different, with his own unpredictable agenda. By the end of the season much had been learned about the turkey we now called several different names, most of which can’t be said mixed company. He spent all his time in and around the hardwood drain in the center of Martin Creek. He gobbled freely on the roost most mornings and some nights. He answered calls regularly and always walked away from them. He never roosted in the same place as the night before, and he never did today what he did yesterday.
Most days we ignored him and hunted other birds. But there were days when he was the only game in town and we played it, only to be frustrated and humbled. The 2018 season ended and we knew it was time to upgrade the turkey that had outwitted us all season with a permanent name. Devil Turkey stuck.
Two hours later I heard a single putt and the unmistakable sound of a large turkey taking flight. © Tes Randle Jolly photo
The morning before opening day of 2019, Steve and I parked at daybreak on a big hill in the center of Martin Creek to listen for gobbling. We were pleased to hear several turkeys to the east and several to our west. We were not surprised to hear one gobbler sounding off in the hardwood drain in the middle of the property.
“You know that is The Devil,” I said.
“Probably so. We need to kill that turkey,” Steve said.
And so it began. I’ve learned that it’s usually best to just avoid grudge turkeys, and look for birds that play fair. But there is the lore and mystery of hunting a legendary gobbler, and we all have egos that need to be addressed on occasion — even if it causes us to lose sight of common sense.
One memorable encounter with The Devil occurred early in the season. He was free gobbling at mid-morning near the south end of his hardwood haunt. Steve and I snuck through the jungle of briars, weeds and grass in a longleaf plantation to the edge of the hardwoods at mid-morning. Steve chose a tree that gave him a clear shot to the other side of the hardwoods. I backed away and set up 40 yards behind him. The plan was for me to call and Steve to shoot the turkey when he stopped short of the calling. We’ve never known where he went that day, only that he did not use the only logical route for a self-respecting gobbler.
Another episode occurred when we made a huge circle to get in front of him as he moved the length of the hardwood drain toward a large food plot. Just as I was about to peek over a hill, he gobbled in the hardwoods just behind the plot. Steve scrambled into position in a patch of ferns at the edge of the plot. I placed a lone Dave Smith hen decoy in the road between Steve and me. The idea was not to get him to the decoy but in range for Steve, who was totally hidden in the ferns.
Two hours later I heard a single putt and the unmistakable sound of a large turkey taking flight. The entire time I could see Steve and can attest that he did not move, not even as the gobbler was flying away. I only saw him wilt into the ferns in total frustration after The Devil exited the stage straight away. We surmised that the only reason for this action was that he saw the decoy and flew without hesitation.
Divide and Hope
We decided our best chance for success was to divide and hope. © Tes Randle Jolly photo
By the end of 2019 Steve and I had almost emptied the well. We simply did not have anything that The Devil had not seen or heard. We decided our best chance for success was to divide and hope. Steve would hang out at the food plot where the decoy had spooked The Devil to flight. I had a last-ditch plan of my own.
Over the course of two years hunting The Devil, one thing emerged as a possible clue to killing him. I called it his happy place. The happy place was in the center of a 400-yard-long food plot that was only 40 yards wide. On several occasions I had observed The Devil strutting under an oak tree at the edge of the plot.
I was confident in the plan except for one problem — getting there undetected. The only path was across a pine plantation choked with briars and weeds. It took almost an hour to pick through to the hardwoods. Once there I crawled to a tree near the edge of the plot and 20 yards from The Devil turkey’s happy place.
It was a typical late-April afternoon in east-central Alabama. Sweat trickled down my face and back as I settled in for a long afternoon wait. Mercifully a cooling wind pushed through the trees and caused the tall grass in the plot to sway gently. I picked up a slate call, softly yelped and clucked, then put the call away and relaxed.
Five minutes later I heard the unmistakable sound of drumming. It was to my left, and close. Out of the corner of my eye I caught movement as the bird’s head emerged above the grass. My gun was on my knee and pointed 30 feet right of the turkey. I decided to not move and let him walk to his happy place and in front of my gun. The last time I saw his head he was less than 10 feet from my point of aim. His tail never raised as he drummed, but his head rose above the grass to look for the hen. When his head went down the last time I eased my cheek onto the stock and readied for the shot. Forty-five minutes later I had not seen nor heard him again. I sat until dark in hopes of hearing him fly up to roost. I did not.
The next, and final, morning of the season I hunted The Devil and he was roosted 300 yards away in a single tree in the middle of a cutover. He gobbled his brains out as a pack of coyotes lit up the morning with mournful cries. When I left that day I had to admit I was pulling for the coyotes to pull him down. Then I remembered this was The Devil Turkey.
With that knowledge in hand, I made my way to the truck where I met my old friend Steve. It was then and there we pledged to kill The Devil Turkey in 2020. Lord willing, we will still be here and able.
We are confident The Devil Turkey will be there waiting for us to try.
More Realtree turkey hunting.
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