Battling the Slave Ditch Gobbler with Central Alabama’s Joe Champion
Begin the Turkey Hunt for the Slave Ditch Gobbler, and Watch a Turkey Hunting Video
Editor’s Note: We didn’t realize how big this bird was until we weighed him. At 22 pounds and with a 1-1/2-inch beard and 1-inch spurs, the Slave Ditch Gobbler was one of the heaviest birds ever killed at Portland Landing near Selma, Alabama.
Joe Champion of Pine Hill, Alabama, looked at me with pain in his eyes. For 2 hours, we had been calling to two strutting gobblers. The birds had moved to within 40 yards of us but wouldn’t come thatextra 10 yards we needed to make clean shots. As the two toms walked away from us gobbling, Champion said, “I know for sure that one of those birds is the Slave Ditch Gobbler, because I’ve hunted him for several years. The other bird is a subordinate gobbler that must have moved into this area this season. Do you agree we can’t get those turkeys to come back?” I answered that I didn’t know what else to do or try. I said, “Joe, we’ve used every trick in the book on these birds. We’ve gotten them to come in close but not close enough to take a shot. I’m afraid we’ve lost them.”
“I’ve got one more trick to try,” Champion commented. “I’m either going to call them in, or I’m going to run them off so far that I won’t have to worry with them for another season.” Champion pulled out every call in his hunting vest. In his left hand, he had a Quaker Boy fighting purr call. He held a Preston Pittman diaphragm call in his mouth and his trusty, box call by his side along with a slate call. Champion started with fighting purrs before cutting and cackling on his diaphragm call. Then he called loud and fast with his box call, continuing to change calls about every 2 minutes and never ceasing to call. The intense noise reminded me of the circus parades that came to town when I was a boy. While Champion screamed his wide variety of calls, the two gobblers answered – much to my amazement.
Although the fighting purr call initially got the birds’ attention, the constant cutting and cackling, making kee-kee runs and Champion’s beating his chest and legs with his hands also had an effect on the birds. Champion not only was simulating a gobbler fight but also gave enough sounds that fooled any nearby longbeards into believing a flock of hens and jakes were on hand to watch the contest. Apparently the two mature toms thought a party was going on, and they hadn’t been invited. They made up their minds to crash the party and possibly participate in the fight.
When Champion paused for a moment to catch his breath, we heard the turkeys gobbling and moving closer to us. We’d been calling these two turkeys for 2-1/2-hours from the same blind. I wanted a shot at one of those longbeards. I felt confident I could bag the bird, if I could just get a shot. I believed the immense racket and this unorthodox method of calling was the right medicine to unhitch these two hung-up gobblers.
Learn more about hunting legendary gobblers from John E. Phillips’ library of turkey-hunting books, including “The Turkey Hunter’s Bible,” “Turkey Tactics,” “Outdoor Life’s Complete Turkey Hunting,” “The Masters’ Secrets of Turkey Hunting” and “Hunter’s Specialties’ PhD Gobblers.” To learn more about these hunting books and others, visit www.nighthawkpublications.com/hunting/hunting.htm, or call 205-967-3830.
To learn to call turkeys, you not only have to know what you need to do to call in the bird, but you need to know how the turkey responds to your calling. Since the turkey is in one place, and you’re always in a different place, many times you can’t see the turkey to watch the effects of your turkey calls. To solve this problem, we asked Bill Zearing, founder and president of Cody Game Calls, to be the caller, and we’ve asked Preston Pittman, who has won all 5 divisions of the World Turkey Calling Championship, to be the turkey. Each day, we’ll pose a different hunting scenario and ask these two legendary turkey callers/hunters to show us the types of calls you need to use and learn the different effects they have on turkeys.
Watch Video: “The First Call You Make When You Find a Gobbler Roosting with Hens”