Learning to Talk Turkey: Newnan's Barnett gears up for wild turkey season
by Alex McRae
A sellout crowd of 49,586 avid fans is expected to pack Turner Field on April 1 as the Atlanta Braves celebrate Opening Day of the 2013 Major League Baseball season.
But a lesser publicized spring bash on March 23 will be no less exciting—or eagerly anticipated—for the 50,000 Georgians who will descend on the state’s fields and forests for opening day of wild turkey season.
“I hunted deer for years before I tried turkey,” says Barnett. “But once I did, I loved it. I can’t wait to go.”
Barnett was raised in East Newnan and was pulling fish from local ponds as soon as he was big enough to hold a cane pole. In 1972, at age 12, he took his first deer. He quickly became a threat to the local quail and dove populations, too, but it was not until 1989 that Barnett attempted turkey hunting.
He admits there was a steep learning curve.
“It’s totally different from deer,” he says. “Mostly because you have to communicate with the animal you’re hunting. It can get interesting. And fun.”
A female bird’s chirps, yelps and purrs can indicate anything from contentment to distress. The lady birds also utter certain cries designed solely to let big gobblers know they are approaching the hottest hen on the roost. Duplicating those sounds isn’t easy but hunters are aided by an array of commercial and handmade calls that come in more shapes and sizes than Bubba Gump had recipes for shrimp.
Learning to talk turkey isn’t easy. Barnett still remembers his first few vocabulary lessons. “I basically walked around the house making turkey calls,” he says. “It almost drove my wife crazy.”
Barnett’s wife, Liz, and daughters, Cydney and Alley, survived. Barnett eventually became fluent in fowl language.
“Listening to the birds while you’re out in the woods is the best way to learn,” Barnett says. “You’ll eventually pick it up. Once you do, the main thing to remember is not to call too much. You can run a bird off that way.”
Even when the calls are perfect, a hunt can be ruined with a single wrong move.
Turkeys have excellent eyesight and run from anything that looks out of place. Serious turkey hunters aren’t ready for business until everything from boots to caps to skin to shotguns is covered with camouflage markings.
Then it’s just a matter of sitting very still. Sometimes, for a very long time. But even while seated on the drop-down cushions attached to most turkey hunting vests, imitating a statue is no cinch. Barnett found out the hard way when a big gobbler was headed his way and he had to scratch an itch that wouldn’t wait any more.
“I moved and that turkey took off,” he says. “It happens.”
Hunters have favorite spots they return to year after year, but are always on the lookout for new hunting habitats with good visibility, convenient access and an adequate supply of turkey treats like acorns. But even if he finds the ideal spot, Barnett will move if the birds are clucking elsewhere.
“I’ve walked over a mile to set up on a bird,” he says. “Sometimes it pays off and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s all part of it.”
Barnett now has the turkey routine refined to the point that he can be out calling birds at daybreak and back in the office before lunch.
Turkey hunters are never discouraged when they come home empty handed. They expect to spend several days in the woods just to fill the state’s three bird limit before the season ends on May 15. But then, turkey hunters don’t measure a day’s success by the size of a buck’s rack or the number of birds bulging from a game bag.
They have a different set of expectations. A seasoned turkey hunter will tell you there’s nothing better than sitting back and watching the show as a big gobbler fluffs up his feathers, fans his tail and struts around showing off the gorgeous green, gold, copper and bronze feathers for which the wild birds are famous.
“Even the best hunter isn’t successful every time out,” Barnett says. “But you know what? It doesn’t matter. When you’re out there and the rising sun is coming through the trees and it glints off those beautiful iridescent colors? That’s when you know there’s a God. That’s what it’s all about.”
To view more stories from the 2013 March-April edition of Newnan-Coweta Magazine, visit http://newnancowetamag.com .