Turkey Hunting: Pine Phantoms

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If you have driven through a small town in a forested area in rural America, chances are you have seen a caravan of log trucks heading towards a paper mill with a load of logs.  As the demand for timber products increases, so does the acreage that is being converted from the ancient hardwood forests of our ancestors to the fast-growing pine plantations.

In the southeast, the pine plantation is as much a part of the cultural and geographic tapestry as the cornfield is in the Midwest, and turkey hunters that call the Deep South home are learned to adapt to a new type of hunting.  While pine plantations may not be the most aesthetically pleasing setting for a spring turkey hunt, turkeys are not shying away from their ever-changing surroundings.  Once the pines reach ten to twelve years of age, their understory opens up to give turkeys access and their crowns provide roosting sites for the birds.  Bugs and small insects are prevalent in planted pines, providing turkeys food.  In summary, once pines reach a certain age, they can be a haven for wild turkeys.

Pine Straw Walker

Bob Walker of Livingston, Alabama is a veteran guide at Bent Creek Lodge and a featured expert on the popular Mossy Oak Turkey Thugs show that knows the benefits -and challenges- of hunting pine plantations all too well.  He guides clients on timber company land in west Alabama that is managed for timber production, meaning he hunts planted pines from the clearcut stage on up to a mature stand and all points in between.  Even though Walker finds himself hunting a tract of land that seems to change from year to year, he consistently puts his clients on the turkeys that call the pines home.

“The area I hunt is for the most part in different stages of pines, although we still have some hardwood drains that run through the plantations,” says Walker. “It seems to me that once the pines get to 10 to 12 years old and turkeys can walk through them, they prefer them to the hardwoods for whatever reason.”

Walker said the pre-thinned stands of pine plantations are some of the most productive.  “When you are hunting a stand of pines that has not been thinned yet, you can get really tight with a gobbling turkey, which is always a plus.  One challenge of this stand in particular is that the sounds are more muffled, making a gobble sound more like a roar than a full-roll gobble, especially if the turkey is on the ground.  If a turkey is within a couple hundred yards from you, it can be hard to course them.”

As the pines mature and are thinned, the challenges change according to Walker.  “Hunting turkeys in a plantation that has been thinned and burned is almost like hunting a field turkey because they can see so far.  If a plantation is flat, and you cannot maneuver on a turkey, it’s hard to get where you need to in order to kill the turkey.  Don’t get me wrong, they love areas like this, but it is hard to kill turkeys in them.  You’ve got to utilize any sort of cover, such as debris left from logging, to give you some cover and a reason for them to come a little closer to look for a hen that may be behind a brush pile.  On the flip side, you also have to be aware of any debris in front of you that may hang him up.”

Norton Knows the Pines

Larry Norton of Pennington, Alabama is another hunter who spends the majority of his mornings in a pine plantation.  The two-time World Champion Caller has grown quite fond of hunting turkeys in the pine plantations of the South.

“I actually prefer pine plantations,” says Norton, who has hunted turkeys for over forty years.  “When you hunt in a hardwood bottom, a gobbler may hang up at seventy yards and strut and gobble until he sees a hen.  In dense pines, the turkeys have to come in closer because they cannot see as far.  As a result of the reduced visibility, you can get really tight with turkeys in some pine plantations.  The key is finding a place that you can see for thirty or forty yards, so a turkey cannot come up through a thicket at fifteen yards and spot you before you can get a shot off.”

When Norton hunts in pine plantations, he typically removes the extra-full choke in his shotgun and replaces it with a modified choke.  “The majority of the shots you are going to have in a pine plantation are going to be thirty yards and in.  With an extra-full choke, you run the risk of missing the turkey if the only shot you are presented with is at fifteen yards.  As a rule of thumb, I also do this when the leaves green up, because turkeys will have to come in a little closer when they are looking for the hen.  That is a good problem to have, and one you typically have when hunting pine plantations.”

For more information on hunting at Bent Creek Lodge, visit their website at www.bentcreeklodge.com or call them at 1-205-398-3040!
Wild Turkey Report Staff
Wild Turkey Report is the internet's new destination for information on the sport of turkey hunting. Follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wildturkeyreport and on Twitter @wildturkeyreprt!
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