The Land of 1,000 Gobbles -- Central Kentucky Turkeys Have Hillsides Ringing; Get Some!
Updated: Feb 24
Note: A version of this article also appeared in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star (Ken's outdoors column)
SALVISA, Ky.—The sound of hillsides thundering with mature, wild turkey toms gobbling on their roosts is part of the addictive nature of turkey hunting. It’s one component of a seemingly natural opiate concoction that makes grown men and women relish sleep deprivation and curse early morning rain on the rooftops.
Trent Marsh, a northern Indiana hunter, stalked a central Kentucky ridge line with me one mid-April morning, the opening day of the Bluegrass State’s spring gobbler season for 2019. We “worked,” as turkey hunters like to say, a pair of gobblers who were as “henned up”—another piece of gamer lingo—as a browbeaten house husband whose only answer to everything is, “Yes dear.”
Marsh and I threw everything in the book at them: yelps, cuts, purrs, even some gobbles. One of the two unseen but always heard gobblers was a bona fide loudmouth. He gobbled at everything, but came to nothing. His wing man would add a gobble every 10 or 20 times the dominant tom sounded. “ You tell ‘em, boss,” he was surely voicing. Meanwhile, you’d hear the hens in the background, warning the boys that there would be no playtime if they went off to frolic with those other “hens” they were hearing. I dubbed the place, “The Land of 1,000 Gobbles.”
It takes a lot to make me miss an opening weekend in Virginia, but the opportunity to attend “Turkey Camp 2019” with fellow members of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoors Writers at a piece of turkey and white- tail heaven called “Central Kentucky Outdoors” was too good to pass up. One cool aspect of these camps is the opportunity to see new scenery and try out new stuff. For example, SPYPOINT sent Marsh, a member of their marketing team, along with several of their new LINK-MICRO cellular trail cameras to the hunt. The cameras were placed in strategic locations around the property’s hundreds of acres and daily transmitted to our smartphones images of what was hanging around. Scentblocker, a longstanding hunting apparel brand, is branching out into turkey gear and provided some new, lightweight, incredibly compartmented Thunder Chicken vests, as well as a set of their “Drencher” packable raingear. It came in handy as the morning of Day 2 of the hunt featured steady, wind-driven rain punctuated with torrential downpours.
As soon as the rain stopped and blue skies appeared, AGLOW executive director Mark Smith went on a walkabout, trekking the property’s miles of meandering trails, listening for a gobbler. At midday, two birds gobbled nearby. Smith set a decoy, called sparingly and then watched to see which bird would win the race to its doom. He tagged the first tom of our expedition, a 22.5-pounder with a 10-inch beard and inch-plus spurs. Smith is no stranger to great turkey habitat, managing several Indiana farms near his home. Of our Kentucky hunting ground, Smith happily declared, “The natural landscape and manicured habitat lends itself to plentiful turkeys and it did not disappoint.”
Indeed, Central Kentucky Outdoors’ owner John Braasch invests a lot of time and money in habitat management. The main property, near Salvisa, Ky., just 30 minutes from Lexington, has nearly 400 acres. It’s loaded with food plots and carefully managed trails. He works to bolster the antler development of local bucks via mineral supplements and high-protein forage. Braasch leases another 3,000 acres on multiple farms, also managed for big bucks and ample, turkeys. It was on one of those farms, a place definitely off the beaten track, accessible by paved roads barely one lane wide for several miles, that the terror of Washington County met his demise.
It was the second afternoon of our hunt and after deciding that hearing 1,000 gobbles but only closing the deal on one tom was too humbling for us turkey hunting professionals, we decided to chase fresh birds. We offloaded the UTV, onloaded our gear and passed through four farm gates on our way to longbeard glory. I was hunting with Mike Lore, one of Central Kentucky Outdoors’ guides, a guy with a good touch on a slate call and a great sense of hearing, something increasingly important to my aging ears. We set up along a creek bottom, the banks stacked with walls of moss-laden boulders, likely placed there a century or more ago. The hillside opposite us across the creek was steep. We built a small ground blind in a sparse patch of cedar and sat down, overlooking a green field accessed on both sides with well-groomed trails.
One hen appeared and expressed disapproval with our decoy. “We’ve gotta pull that decoy,” I whispered to Mike. We settled back in, staring in the direction from which she appeared. The sky darkened and rain fell for a few minutes. When it let up, I glanced at the creek and was astounded to see a large tom heading down the steep hill toward us. The bird stopped at the water and paced back and forth, looking for a place to cross. Eventually, he comically hopscotched across the riffles atop the rocks; why he didn’t simply fly over with two flaps of his wings, we’ll never know.
My Mossberg 535 was at my shoulder. That gun, since replaced by Mossberg's newer 835 model, is still one of my favorites. This year, I put a new Crimson Trace CTS-1400 red dot sight on the shotgun. I was able to zero the gun within 5 shots. I love that red dot. I planned on letting the turkey hit dry ground and take a few steps before I settled the dot on his wattles and fired. That plan evaporated instantly. As soon as the gobbler hit the opposite bank, he started running. I swung the shotgun and pulled the trigger, launching a load of Winchester Longbeard XR No. 5 shot. The bird fell and Lore shot out of the blind like an Olympic sprinter to make sure it stayed down. At the shot, I saw several other birds scatter. They had come from the direction of the hen but we were so focused on the gobbler we were oblivious to them. We posed the turkey atop the mossy rock wall and took photos as daylight faded.
Epilogue: Michigander Josh Lantz arrived in camp a day before we left and began hunting the area Marsh and I had frequented early on. Persistence paid off for him as he ended up ambushing the loudmouth bird that had frustrated us.
Trip notes: 1. Guests stay in a building that's part work/storage area and has two small bedrooms with bunk beds. It's a good setup, especially on those rainy, muddy spring days when you want to hang wet outer garments everywhere. 2. The food was, in a word, awesome. I really need to quit gaining a pound and a half for every day of a hunting trip, but when the grub is great, my will gets weak. 3. There's a marvelous place to pose with your bird after a successful hunt. It's the remnants of an old stagecoach stop, with a big fireplace hearth and the crumbled lower sections of stone walls. Really cool place. 4. The property does have morel mushrooms and if you keep your head down while sneaking along turkey hunting, you just might find a couple to have as a snack with dinner. 5. The turkey habitat is ridiculously good, with hillsides sporting superb roost trees fronting streams and many openings where birds can see and be seen -- and hens can escort their broods after hatch. 6. If the weather gets crappy, as it did for us that second day, Braasch has a couple popup blinds that are easily positioned so you don't miss a hunt or have to sit in the rain. And, Braasch has UTVs that can quickly get you close to where you want to hunt or pick you up when you're finished. For more about deer and turkey hunting at Braasch's outdoors wonderland, see www.centralkentuckyoutdoors.