Bowhunting With The Turkey Pros Part 1: Walter Parrott

They are some of the most successful and well-known turkey hunters in the world, and are a wealth of knowledge for any of us bent on bow-bagging our bird this spring. This 3-part series will pick their brains for tips and tactics we can put to use. The turkey pros we are interviewing in this series include Walter Parrott in part one; Keith Beam and Brooks Johnson in part two; and Ray Eye in part three.

Born and raised in Southeast Missouri, Walter Parrott started competitive turkey calling in 1978. He is the only person to win every major turkey calling contest: 5-time World Champion, 5-time Grand National Champion, 3-time Team Grand National Champion, 14-time U.S. Open Champion, The Masters, Mid-America Open, and numerous state and local competitions. A couple of years ago, Parrott appeared on the David Letterman show with some other National Turkey Calling Champions. Parrott inspired Letterman to try a turkey call. The toothy comedian’s attempt sounded like a cross between a cricket and a starving loon. Letterman quipped, “Coincidentally, that’s also a French horn.”

Well, Parrott also inspired me to make some changes in my approach to finding birds. Turns out that gobblers, like big bucks, are either huntable or they are not. Parrott seems to know almost instantly without saying a word. But I made him explain his actions.

“Turkey sign, man,” he began. “You Midwest hunters talk about buck sign all of the time, but you gotta learn your turkey sign, too. Fresh turkey sign, fresh birds.”

Parrott: A Turkey Psychic

I’d say the biggest edge Parrott has over turkeys is that he actually seems to know where they’re heading before they get there. Better read that sentence again. Anyone who knows anything about this bird-brained species knows that even turkeys don’t know where they’re going to go until they get there. In essence, Parrott can read turkey sign like aUSA Today story — quick and to the point.

Our hunt took place in Georgia in the Land of Cotton, literally — on A. J. “Cotton” Bennett’s WoodYard, a sprawling plantation with loblolly and longleaf pines, some oak and Cyprus, and some row crops, and even blueberries. Then there are the food plots festooned with chufa — a bunch grass with a peanut-like tuber — that turkeys love to dig up. As we toured Cotton’s spread by truck, Parrott would often hop out of the truck for no apparent reason. He’d bend over and peer at what appeared to be chicken scratchings in the sandy soil punctuated by our tire tracks. I finally had to get out and see for myself what was so significant.

“Just tracks,” Parrott would say.

Walter Parrott
Walter Parrott alternately calls and listens for gobbles.

What a revelation: turkey tracks! About an hour later we drove the plantation a second time. We looked for birds, of course, but Parrott looked for more tracks. He found them.

“See this?” he asked, pointing to some feathered imprints in the sand. When I nodded, he added, “At least three gobblers dusted themselves here between the time we first drove by and now. I’d say they popped out [of the woods] about 10-ish. And over here two more gobblers strutted for at least a half-hour. This is a good place to remember.”

From this object lesson I gained three valuable insights. First, Cotton doesn’t put much pressure on his birds, meaning they could be hunted fairly aggressively. Second, we had a good Plan B spot if our dual at dawn failed to pan out. And third, Parrott is more than a master of the obvious; this cat knows how to interpret and capitalize on turkey sign. Allow me to amplify on this last point. I admit I wouldn’t have put much stock on the birds’ imprints in the sand, other than being comforted with the fact that we were in the company of gobblers. But it turned out to be the right place to bowhunt in the afternoon … .

‘Linear Food Plots’ Abound

Our blind was nestled against the brush line created by one of Cotton’s “linear food plots,” also known as a two-track over-seeded with lush green stuff. What a handy dual-purpose road! Gobblers wander up and down them and double-up at the intersections. Which is precisely where we were. Before we could get comfortable, though, a dark bird appeared down the road and seemed to be getting bigger by the minute. A nice gobbler came in. I shot. I missed.

The next thing I learned from Parrott is that when you have birds making “predictable” rounds, you don’t need to over-call. In fact, compared to other turkey experts (see Ray Eye), Parrott leans more on his skill as a killer hunter than on his skill as a renowned turkey calling champion.

Our morning setup seemed too far away from the roost, as far as I was concerned, and I said so. Parrott smiled and said, “They’ll get here soon enough. Maybe not at daybreak, but soon enough.”

Sure enough, the morning unfurled predictably with a dive-bombing hen cackling loudly in the chufa field in front of us. It seemed like a half-day elapsed before a bunch of toms gobbled to the west. They appeared right where I wish we’d tucked our blind — at the intersection of one of Cotton’s “food plot roads” and a chufa-pockmarked field. “No pre-roll,” Parrot said, reading my mind. “Want to see the birds coming, the drama unfolding.”

Unfolding it was. One Parrot cluck and four toms craned their long necks in our direction from about 200 yards. They pecked and strutted their way to within 25 yards. I shot. I scored.

Please read more in Part 2.

Be sure to visit Sportsman’s Guide for a selection of the latest turkey hunting gear.

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