Age and the ills that go along with it happen. At 78 with the loss of agility and stamina in my leg muscles, I can no longer do the run-and-gun style of turkey hunting that I did as recently as five years ago. In addition, the social distance requirement of the corona virus outbreak keeps me and my usual turkey hunting partner from going out together. He stays at home and does with his bees, and I stay home and work on my books, screenplay writing, and videos. Fortunately, turkey hunting can be a solitary sport, which was enabled when I put together a late-life plan in the 1970s where I would returned to the family home in Georgia and have turkeys at my back door. I could have sold my interest in the property for a nice sum, but elected to keep it managed in a variety of woodland habitat where all I had to do to hunt was to literally walk out my back door. This plan is now paying off where I conserved not only the family home, but also the adjacent property. I had planned to share this lifestyle with my wife, but unfortunately I lost her to pancreatic cancer 10 years ago.
Through an arrangement with an adjoining landowner, the food plots got planted, some brushy pines got cleared and a blind was installed to supplement those that already existed. All of these locations were accessible to my Ford Ranger which has a small-enough foot print that I can even drive through portions of the more open woods to retrieve game should I need to. This truck was one among many age adaptations, where I elected to purchase a smaller, rather than a larger, vehicle. Now that I was hunting mostly alone, I could pack up all I needed for camp-out hunts on the state’s WMAs, and the detachable, reversible, winch I put on the Ranger is something that I often use to move trees that fall on my trails and in my yard, and get me unstuck if needed. The winch also enabled me to move a 1750 pound power hammer into my shop.
The corona virus caused me to do a series of instructive videos to hopefully inspire stuck-at-home individuals to take advantage of Georgia and other state’s spring turkey seasons. I wanted to demonstrate that turkey hunting could often be done close to home using simple equipment. During the initial video I introduced the gear which included three possible guns. The first was to be a Dixie Gun Works Indian Gun which is a version of the British Brown Bess musket. It has a browned, shortened barrel, is .75 caliber (11-gauge) and has a very robust flintlock firing system. Using either lead or HeviShot, I have taken ducks, geese, swan, and small game with the gun and also deer using patched round balls. However, I did not recall that “Bess” had ever taken a wild turkey, so I thought that it was about time to add one to its list of animals. The second gun was a Stevens “Long Tom,” that belonged to my mother. This single-shot gun was made in the 1930s, was chambered for the 2 ¾-inch 12-gauge shells and had a full-choked 36-inch barrel. I had taken a snowbound Idaho turkey with it before that was called in by the unusual method of raddling corn in a plastic bucket. The rancher had 30 turkeys roosting in the trees around his house and feeding out of the feed troughs with his stock. The state allows ranchers to harvest some of these birds to help keep their numbers somewhat in check. I considered this more of a bird harvest than a hunt, but it did illustrate that the old Stevens could do the work. The third gun was a Woodman Arms, drop-barreled 50-caliber muzzleloading rifle which is a lightweight gun with a reasonably short barrel that was ideal for me to handle in some of the thick, swampy cover that I hunt. In Georgia we may hunt turkey with muzzleloading rifles and also take any wild hogs that we encounter. This gun had killed a wild hog in my back yard, so I knew that it was certainly up to the task. For the sake of variety, I equipped it with a red-dot sight.

Bess, First at Bat

Over the years, I had developed a complex, but effective, load for Bess and other .75-caliber muskets. This starts with 100 grains of FFg, then an 11-gauge hard card over-powder wad (available from Dixie Gun Works), about 20 grains of Cream of Wheat, an 11 or 12-gauge fiber cushion wad ,and an old Herter’s shot cup for 1 5/8s ounces of shot with a pinch of torn plastic in the bottom to reduce its capacity to 1 ¼-ounces, and an 11-gauge over-shot thin card. This load gives good even patterns that will take anything that flies out to 30-yards without any problems. This load has killed swan and even made a double on Canada geese. This year it was fired by a 1-inch flint knapped in the early 1800s and recovered from the Royal Arsenal of Nepal. The result was a truly international effort with an English flint, Japanese-made gun, American powder, and a load of no. 6 shot from Peru. When I shoot this load in 11 or 12-gauge guns, I reduce the second and following shots to 95-grains of powder to compensate for shooting through a fouled barrel.
An intrinsic problem with muzzleloading guns is that they cannot be very easily unloaded, outside of drawing the charge from the barrel or shooting, and subsequently cleaning, the gun. During a typical turkey hunting season a gun will be carried often, but shot little. So long as the barrel is clean and no greasy patches are in contact with the powder, the load will stay fresh for years, provided that the weather is reasonably dry. I loaded Bess in preparation for the season to start on March 17, with the realization that it might remain in the gun until the season closed in mid-May. Flintlocks have another potential problem in that if they have a sufficiently large touchhole, as do many military muskets, they can be self-priming. That is as the hunter walks with his gun, powder can trickle grain by grain through the touchhole into the pan. A grain or two is certainly no problem, but after eight or ten hunts it might be. A hunter is not likely to lose his entire charge this way, but he could lose a couple of grains of powder from his main charge. The powder might also dampen a little and clog the touchhole so that when the pan discharges that train of powder acts like a fuse and delays ignition.

Getting Out in The Woods

As a writer I had several hanging things that I needed to finish up in addition to the usual springtime yard mowing, tree clearing, etc. to do. The hanging things included three new or re-written e-books on muzzleloading, the first draft of my novel, Father of the Grooms, and my new business book. The last project is on indefinite postponement so I resumed my promotion for Create Your Own Job Security: Plan to Start Your Own Business at Midlife which teaches individual entrepreneurship and explains how new businesses may be started by anyone, anytime, at any age to satisfy financial and personal needs. With the publication of Muzzleloading Guns for Self Defense, the next to last of the eight book e-book series, I could take off to the woods.
The pre-turkey hunting preparation included sorting through my materials to select a stripped-down selection of equipment and gather the materials necessary to support the three guns that I would use. The Sevens was the easiest to outfit. I found some Remington 2 ¾ -inch loads of 1 1/8 ounces of 6s which would match the loads that this gun was originally designed to shoot. In the 1930s this was considered the standard 12-gauge load with the heavier charges being reserved for waterfowl hunting. The wild turkey was in serious decline by that time with only a few birds to be found in the nearly inaccessible mountains and deep swamps of the state. I still had three pre-measured loads for the Woodman Patriot left over from my last hunts with the gun. As I was also carrying a 1911 .45 ACP during my hunts on the family property, those three would be sufficient. After all, I was out to take a single turkey with a single shot, not go into combat.

Shake Down Hunts

Each first hunt of each hunting season serves as a shake-down hunt that helps to insure that subsequent hunts will be successful. In my case this considered of a drive down to a parking area, then a walk to one of the planted food-plot strips in a stand of mature pines and setting up off to the side of the planting to intercept any patrolling toms. I had brought Bess, two decoys, a Lynch box call that I had bought in 1958, a slate call, and a wing-bone call. Although I had tried them from time to time, I had never mastered the mouth call to my satisfaction and did not include one in my kit. As I was planning to set up in the brush off the side of the food plot, I also brought a folding stool to get me more comfortably off the ground and somewhat away from the ticks. The morning transgressed to early afternoon, but nothing came in or responded to my calls. I went in for lunch and hunted again that evening until dark, with the same result. That evening I could hear a tom gobble, but a half-mile away from me more towards the middle of the farm.
Several days later following a rainy spell, I set up on a small interior food plot. I talked to some hens, but none came in and again, I heard a tom gobble, but towards the other end of the property near where I had set up the first day. As often happens, the turkeys appeared to be at the spot where you were; not where you are. I have killed a number of turkeys around midday which caused me to change my strategy the next time I went out. I had towed and cut up some fallen wild cherry trees on the edge of my yard. As I make charcoal from this wood for my forge, I took my lawnmower and a trailer and loaded the trunk sections up to stack elsewhere so that the wood could dry to use next year. When I returned, I put Hector, my Lab, in the house and returned to the same plot that I had hunted the first day. This time I set up in a built-up ground blind and took a book on screenwriting to read between the 15-minute intervals where I tried calling for the turkeys. After finishing a chapter on character development, I put down the book and tried the box call.
“Yankeeeek, yankeek, yankeek, yankeek, yankeek, yankeek, and yankeek.” Pause and repeat.
I had tried this call several times before, repeating it at about 15-minute intervals with no luck. This time there was a reply from about 100 yards away up the side of a gently sloping hill from me. That tom liked this call. Each time I called there would be a period of hesitation and then he would gobble a reply. He did not appear to be moving. I considered leaving the blind and getting closer to him, but decided to stay put. I tried calling louder and then softer. I also tried changing up the calls to sound like multiple birds. That tom would have none of it. He would only respond to the seven-note sequence. This went on for some 20 minutes. I waited somewhat longer between my calls and looked in his direction to see a red neck appear like a candy cane sticking above the green pine seedlings.
He was coming, but ever so slowly. I put Bess in my lap, checked the prime, pricked the touchhole with a safety pin, and then slowly raised it up to rest the stock on the lower sill of the blind’s window. I moved as the turkey’s head was obscured behind a pine’s trunk. While he was still 70-yards away I drew back the massive cock on the lock and placed my finger on the trigger. I wanted him closer, much closer.
The old bird would stop, fluff his feathers, display his tail and then take a few strutting steps before moving towards me. He was in a portion of the pines that had been bush-hogged so now, at about 40 yards he had a view of the decoys. Helga was apparently looking good to him. I could only hope for a little wind to make the foam decoy appear more lively. No wind, but the tom kept coming -making about three inches a step towards me. As he passed behind some trees, I moved the gun so that the muzzle was pointed at the spot where I expected the bird’s head to emerge. It did, now it was about 30 yards away. The temperature inside the box blind was climbing, and I could feel a drop of sweat start to run from the edge of my cap down the side of my cheek where it was trapped by my face mask.
Lining up the front sight on Bess with the screw slot on the tang, I aimed at the middle of the chest and started pulling the trigger. Because it was adapted from a military design, Bess did not have the touch-and-it-fires trigger of set-trigger guns, but requires a deliberate slow strong pull for accurate shooting. At about the time you have almost convinced yourself that you are pulling against the half-cock notch and the gun is not going to fire, it does. That whomping-big hunk of rock scrapes white hot shaves of metal off the frizzen as it forces it opens showering micro-fragments of rock and steel down on the FFFFg powder in the pan. Instantaneously, the flame blasts through the touchhole and finds succor in the ignition of the powder charge. Much faster than one can think of it, grain by grain the powder ignites against the backpressure of the waddings and shot charge in the barrel. With a bump and lurch like a bunch of train cars starting down a railroad track, the wads and shot race down the barrel towards the target. Half way to the bird, the plastic shot cup drops away releasing the swarm of lead pellets.
There is no time for the bird to react. Twenty-one pellets strike its head, neck, and body quickly ending its life. There are some convulsive flops, but the bird is down – cleanly taken by a gun of ancient pattern shot by an old guy seeking escape during The Year of the Corona Virus.
Bess had taken a turkey worthy of its metal. The turkey had two beards that measured a total of 21-inches, spurs that were well hooked, sharp and 1 ¼-inches long and a weight of 20 ¼ pounds. Later that day he was cleaned, plucked and put in the oven. The bird was so big and the usual turkey roaster would not hold it, so it was partly cooked, then the legs and wings removed, and replaced in the oven. The other parts were boiled to make soup. Sliced turkey breast, turkey soup, giblet gravy, and cornbread dressing were all ready to eat by noon of the following day. I uncapped a pint of Wild Turkey, poured me an inch in a tea glass and mixed it with ice and water from my well and celebrated Bess’ and my accomplishment. One bird, one shot, one meal, one drink, one video – all done.
During my second video in the Social Distance Turkey Hunting series, I illustrated the use of the gun, call, and other equipment that I used that would hopefully inspire others to do the same. It is a shame to own a replica flintlock musket from the 1700s and not hunt with it. Perhaps someone will take such a gun down from above the fireplace and give it a chance to show that it can do more than be used as an adult popgun. They were serious, versatile, and effective guns in their day. With some load development and care the old warhorses can still be so today.

Author's Bio: 

Wm. Hovey Smith is a Professional Geologist and outdoor writer who has published thousands of magazine and newspaper articles, wrote some 20 books, and has over 800 YouTube videos on line. Now in later life he has returned to his ancestral home where he hunts, writes, and participates in a variety of activities to maintain his house and property. In recent months he has written or re-written three e-books on muzzleloading guns, and published a First Draft e-book edition of his first novel, “Father of the Grooms.”