One of my favorite people to hunt with is Al Mattox of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I’ve known Mattox for more than two decades, and he’s the type of fellow you enjoy spending time with in the woods. Mattox and I strategize together when we hear a turkey gobble, and we’ll have a good time whether we take a turkey or not. But we’ll usually get our bird. Mattox just returned from Iraq where he ran the explosives lab that blew up IEDs (improvised explosive devices) discovered by the troops. Mattox explains, “We’d take the IEDs apart to look for fingerprints to try to determine who made the IED, and who placed it where our troops might encounter it.” Mattox’s first deployment in Iraq was after 9/11. His favorite thing to do is hunt wild turkeys.
Question: Al, tell us about the toughest turkey you’ve ever hunted.
Mattox: A henned-up turkey that won’t gobble and stays out in the field all day is hard to take.
Question: How do you take that turkey?
Mattox: You’ve got to learn the turkey’s daily routine. He’ll develop his pattern, depending on what those hens do every day. So, you have to determine what the hens will do, and then get to a place where you can call the hens to you. Wherever the hens go, that gobbler will follow. If you can get the hens to walk past you, they’ll drag that tough ol’ gobbler to you.
Question: What’s another turkey that’s tough for you to hunt?
Mattox: A turkey that lives on public land that’s been hunted by several different hunters.
Mattox: You can’t do a lot of calling. You have to first look for signs of that particular turkey where he’s scratched in the leaves or along the hillside. Find out where that turkey is gobbling. If he’s not gobbling once he hits the ground, learn where he’s roosting by going early in the morning and listening to him gobble or late in the afternoon and trying to hear him fly up to roost. Then when you decide to hunt that turkey, get him as close to you as you can without spooking him. Barely cluck, purr and scratch in the leaves like a hen that’s feeding near him. I’ve found that scratching in the leaves to sound like a feeding hen is one of the deadliest tactics and calls I can use.
Question: How long have you turkey hunted?
Mattox: I’ve hunted turkeys for 28 years.
Question: What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened when you were hunting with a client?
Mattox: A hunter from Birmingham, Alabama, hunted a gobbler with me at White Oak Plantation in Tuskegee, Ala. This gobbler with dark feathers had nine hens with him, and he was strutting just over a ridge from where the hunter and I was set up. He was out in the field, working his way toward the shade of the trees on the edge of the field, because those dark feathers soak up a lot of heat. We were sitting near the shade where the turkey was coming. My hunter would have had an easy shot in the shade. While we were waiting on the turkey to show up, a copperhead (snake) came into the sun to warm itself only a few feet from my hunter. Now, the turkey was coming, and we were within 5 minutes of shooting the gobbler. When my hunter saw the snake, he turned toward me and said, rather loudly, “That’s it. I’m going home.” That snake scared him, and he just got up and walked off.
For more turkey hunting tips, check out my interview with expert turkey caller Chris Parrish here. To read the second part of my interview with Al, click here.