Bill Heavey's First Turkey (With A Little Help From Ray Eye)

Bill Heavey's First Turkey (With Bonus Calling Tips From Ray Eye)

Bill Heavey's First Turkey (With Bonus Calling Tips From Ray Eye)

Video Clip: Ray Eye, locating birds with his award-winning owl impersonation. By Bill Heavey
Call, commands Ray in the half- light of a late April dawn. Putting striker to glass, I scratch out some soft yelps and listen. Silence. Lots of it. A whole truckload of silence. A bunch of turkeys gobbled in the distance when Ray owl-hooted with his voice 15 minutes ago. It was an amazing hoot, born deep in his chest, a place normal humans have no vocal organs. (I will not learn until after returning home that he was a hoot owl national champion even before he held that title in turkey calling.) Since then it's been a funeral of a morning. "Again," whispers Ray. "Not like you're the ugliest girl at the dance. Call like you're horny. Go on." Calling Tip: How to roost a tom
"Your best shot at killing a gobbler is to be the first hen he goes to in the morning. That means roosting him. And I don't mean knowing which holler he's in. I mean knowing which tree he's in. A bird will almost always retrace the route he took to the roost in the evening when he flies down the next morning. I roost him in the evening with hen sounds so he's got all night to get horny. I use orange flagging tape or my GPS to mark the spot, and I clear it of debris before I leave. Then I'm there and set up long before first light the next morning."
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Bill Heavey's First Turkey (With Bonus Calling Tips From Ray Eye)

Bill Heavey's First Turkey (With Bonus Calling Tips From Ray Eye)

Video Clip: Under Eye's expert guidance, writer Bill Heavey calls in four jakes. We're set up in a blind at the head of a brushy ditch leading up to a cornfield. This is prime turkey country, near the town of Kirksville in northern Missouri. Ray Eye is not exactly irritated, but we both know there would probably be a bird on the ground by now if we were doing things his way. The standard deal is that he summons the gobbler and the dumbass outdoor writer pulls the trigger. Then the writer poses for a hero picture and lies about the hunt. I had to go screw up a good system, trying to learn something by doing the turkey calling myself and having Ray critique. That was bad enough, and it didn't get any better when he heard me call. "My God," he'd said with a wince last night in the motel. "Look, I can put you onto turkeys. But I can't make 'em commit suicide." Calling Tip: Don't call scared.
"Turkeys aren't smart enough to ask, hey, you think that's a real turkey or a guy blowing a mouth call?" says Ray. "That's giving them too much credit. They think turkey sounds are made by turkeys. And real hens don't call as if they're afraid of getting a response. They call soft sometimes, sure. I've heard hens call and not get a response plenty of times. But turkeys call for a reason, and that's to communicate." That's why Ray's personal bias is toward aggressive calling. There are a lot of hens out there, so he figures he needs to sound hotter than the real ones to get a gobbler to come his way.
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Bill Heavey's First Turkey (With Bonus Calling Tips From Ray Eye)

Bill Heavey's First Turkey (With Bonus Calling Tips From Ray Eye)

Video Clip: Heavey's jakes strut for the camera. Right now it looks as if my 10-year turkey curse (don't ask) may continue. I try again, a longer series, the way Ray instructed last night: each yelp a little longer, louder, and higher than the previous one. This time a chorus of gobbles answers. The sound runs straight up my spine. "That's more like it," Ray mutters. He does something behind me with the video camera. "Call again." I do, the same rising, urgent cadence. The birds gobble louder, closer. "Coming in. Get your gun up." And then, magically, improbably, four red wattled heads step jerkily into view, taking vicious pokes at our jake decoy and strutting for the foam hen 22 yards from the blind. All four are jakes themselves, short-bearded suitors with bumps for spurs. They're legal birds, everything a turkey-cursed wretch like me could ask for. Calling Tip: Turkeys get people-shy, not call-shy.
"You can make a lot of mistakes and still kill a turkey. But if a bird sees or hears a potential predator, the game's over and he isn't going to answer. That's not being call-shy. He just doesn't want to get eaten." A turkey spends its life avoiding predators-"coons, skunks, dogs, coyotes, you name it. Ray does everything possible to minimize pressure on birds: He hunts from blinds, uses a silent electric ATV, and slips through the woods using creek beds and ditches to stay out of sight.
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Bill Heavey's First Turkey (With Bonus Calling Tips From Ray Eye)

Bill Heavey's First Turkey (With Bonus Calling Tips From Ray Eye)

Video Clip: After the shot, two of the Jakes attack the downed bird. More than 40 years of turkey encounters should have made this routine for Ray. Instead, he's audibly stoked, his breath coming in short, quick gasps as he films. I'm suddenly dying for oxygen, too. I have to scootch my folding stool forward and slightly uphill to get the barrel out through the blind's shooting port. The jakes are oblivious, alternately strutting and sparring with one another for the hen's favors. An eternity passes before Ray whispers, "The dominant bird is on the far right. I'd take him." I exhale, center the bead halfway down the neck, and wait until Bachelor No. 4 comes out of his strut. The gun roars and slams into me. For a frozen moment I am in midair, flying slowly backward, looking up into the blackness and smiling. I land hard on my back against the tripod, still smiling. Ray's eye never leaves the camera, but he gives me a congratulatory slap on the back and offers an arm to lean on as I regain my seat. It's 7 a.m. Should the world end today, pulverized by a killer asteroid, I will die a happy, successful turkey hunter at last.Field & Stream Online Editors
Bill Heavey's First Turkey (With Bonus Calling Tips From Ray Eye)

Bill Heavey's First Turkey (With Bonus Calling Tips From Ray Eye)

Ray Eye, one of the world's best turkey hunters. I have come to Missouri to learn from Ray Eye, called "America's premier turkey hunter" by that bible of turkey hunters everywhere, The Wall Street Journal. He has his own TV show, Eye on the Outdoors, plus video series and sponsorship deals, and is a sought-after speaker at seminars and sports shows nationwide. He sold Ozark Mountain Calls, the company he founded, to Hunter's Specialties in the mid-80s and helped that firm develop its H.S. Strut line of calls. Anybody who is anybody in the world of turkey hunting knows Ray Eye. But I get the opportunity to be around a lot of "name" hunters, and too many of them want to be celebrities even more than they want to hunt. They morph from diehard hunters into egomaniac-idiot-jerks. This has not happened to Ray. One reason may be that he has an agreeably twisted sense of humor, which he attributes to poisoning from his early attempts at making diaphragm calls with plumber's lead and expired condoms that he got free from a pharmacist. He likes to wake up hunting clients at 3:30 a.m. by sticking a flash camera 10 inches from their faces and yelling, "Wake-up time!"Field & Stream Online Editors
Bill Heavey's First Turkey (With Bonus Calling Tips From Ray Eye)

Bill Heavey's First Turkey (With Bonus Calling Tips From Ray Eye)

Video Clip: Eye's infamous clown mask. Hunters, don't try this at home. His practical jokes are legendary among his friends, and he travels with a full-face, professional-quality rubber clown mask. One time, there was a know-it-all teenage boy in the group of hunters Ray was accompanying. The kid's attitude got on Ray's nerves, so he announced that he had to leave that evening to check on another camp and would return the next day. Instead, Ray slept in his truck that night, rose well before dawn, and ensconced himself in the blind where the boy would be hunting that morning. "When that kid backed into the blind with his little penlight, I was half lying down, my face about the level of his thigh," Ray remembers. "In fact, I find people are more afraid of small clowns than big ones. Anyway, he bumped into my leg, turned, and when he lit me up, I said"-"and here he slips into an eerily convincing imitation of a psychopathic carnival clown-""-¿Heh, heh, heh, I'm so happy to see you. I've been waiting for you.'" The kid screamed, dropped his gun, and took off running. Which, according to Ray, was pretty much the idea. The only problem was that the boy was still inside the blind. "He must have moved that thing 20 yards before he finally stopped screaming. I mean just ass-over-teakettle, full-out running. He wrecked the blind, a brand-new Double Bull, big sturdy thing. Just went ape. For a minute I was worried I'd traumatized him for life or something. But he was fine. And it seemed to work. He's been real polite to me ever since." Ray is laughing so hard that he has to wipe his eyes. As you might expect, Ray gives and receives dozens of abusive phone and e-mail messages each day.Field & Stream Online Editors
Bill Heavey's First Turkey (With Bonus Calling Tips From Ray Eye)

Bill Heavey's First Turkey (With Bonus Calling Tips From Ray Eye)

The Eye family farm. At heart, Ray Eye is a dinosaur. Like pre-1964 Model 70s, he is something they stopped producing long ago: a boy from a family farm in the hardscrabble hills and hollers of the Ozarks of southern Missouri, a place where the Eyes lived for five generations. The plumbing was a limestone spring bubbling up through a rock near the front door, the bathroom was a detached structure with natural wood paneling, the plowing was done behind a horse, and it took a pretty good hike and a pretty good reason to make a telephone call. A boy growing up in that time and place didn't take up hunting and fishing any more than a beagle takes up chasing rabbits. It took him up. Some of Ray's earliest memories are of being carried down the mountain on his father's back in the dark to go duck hunting on some nearby lakes. He was hunting squirrels and rabbits about as soon as he could walk and sitting in deer stands alone with a shotgun loaded with buckshot by age 7. He fished, gigged frogs, looked for morels in spring, and ran traplines for foxes, muskrats, bobcats, coyotes, and raccoons. He was just eaten up with all of it.Field & Stream Online Editors
Bill Heavey's First Turkey (With Bonus Calling Tips From Ray Eye)

Bill Heavey's First Turkey (With Bonus Calling Tips From Ray Eye)

A young Eye, with one of his first turkeys. "There was always something mystical about turkeys," Ray says. "You'd hear a gobble way up on the mountain now and then, but you'd almost never see the bird itself." Even the hill people rarely saw them. When he was in fifth grade, Ray got up during show-and-tell and talked about seeing some birds fly over the road at the sound of the family truck. He was promptly sent to the principal's office for lying: Everybody knew wild turkeys were extinct. He recalls a sudden thunderstorm one spring day. With black clouds rolling in and the first peals of thunder rumbling in the distance, the hills suddenly came alive with gobbles resounding from every ridge. "I just stood there with my mouth open," Ray says. "Stupefied." He learned to call with his mouth, since he could make more turkeylike sounds that way than he could with the calls available at the store. He also practiced on the one his grandfather had made: slate salvaged from a schoolhouse blackboard and a striker cut from an old cedar fence post, set in a corncob handle. Mountain folks are secretive people, and the local hunters were especially closemouthed about turkey lore. But even the rumor of someone bagging a gobbler was enough to set the boy begging for a ride to hear the tale and possibly learn a new trick.Field & Stream Online Editors
Bill Heavey's First Turkey (With Bonus Calling Tips From Ray Eye)

Bill Heavey's First Turkey (With Bonus Calling Tips From Ray Eye)

Eye's reputation grew after he started guiding other turkey hunters. This photo was clipped from a newspaper. Like all young men in the mountains, Ray had to leave to make a living. For a while he worked as a welder and delivered rechromed auto bumpers to shops in East St. Louis. But he hated punching clocks, answering to bosses, and being in a place where all the angles were 90 degrees. Eventually he went home, ran his traps, skinned deer at meat houses, pushed snow with a blade on his Jeep, and guided turkey and deer hunters whenever he got the chance. Often, after a hike of 6 or 8 miles back into the forest to roost a bird at sunset, it made more sense to Ray to burrow into the leaves and sleep there instead of walking out and trying to come back in before first light. The next morning, he'd either kill the bird or not, then head straight to whatever work he had lined up.Field & Stream Online Editors
Bill Heavey's First Turkey (With Bonus Calling Tips From Ray Eye)

Bill Heavey's First Turkey (With Bonus Calling Tips From Ray Eye)

Ray had been entering turkey-calling contests since high school, and it was his ability to work his mouth on turkeys and audiences that would eventually bring him fame, if not fortune. "In the '70s, I was still calling with my voice but also making calls," he says. "Guys would ask to buy them at contests. Then stores started carrying them and asking me to come down and demonstrate." One day, during a demo at the local Wal-Mart, a fellow offered Ray $300 to fill in for a no-show speaker at a turkey seminar being held at the community college. "I walked into an auditorium with 300 guys in it," Ray remembers. "Talk about a pucker factor." After a few minutes, he discovered that if he just talked the way he did to his hunting buddies, people listened and laughed. So he told them about the time Uncle Lee guided a new hunter carrying a quail gun who wanted to take a crack at a gobbler that was hung up 60 yards out. Uncle Lee already had the stranger's money, so he agreed, then watched the man drop the gobbler cold. Deer slugs, the man proudly explained, unaware that the ammo was completely illegal during turkey season.Field & Stream Online Editors
Bill Heavey's First Turkey (With Bonus Calling Tips From Ray Eye)

Bill Heavey's First Turkey (With Bonus Calling Tips From Ray Eye)

Video Clip: Rare footage, taken by Eye, showing that turkeys don't always behave the way they're supposed to. Ray's lack of pretension hides a dark secret, one that only begins to seep out after you've spent a few days with him: He thinks that most of us weekend turkey hunters are-"not to put too fine a point on it-"fools. Why, you ask? Because we accept conventional turkey wisdom as truth without testing it for ourselves. Like the idea that birds become call-shy, or that turkeys won't come downhill, or cross water, or go over fences. Or that you shouldn't use turkey calls when you're roosting birds in the evening. Or that turkeys only gobble in the spring. Ray lives in the turkey woods, spring and fall. Spring birds alone consume three months of the year, from the beginning of March until the end of May, from Florida to Hawaii to Texas to the Midwest to New England. If he's not hunting, he's out in the woods gathering video footage of birds. (He has footage of them gobbling in July, crossing three-strand barbwire fences, flying across rivers, and running downhill to a caller.) All this time afield has led him to some definite conclusions about what works, what doesn't, and how the weekend hunter approaches things. "Look, I call up turkeys for numb-nuts writers like you for a living," he says, grinning, as if to imply he's just stating what we both already know. "I have to produce." The lightbulb illuminating what passes for turkey expertise came on early for Ray, when as a boy he read a magazine article that maintained the only way to call in a gobbler was to yelp three times, wait 10 minutes, then do it again. He hiked up the mountain, located a tom gobbling on the roost, and proceeded as instructed. After his first yelps got a response, he sat down with his watch to wait. Meanwhile, a real hen started yelping and cutting nearby, the tom answered, and the two of them immediately started calling hot and heavy, found each other, and wandered off. "I was stuck there looking at my damn watch with nine minutes left before I was supposed to call again," says Ray. "That's when I realized the experts didn't know squat." Subsequent experience has only reinforced that belief. Everywhere he goes, he encounters skeptics, guys who say, "Well, maybe that'll work where you hunt, but it won't work around here." He ignores such talk as much as possible when he's giving a seminar, but every once in a while he's forced to confront the local hotshot. "There was this guy in Alabama one time, and he just wouldn't give up," Ray says. "The seminar became like a gunfight, so I finally agreed to go hunting with him. We're out in the woods in the dark, and he says, -¿Go ahead and hoot. But if you don't do it just right, they won't answer.' So I did a pig squeal just to jerk his chain, and a turkey hammered right back." Ray killed that bird. "That guy and I ended up being good friends." Calling Tip: Rhythm trumps technique.
"To kill a turkey, you've got to sound like a turkey. That doesn't mean you have to be a champion caller. It just means you've got to know how real birds sound. If you can't spend the time in the woods, get a CD of wild turkey sounds. You've got to have a feel for the cadence and rhythm of how turkeys talk. You can make a lot of mistakes-"hell, turkeys make mistakes all the time-"if you get that part right."
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