Hunting guides are typically stereotyped as big, strong men with stubble on their weather-beaten faces. But today many women not only are turkey hunting, but guiding too.
Nicole Jeannin, from Plattsburg, Mo., had a rough start, experiencing emotional and physical abuse throughout much of her childhood. She learned early that the painful memories were easier to handle with an outlet – hunting.
Several men from the hunting community learned of her fate and introduced her to hunting and fishing. One even taught her taxidermy. But hunting turkeys quickly became her passion.
The 24-year-old graduated high school and immediately started making a living at an automobile assembly plant while helping family members survive. She made extra money guiding individuals on turkey, deer or waterfowl hunts, mostly on public land. Word spread, and today she will not take on new clients. Her “dance card” is quickly filled before turkey season with return customers.
“I always have at least three gobblers picked out for each client,” Jeannin said. “This gives me more opportunities to find that bird my hunter will get a shot at. My goal is to fill every tag, especially if they can shoot straight. But first I have to know that each bird is going to be in an approximate location.”
Jeannin spends a lot of her free time watching birds long before the season opens. She keeps notes on their roosting areas, favorite feeding spots and any other information that will paint a picture of each gobbler’s habits. She pays careful attention to where the gobblers go during heavy winds, rain or other weather conditions and learned early that the trick is finding new gobblers.
“One of my mentors, Luke Rhoads, taught me the gravel travel with binoculars tactic,” Jeannin said. “Once spotted, I move on to avoid alarming the birds. I later return to their area and become a shadow, just watching. I just do everything possible to know each gobbler.”
She learned early to become a turkey when scouting. Avoid walking like a human and occasionally pause between small, careful steps. Walk dead slow and stop to listen and study the area.
Jeannin also has the advantage of being small and compact. This allows her to hide in spots to observe while blending into the surroundings or crawling under brush or fitting in thin deer paths. Stealth is her key to studying turkey behavior and an advantage over most men that are easier to spot.
This extra effort of documenting each gobbler has paid off toward Jeannin’s reputation as a guide. She has return customers every season.
Jeannin has learned to understand clients, too. For example, a patient client will sit with her until the Missouri hunt ends at 1 p.m. A not-so-patient client may get moved to a second bird, but no more. Jeannin picks and chooses her hunters. The small, attractive young guide only works with hunters that will listen to her.
“The problem is, gobblers are pressured year-round by predators,” Jeannin said. “They learn to be smart and cautious. This is why you can sit in one spot calling all morning and there may be a silent gobbler standing at the edge of a woodlot, watching and listening. Many of my best gobblers have been shot between 11:30 to 12:50. Many hunters lose patience by 9 a.m.”
Jeannin has another factor that male guides don’t: she is a beautiful girl and 90 percent of her clients are male. So, picking out the best clients is important. She is careful to pick and choose a husband and wife, older hunters or men taking their kid turkey hunting. She learned this early in her career by sending two men home on separate hunts that wanted more than a turkey hunt. Their off-colored remarks made her quick to point out that she knew how to use her shotgun that she always carries.
An older man recently balked at Jeannin’s suggestion to his son. A jake was moving in and the boy wanted to shoot it against her suggestion to wait. The young guide could see another hen a few yards back and something shadowing it. Her suspicions proved correct and the boy soon harvested the shadow, a big long beard.
“I have had men laugh at me when I explained the current hunting situation,” Jeannin said. “They might question my ability because I am a woman. I may do it their way, meaning it will take longer to shoot a gobbler or they may not get one at all. I only hunt once with clients like that.
“Others have arrived with new guns, clothing and equipment only wanting to shoot a turkey without understanding the sport. They want it easy, and true turkey hunting is generally not. Those are clients that have trouble sitting still and may never see a bird.”
But many clients know just exactly how good she is and hang on every word.
“I can tell you why she is successful as a guide,” said Paul Knick, of Gladstone, Mo. “She is one of the best with a turkey call and studies wild turkey behavior. Bud Burrows and I did a hunt with her in 2011, and gobblers were standing out in the field with hens. She tried standard turkey call methods, and then gave up and started gobbling. The big birds eventually came in and we both filled our tags. She knew exactly what to do, and no one could have done it better.”
Today Jeannin has a set group of clients and will not be accepting new hunters. Her willingness to listen and learn from more experienced hunters and her desire to truly understand the sport makes Jeannin a successful guide. Her beginning in life was rough and many might not have bounced back and survived. But Nicole Jeannin has turkey hunting, and turkey hunting has a future legend in the making.
“I guide duck and goose hunts too, but my passion is turkey hunting,” Jeannin said. “Taking away turkey hunting would be taking away my spring.”
Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org