Wading through swamp water is a challenge, especially with a shotgun, turkey hunting vest filled with turkey calls, shotgun shells and a full canteen, extra weight that makes your feet sink even deeper in the ancient Alabama muck.

Wading through swamp water is a challenge, especially with a shotgun, turkey hunting vest filled with turkey calls, shotgun shells and a full canteen, extra weight that makes your feet sink even deeper in the ancient Alabama muck.

Every step feels like 100 pound weights are strapped to each ankle. But none of that really matters when following one of the south’s legendary turkey hunters in search of an eastern long beard gobbler.

Eddie Salter, a field pro for Hunter’s Specialty, pushed through the water with the ease of a deer. He had spent his life hunting this type of terrain and knew exactly what to do. My big body just kind of plodded along. He made several shock gobbles and listened without any return sounds other than a variety of colorful swamp birds. The lack of a return gobble meant that we had to move deeper into this ancient swamp.

I sighted a slow movement in an opening that was too big to be anything but an alligator and started remembering Jerry Reed singing in the early 1970’s about a gentleman named Amos Mose:

“He had a stump clean up to his elbow, that’s all he got left cause the alligator bit it.”

I reassured myself that Salter was one of the best. He hunted swamps all of his life, but most importantly, he still had all of his arms, legs and fingers – a very encouraging fact as I could not stop thinking about Reed’s song:

“The sheriff got wind that Amos, was in the swamp trapping alligator skins, so he snuck in the swamp to get the boy, but he never came out again.”  

We slowly and quietly traveled a short distance before Salter did an owl hoot with his mouth that produced a thundering gobble. The big bird’s reply echoed through the swamp’s trees laden with moss hanging down to the water.

“He’s close, get in position,” Salter whispered. “He sounded fired up and may come in quickly, so don’t move and be ready.”

We quickly set up on a rock and mud shelf close to the water. Salter started with a box call to produce sweet hen yelps and clucks with a bit of cutting thrown in for good measure. This hen love talk clearly appealed to the gobbler who was not shy about saying good morning to the young hen with those addictive thundering gobbles that seemed to rock the surrounding vegetation. I had to smile at this situation. I was sitting in an Alabama swamp watching one of America’s best turkey callers work a gobbler and hoping I didn’t wake up from a great dream.

We had agreed to sit facing different directions so either of us could get the first shot. Swamp hunting for gobblers is one of the most challenging sports because they are smart-the dumb ones will likely be eaten by hogs or a gator before they are a year old.

Everything is about strategy when hunting an old long beard, especially for swamp gobblers. They are considerably more skittish than a typical farmland wild turkey with the best eyesight and hearing in the woods. Salter and I agreed that whoever was in the best position should take the shot.

Soon the big bird cautiously stepped into view and very close. I could see its feet sink in the swamp mud with each step. Salter would have the shot if it continued on the same path.

The gobbler paused to stretch its neck in Salter’s direction where the hen sound had come from. I watched the gobbler’s big, round eyes become the size of quarters while looking for the hen or any sign of danger. That old bird had not grown old in the wild swamp world by being careless, even though he came in quickly to the sound of a sexy hen.

Our camouflage worked and the gobbler continued moving in. I was happy to watch a master at work. Salter froze like a statue until the big guy moved past. Then, in one fluid motion, positioned his shotgun and waited.  

The gobbler turned and stretched his neck for a better view. “BOOM.” The bird slipped over in the swamp mud and sand. I took a deep breath, only then realizing that I had held my breath while watching this drama and was probably blue in the face. The old bird had an 11-inch beard and one-inch spurs.

The following morning I had my chance. We entered the same swamp from a different direction before daylight and heard a nearby tom announcing his approval of the world with those beautiful roost gobbles. Salter made some soft clucks to let him know a hen was in the area and we waited a few minutes before the sounds of powerful wings made it clear that he was flying in our direction.

I positioned with my shotgun on a knee and my back against a giant oak. Salter made two more soft clucks and a purr, enticing the gobbler to move in. The big bird was more cautious but finally gave in to his temptation and stepped into view. I marveled at this fierce looking creature who was king of the swamp-at least at that moment.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The rest of this column will be continued next Saturday.