Opinions are like elbows. Most everybody’s got a couple of them. But when it comes to the do’s and don’ts of spring turkey hunting, the opinions fly faster than a gobbler spooked from the roost at daybreak. Debates over head shot vs. body shot for bowhunting turkeys, 12-gauge vs. 20-gauge for runnin’ and gunnin’, lead vs. TSS, decoys or no decoys, and crawling with a strutting decoy are just a few of the hot topics typically heard in turkey camp.
But one debate that desperately needs to be settled is, what’s the proper way to tote your turkey? Do you pick up your bird by the head or leg? And how do you carry it out of the woods?
I personally have found no greater satisfaction than the slap of a turkey head against the back side on the victory walk out of the woods. But that’s just me.
I decided to reach out to some of my friends and avid turkey hunters that love to chase longbeards in the spring as much as I do. I asked these guys to help settle the score on the preferred method for picking up and toting a turkey after the shot. Here’s what they had to say…
Will Primos has likely toted as many turkeys out of the woods as any man or woman alive today. He’s been playing the game a long time. But how does he prefer to tote his tom?
“Foot on the head until he quits flopping!” says Primos. “I carry him by the legs, and never hang him by the head, as it’s disrespectful.”
According to Primos, the only exception is a sling around the feet and head/neck for carrying a long way.
“But when you get to where you need to be, take the noose off the neck!” says Primos.
Phillip Culpepper travels the country each spring chasing turkeys for Realtree’s Spring Thunder and Hunt Club web show. He packs a lot of turkeys out each season. What’s his preferred method?
“I’ve always grabbed them by the neck,” says Culpepper. “Once you got them there, there’s no way they are getting away. And more importantly, they can’t spur you. I’ve seen a lot of guys get cut up trying to grab them by their feet. I’ve also started using a turkey tote this year. It wraps around their head and feet and makes carrying them out a lot easier.”
“I grab them by the feet,” says longtime hunter and turkey thumper, Tad Brown of Hunter Specialties. Brown admits he is really quirky about this subject. “It drives me crazy when I see guys pack them by the head. I feel we owe the bird the utmost respect. I don’t like stepping on their head, or toting them by the neck.”
“I am a stickler about the feathers, too. I try to keep them looking as good as I can. So when I shoot a gobbler, I get on him quickly, usually grabbing him by the feet and hold him up until he quits flopping.”
Chuck Belmore kills his fair share of turkeys each year for his Hunting Habit show on the Mossy Oak GO app. How does he handle his birds?
“I prefer the legs,” he says. “I also tote them in the turkey vest if it’s a long haul. The only downside to the vest is feather damage and getting blood on the head. Those fine feathers around the neck need to be protected from blood if you’re going to mount the bird.”
Polk & Thrash
Long-time turkey hunting buddies, Keith Polk and Josh Thrash, know how to handle turkeys in the spring turkey woods. The two friends agree on many things when it comes to hunting, family, and faith. But digging deeper – what are their thoughts on how to tote a turkey? The two tend to see differently when it comes to how to pick up and tote a turkey out of the woods.
“I go with the legs,” says Polk. “God made spurs as the perfect carrying handles.” Polk admits his way of thinking has come under fire in recent years, but holds to the thought that grabbing a turkey by the head is for turkey hunters from up north…and a few of his friends at Primos.
Despite growing up a leg-man, Josh Thrash says he’s moving toward the head at this point in his career. “It just feels more manly to me,” says Thrash. “And I like to look them in their eyes one more time.”
My buddy, Troy Ruiz, has a few more white whiskers in his beard than when I first met him nearly 20 years ago, but he loves chasing turkeys just as much today. How does he pack a bird?
“I use a homemade turkey tote for longer carries out of the woods,” says Ruiz. “I’m a leg man. It’s a traditional leg-over-the-shoulder carry for me.”
Pickle & Blissett
Lake Pickle and Jordan Blissett spend a lot of time chasing turkeys together all across the country. But do they see eye to eye on how to handle a turkey after the shot?
“I grab them by the head when they’re still flopping,” says Blissett. “But I usually tote them out by the feet, or use a turkey tote around the head and feet.”
“The head grab is definitely the best way to grab a flopping turkey,” says Pickle. “I’ve heard some say it’s disrespectful. I guess you have to choose what’s most respectful – grabbing him by the neck, or putting your foot on its head.”
“I like to carry them out of the woods with their head held high instead of staring at the dirt.”
“I like to grab and carry my bird by the feet,” says Will Dixon, son of the late Bob Dixon of Mossy Oak.
“I grab him right about the spurs and sling him over the shoulder. This is how I was taught to carry them by my dad. If I have a long walk out, I have a strap to put them on. Otherwise, I just carry them by the feet.”
Dave Owens of the Pinhoti Project kills a pile of turkeys all across the country each year. He starts in March and won’t wrap up until June. But how does he pick up and haul his bird out of the woods?
“I pick them up by the head,” says Owens. “And for toting them out, I use a strap attached to both head and feet.”
The Grab That Gets You Hurt
Turkey hunters have their reasons for how they grab their gobbler after the shot. And of course, there are a variety of factors that may determine how you handle a flopping bird at any given moment.
Some say grabbing a flopping bird by the legs can easily result in a run-in with sharp spurs as the bird flops and kicks. Keep in mind, a long-spurred turkey can inflict some serious pain and injury, should dagger-to-flesh contact be made by a flopping bird.
But what about grabbing a flopping bird by the neck? As Culpepper mentioned above, the neck grab can prevent the hunter from getting kicked with spurs. That is, if you keep your bird held away from you.
Watch the video below as Jordan Barnes from Close Proximity TV grabs a gobbler by the head after the shot (16:37 mark), only to take a spur to the face. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the gobbler makes one last kick to the crotch, just for good measure. Check it out…
So, after seeing a spur-to-the-face/crotch-combo – is grabbing a gobbler by the head really the safest way to handle a bird?
I guess it’s a debate that won’t be settled any time soon. And that’s okay.
Tote your turkey in whatever way you feel brings the most honor and respect to one of the greatest creatures God ever placed on the earth.