By Ford Walpole

When my wife, English, heard the call to go turkey hunting, I naturally called on my friend Thomas Rowe. Like the quarry he seeks, Thomas’s trips are unpredictable, instinctive and adaptive. Thomas employs a Renaissance approach to guiding, befitting his degree in Southern Studies. You hear of childhood exploits and see where his daughter, Meredith, harvested bucks and took her first gobbler — but you also come to appreciate the history, flora and non-game fauna of your surroundings.

Glover, the Rowe property in Round O, South Carolina, was the birthplace of Revolutionary militia Col. John Sanders. The plantation house sat atop a hill in what is now a peanut field prolific with pottery, surrounding a colonial-era cemetery. This place is believed to be the site of the Continental Army encampment under Major Gen. Nathaniel Green.

In 1867, George Washington Greene, the general’s descendant wrote: “There were many advantages in the encampment on Round O. It lay in the midst of a rich rice region. Game was abundant in the woods, and wild-fowl on the water. Officer and soldier, the well and the sick, found for a while delicacies and abundance.”

As we seek nature’s abundance, “Sister,” Thomas’s black lab, whines from the bed of the dusty, green Ford pickup. “She hates turkey season,” he laughs. (During deer season, Sister still-hunts from the ground at her master’s side.) Before daylight, Thomas cups his hands over his mouth and makes the hoot of a barred owl. “Turkeys gobble at anything — owls, crows, geese, donkeys, train whistles and just about anything,” he tells us. 

“There’s an old cattle tank over there. In the 30s, my grandfather drove cattle from Walterboro to the stockyard in Summerville. This was the halfway stopping point. You don’t think about people driving cattle in South Carolina.”

We walk the road into a swamp that leads to Chessy Creek off the Ashepoo. Thomas gestures to otter scat: “They’ve been eating crawfish.” The scrawny heart of a once-massive loblolly rests on a dike parallel to an ancient rice canal. “Before it rotted, that tree used to be a great turkey blind.”

Patiently, we listen to the sounds of the swamp, which at times has held more than three feet of water but now exposes stubby cypress knees and an understory of green grass and fiddle top ferns, which “a couple of weeks ago, you could have cut and eaten like asparagus.”

Thomas wields an assortment of homemade calls … box calls, scratch boxes and wing-bone calls. “This old cedar box call is the first one I made. The first time I used it, I called in a 19-pound turkey for my daddy, his first bird. Cedar is too soft, so I made the next one from mahogany.” 

“A guy from Georgia made cedar scratch boxes and sold them for four dollars apiece. He disappeared, so Will Tuten and I started making our own — out of necessity. I made one out of fat lighter, but it gummed up everything I had. Slate strikers work well with scratch boxes.” Chalk helps create the scratching sound. “I like the kids’ sidewalk chalk, especially if it’s been outside for a year getting rained on. It’s the driest and doesn’t have wax.”

Thomas looks down at the wing-bone call around his neck. “This is probably the most realistic sounding. It has changed more turkeys’ minds than any other call I have. My friends will always say: ‘It’s time to hit the wing-bone.’”

When Thomas finds dead hens in the road, he recycles their wings. “For the mouthpiece, I like to use a hen-bone mid-joint or a snow goose, but this one is a gobbler.” The centerpiece is also from the mid-joints of the wing, and the horn is from the drummette.

“It takes both wings of one bird to make two calls because you have to interchange the mid joints from one side to the other, so the bones will match up for the proper shape.” With a gobbler leg shaft and whitetail antler amplifier, Thomas fashioned another ornate call, particularly reflective of this locale.

Periodically, Thomas alternates between the box call and the scratch box. Before long, a gobbler responds. “Let’s get ready!” he instructs. We set up against a massive sweet gum, and Thomas remains reticent with his calling. “I don’t like to call too much. I want to make him gobble and when he does, I’ll answer.”

Five male birds appear — two mature gobblers and three jakes. English raises her 20-gauge and waits. At 70 yards, the birds put on a show. Then, they disappear back into the swamp, perhaps following a hen. “They might have seen us,” Thomas suggests. “As the sun kept rising, it eventually was shining right on us.”

Later that morning, on a sandy tract along the Edisto River, we work another bird that couldn’t be seduced to cross the water standing between the hunters and hunted. “Turkey hunting is hard! That’s why it’s so fun!” Thomas triumphantly assures us.

A couple of days after our hunt, Thomas’s brother, Chris, hunted Glover with his 13-year-old son, Huiet, for the first time this season. With the same attention to detail as his brother, Chris relays the event: “We got there and scoped the field but saw nothing. I heard some crows on the right side of the field in the woods and told Huiet they were probably harassing a bird. We walked in and hit the call; the fifth time I did, the bird gobbled.

“Huiet was already sitting at the base of a big red oak. I sat about 15 feet behind him. The bird gobbled about 15 to 20 times between the first time I heard him until he came in. Two pileated woodpeckers flew in, and when they would call, the bird would gobble.”

It was not an easy, but Chris employed the creativity of a woodsman. “He hung up at about 40 yards behind a blow-down. So I started scratching in the leaves, and he turned and came right in. Huiet made a great shot in the neck,” marking the boy’s second gobbler. Chris reflected: “It was a beautiful day, and there is no greater pleasure on earth than being with your son in the woods.”

 

Ford Walpole lives and writes on John’s Island and is the author of many articles on the outdoors. He teaches English at James Island Charter High School and the College of Charleston and may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

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