By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
The guys from YouTube sensation The Hunting Public made a swing through the state early this turkey season and found out how much work it takes to bag an Alabama bird.
Aaron Warbritton, Greg Clements and Zack Serenbaugh had previously worked together at Midwest Whitetail, a deer video website, and all were in between jobs when this new venture was considered.
“We had this idea we concocted sitting around the dinner table one night,” Warbritton said. “We said, ‘Man, we know how to make hunting videos, but we want to make videos that relate to people like us, sort of made for the average person.’
“The average person is hunting small private land or they’re going out on public land, trying to deal with deer, turkeys and small game out there. We decided we wanted to make videos for the general public that hunt. We said let’s just call it The Hunting Public.
“Our goal was to have a positive impact on hunters and hunting culture. We wanted to show people that they could get together with family and friends and go out hunting. You didn’t have to have a bunch of money or fancy gear. From the get-go, we tried to show people this is doable. There are plenty of places to do it, and we’ve tried to show that over the years.”
Since the inception of The Hunting Public with deer hunting videos in 2017, the crew has hunted in about 30 states and has made multiple trips to Alabama, one deer hunting trip and four to chase turkeys. The team has hunted turkeys in northwest, northeast and south Alabama.
“All of us grew up hunting public land or private land with permission,” Warbritton said. “We’re from different parts of the world, but we all grew up hunting public land. We’ve got a lot of experience dealing with property where there are other hunters. Over time, that experience has helped us be more comfortable in those environments.
“Alabama certainly has a lot of hunters, especially early in turkey season. That’s what we were dealing with on our recent hunt, for sure. But you can use that hunting pressure to your advantage. If you communicate with other folks, you can ensure everybody is having a good experience. That’s a big part of it. We always talk to other hunters when we run into them.”
Warbritton said the videos stress the courtesy aspect of hunting on public land and how not to infringe on other people’s hunts.
“That’s the way we’ve always operated,” he said. “It’s sort of an unwritten rule for public land. If there is one access point into a relatively small area, and they beat us there, we let them have it. Or if we’re moving in on a turkey, and somebody is already set up, we ease out and let them work the bird. We hope they would do the same for us.”
Although Warbritton says Alabama has plenty of turkey hunters, the state also has a good population of wild turkeys. However, early-season birds seem especially difficult to deal with.
“We’ve never had a problem finding a turkey to hunt on public land,” he said. “But when we go there early in the season, we found that the turkeys were flocked up, henned up and pretty quiet. At times, you have to deal with adverse weather conditions. You occasionally have cold fronts and the turkeys get quiet. The henned-up birds don’t make much noise. They don’t gobble as much.”
To deal with the early-season obstacles, Warbritton and pals have developed a reconnaissance strategy before they even try to hunt.
“We try to locate birds first thing in the morning, even if we only hear them gobble one time,” he said. “We try to find birds in as many locations as we can. First thing in the morning, we’re listening. Throughout the day, we’re scouting for turkey sign – tracks, scratching, droppings in the woods around potential roosting areas.
“Once we have a handful of areas with turkeys, we go about hunting them. We bounce from one to the other throughout the day until we get on a turkey that wants to play. At the same time, we’re gaining more options if we pull into an area that is being hunted by somebody else. Then we don’t have all our eggs in one basket.”
If their schedule had allowed, Warbritton would prefer to hunt Alabama’s tough turkeys in the middle of the season.
“As turkey season progresses, especially in Alabama, fewer hunters are going to the woods,” he said. “The pressure has slacked off. Turkeys realize that. They start going back to what they were doing before that hunting pressure moved in. The hens are also starting to nest. As the woods continue to green up and temperatures get warmer, turkeys are going to start gobbling more.
“If I was coming to Alabama, I’d probably pick this time frame to hunt. The gobblers that remain are going to gobble more than they did earlier in the season. There are a lot of advantages to hunt the whole season in Alabama. If I was a resident of Alabama, I’d just spend the first part of the season scouting and finding all the areas with turkeys. I’d have a lot of spots on the map where I’d heard or seen turkeys.”