Turkey hunters find great hunting on public land

Published 10:27 am Friday, May 1, 2015

It’s amazing that so many outdoorsmen feel that they have to belong to expensive hunting clubs when there’s so much publicly owned land that’s open to hunters in North Carolina. At last count, there were over two million acres of this land open to hunting for the price of a hunting license. Many of the NCWRC’s game lands offer some of the best wild turkey hunting that our state has to offer.

If I had to choose a favorite hunting spots in this state, it would be one of the public hunting lands along the Roanoke River. I’ve often described it as being North Carolina’s answer to some of the western states’ famed remote camping and elk hunting by horseback. The biggest difference is that the Roanoke River trip is carried out with a tent and a boat.

A fair amount of publicly owned land that’s open for hunting along the Roanoke River is only accessible by water and this does limit the numbers of hunters who can acquire the permits to hunt on these lands.

Many of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s lands do require that a special permit is necessary to hunt there. There are certain procedures that most be followed in order to obtain these special permits and, for those hunters who are willing to go through these steps, the permits are not that hard to obtain. There is usually a small processing fee to be paid and then a lottery of sorts to award these permits to the lucky hunters who applied.

The rules and regulations booklet that the NCWRC publishes every year has full instructions on how to apply. There’s also another booklet of maps that shows in detail where these lands are and explains what the rules and regulations of the winners of the permits.

In order to keep good quality and safe hunting on these permit-only hunts, only a certain number of hunters are allowed on each hunt.

We can launch our motorboat at the NCWRC Roanoke River boat ramp just north of Scotland Neck or from another NCWRC ramp near Hamilton. Either way, upstream or downstream, it’s about an hour and a half boat ride to the game lands hunting area where we set up camp for the hunt. The game lands are on the south shore of the river and there is relatively high ground that’s good for setting up a camp in several sections of the game lands. Camping there is what most call “primitive camping.” You’ll need to take literally everything you need to camp there — food, shelter, water, guns and clothing.

The permits usually allow hunters to go in and set up camp a day or so before the actual hunt is to start. This enables the hunters to scout for the best places to set up turkey decoys and listen for the nightly roosting places of the gobblers. If the scouting process is successful, then the hunter’s chances of killing a gobbler are very good on the first day of the actual hunt.

What’s really appealing to many hunters this spring is that turkey hunts along the Roanoke River also off the some outstanding fishing for shad and striped bass. You turkey hunt in the morning, fish during the mid-day and then hunt in the late afternoon. It’s not unusual for the hunters to be able to enjoy fresh fish dinner at the camp and then have the wild turkey to take home.

I’ve stuck my head out of a tent at daybreak on these hunts and had a nice gobbler staring back at me no more than 20 feet away.

There are some things to be careful with about on these hunts. There are definitely snakes in the area and most of these are not poisonous. I’ve sat quietly behind a stump calling for a gobbler and had a five-foot black snake actually crawl across my outstretched legs. No more than 15 minutes later, I nearly jumped out of my skin when a big gobbler loudly answered my call not 20 feet behind me. The snake went free. The gobbler did not.

Another thing hunters/campers along the Roanoke River need to be aware of is that the water levels on the river can fluctuate a lot very quickly, as the dam at Roanoke Rapids begins to release water. Most of the campsites along the river are located high enough above the river to where you don’t need to be worried, but keep a careful eye on the river’s level.

Several years ago, I was escorting a fellow outdoor writer on a Roanoke River turkey hunt. We set camp, did some afternoon scouting, ate supper and retired to our respective tents for a nights sleep. Just before daybreak the next morning, I was awakened to the sound of lapping water and it sounded awfully close to the tent. When I glanced outside, the river water was maybe six inches from our tents and rising quickly. I screamed at my companion to wake her up and started breaking camp in a hurry. We didn’t get wet, but we came close. Luckily a friend had a private hunting camp several miles away and we successfully completed our turkey hunt there.

On another hunt, one person in our group came in during the late morning from a hunt, tied the boat up to a tree and went to his tent to take a nap. He woke up about an hour later, crawled out of the tent and looked for the boat. It wasn’t where he’d tied it up. When he looked downstream he saw the boat drifting loose about a half-mile below the camp. Dressed in his shorts, he frantically began running along the bank, through briar patches and muddy “drains” to catch up to the boat as is drifted rapidly downstream. He did finally arrived close enough to the boat to jump in and swim to it. When he did motor back up to the camp, his legs looked like he’d been fighting with a bobcat.

I’ve camped and turkey or deer hunted on this particular section of the game lands for over 25 years now and I have only seen maybe five other hunters who were also sharing this section and hunting. No one infringed on each other’s hunt.

By properly applying for the necessary permits to use these game lands, we’ve had some really great spring turkey hunts combined with successful fishing trips. There are many other NCWRC game lands that offer great hunting opportunities if hunters would take advantage of them. There is small game hunting areas as well as waterfowl hunting areas. Hunters who do belong to private hunting clubs do have hunting available to them any day the season is open, so they aren’t limited to the days they’re allowed to hunt there.