Jack Scott And Bubba’s Gobbler
Jack Scott's favorite tales come from his hunts with a friend, who, suffering from cancer, became a turkey fanatic at age 60.
Jack Scott, of Cochran, remembers clearly the first time he ever took Bubba Browning turkey hunting, and he remembers the gobbler Bubba killed that morning in the mid 1980s on Ogeechee WMA. He also remembers the last gobbler he ever called in for Bubba.
Those stories, along with the hunt for every gobbler Bubba killed or missed over the 10 years in between the two birds, are a favorite part of Jack’s repertoire of tales he vividly recounts anytime you get him talking turkey.
That’s saying a lot of Bubba, considering that Jack Scott’s affair with wild turkeys spans more than 30 years — he has been a turkey manager, a turkey hunter, a turkey trapper, a turkey restocker, a turkey-call maker… if it has to do with wild turkeys, Jack Scott has done it.
He’s hunted turkeys on just about every middle Georgia WMA, called in the first gobbler ever killed on Cedar Creek WMA, killed Rio Grande turkeys in Mexico and Osceolas in Florida, and if his health holds up he intends to go after a Merriam’s and complete a grand slam. Hunters in more than 45 states (all but Hawaii, Alaska and two or three others) own a “Scott’s Cutter,” the long box-call design that Jack perfected for himself and ended up sharing with, and then selling to, other hunters.
But somehow a conversation with Jack will always circle back to Bubba Browning and another of the adventures that he and Jack had together in the spring turkey woods.
“Bubba didn’t start turkey hunting until he was about 60 years old,” said Jack. “That was when we first met each other at Ogeechee management area. I was going over there with Tom Fisher and Buddy Fordham, and Bubba and Buddy were good friends. He came down from Atlanta and met us to go turkey hunting, and he hadn’t ever been in his life. Buddy wanted me to go with Bubba, and the first morning we went out and called in a bird we had roosted the day before. He came out there and got about 35 steps from us, and he just strutted back and forth, back and forth.
“I whispered to him, ‘Bubba, don’t shoot until I tell you. I’m going to cluck to him a time or two and see if I can make him stick his head up. If he does, you shoot him.’ The bird was in full strut, and I clucked to him and that old bird stuck his head up, and — Bow! — Bubba killed him. I’m telling you right now that was one happy man. It ruined him. From then on he was hung on it.”
At 60 years of age, and suffering from cancer, Bubba became an overnight turkey fanatic. For the next 10 years, Jack invited Bubba on many hunting trips, knowing that all he had to do was telephone and tell Bubba he was going. The next morning, Bubba would drive from Atlanta to Cochran in time to get to the woods before the first gobbling began.
It was the 1980s, and turkeys were making a comeback in Georgia, thanks in part to efforts by Jack Scott and other DNR employees. In 1971, after 10 years as manager of Millhaven Plantation in Screven County, Jack had taken on the job of area manager at Ocmulgee WMA. In 1978 he was promoted to Wildlife Technician IV and supervised 10 WMAs in middle and south Georgia. Part of his job in the 1970s was turkey restoration — trapping wild turkeys with a cannon net and shipping them to be released at other WMAs and in other Georgia counties.
“Everywhere we put birds, after three or four years we were able to start picking up birds and moving them to other places,” said Jack. “We stocked Ocmulgee WMA for the first time around 1972, and a couple of years later we were trapping them there and moving them out.”
Jack spent hours sitting in a blind, watching a baited area in the woods, waiting for turkeys to move in. When enough birds were in the spread, he would fire the rockets that would instantly drape the area in a huge net.
“That’s one way I learned a lot of the sounds that turkeys make, when I was sitting in the woods working nets,” said Jack. “And that’s how I knew that the old box calls I had didn’t sound like a real turkey, so I tried to make one for myself that would sound like a turkey.”
Jack was carrying one of his early box-call models, a single-sided box, on a 1984 trip to Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge that led to a memorable turkey hunt with Bubba Browning.
“We had gone to one particular area of Piedmont that morning and hadn’t heard anything,” Jack recalls. “We went to a different area and walked down an old, sandy road back into the woods, and I found where a gobbler had crossed the road. I called two or three times pretty loud, and Bubba said, ‘I heard a bird gobble!’
“I said, ‘Where’s he at?’ He said, ‘About 500 yards right straight in yonder in front of us.’
“We walked a couple hundred yards, and I told him we needed to stop and see if we could hear the turkey. ‘If he’s coming this way and we’re going that way we’re fixing to meet.’ I had a mouth call, and I clucked on it a time or two and yelped a time or two, not too loud, and he gobbled right over the hill from us.
“I said, ‘Get over here and sit down by this tree.’ I backed up about 15 yards behind him and took a box and clucked on it two or three times. The bird gobbled over there three or four times just over the hill. I did a kind of a half cackle on my mouth call, and here he came running over the hill.
“I whispered to Bubba, ‘Don’t you shoot that turkey too far, now.’ He was bad about shooting a turkey too far. He’d miss two or three times a year, just about. Well, the bird stopped out yonder about 75 or 80 yards, and he turned and started trotting again a piece.
“I said, ‘Bubba don’t shoot him too far—’ Bow!
“The bird got up and flew off into some big pines down to the right. I said, ‘I told you not to shoot that turkey too far!’ Bubba said, ‘I didn’t think it was too far.’ Really, the bird was about 35 steps, but I thought he was farther than that because I was sitting about 15 yards behind Bubba.
“I went out there and found a couple of feathers on the ground, and they looked like neck feathers to me. I went back and got to looking and found where Bubba had shot a sweet gum tree, about an inch and a half in diamater, in two right in front of him.
“He was just sick, and I’d been fussing at him too, so I said ‘We’ll go down through yonder and look and see if we can find him.’ Of course, I didn’t think we were going to find him. We spread out about 50 yards apart and walked about 250 yards. Directly Bubba hollered out, ‘Here he is!’
“I went over there, and Bubba was standing there and had his gun pointing at the turkey, and the old gobbler was laying flat on his back with his feet sticking up, stone dead. He’d hit him in the neck with two shot. He died flying and fell flat of his back.”
Throughout the years, Jack has continued to hunt on his favorite WMAs despite also having access to some great private lands. Just two years ago he chalked up another longbeard on Ocmulgee WMA.
“There’s quite a bit more people hunting WMAs now than when I started,” said Jack. “I can remember when they didn’t have but 50 or 60 people sign in for the season on Cedar Creek, and now I think they have six or seven hundred. You used to could go there all day long without seeing anybody.”
But, Jack says, there is also a lot of good turkey hunting on state WMAs these days.
“Everybody protected turkeys back years ago when we were restocking turkeys. If anybody killed a turkey out of the way you’d hear about it sooner or later. I had a fellow one time killed one on Ocmulgee WMA and brought him out in the cavity of a spike buck. I found out about it and called the man and asked him if he knew about a turkey killed off the river and brought out in the cavity of a deer. He started stuttering and said he didn’t know anything about it, but I didn’t see him on the area anymore.”
Throughout the 1980s, Jack continued working on his box calls, giving a few away to close friends.
“I came up with the box I make now by trying to make a longer box that would yelp and cluck and purr and do everything that a locator box couldn’t,” said Jack.
One of the final touches to his long box that helped perfect it for Jack was the addition of a small “tuning peg” placed inside the box, wedged between the two sides. When the box itself is finished, the final adjustment to the tone and pitch is the tuning peg.
“I start off with several different lengths of tuning pegs, and I just work with it until I get it like I want it. I move it back and forth until the call sounds right, and then I glue it in place.”
Jack’s call-making had to expand to keep up with the demand from friends who wanted new ones, and eventually Jack began selling them. After retiring from DNR in 1996, Jack had more time to devote to both call making and turkey hunting, and he now sells his calls at the Turkeyrama in Perry and at places like the NWTF state convention in Unicoi. At Jack’s booth you will find Cutters made from more than 25 different kinds of wood, along with a scrapbook of photos and letters to Jack from friends who carry his calls. The letters reveal that many of the hunters who have used Jack’s calls have a favorite combination of wood types. Jack has his own, as well.
“When I hunt I carry a sassafras box and a holly box,” said Jack. “I’ve used chinaberry and mahogany, too. Year before last I used a wormy maple box and killed several birds with it.”
Like most turkey hunters, Jack said he has his pockets full of calls when he heads to the woods, including two box calls, a glass call, a slate call and a few mouth calls. He said that 98 percent of the time, though, he does his calling on a box. It surprises Jack that many of the hunters he knows own more box calls than they will ever tote to the woods on a hunting trip — in the last 20 years, call collecting has become a serious off-season pursuit for many hunters.
“A lot more people are making custom calls now than were in the early 80s,” said Jack, “and there are a lot of good call-makers out there.”
As hunting and call-making began to take up more of Jack’s time, Jack gained a new hunting partner — his wife, Shirley.
“Shirley used to wouldn’t go with me at all,” said Jack, “but now I can’t hardly leave her home when I go turkey hunting. We take turns filming and calling. We’re not good filmers, but we enjoy trying.”
Jack was calling and carrying a video camera the last time he and Bubba Browning went turkey hunting together. It was in the spring of 1998 in Twiggs County. Bubba, whose prostate cancer had worsened to bone cancer, was 71 years old and weak from illness, but he was eager to go turkey hunting.
“He was sick that day, so sick till we had to carry the gun for him in the woods,” said Jack.
When the hunters set up on a gobbling tom, Jack put Bubba by a big oak tree with his shotgun and backed up several yards behind him to begin calling. The gobbler, a huge bird with an 11-inch beard, came in strutting and fanning, and Bubba didn’t shoot the bird too far, and he didn’t miss.
“I couldn’t even see the turkey from where I was,” said Jack. “I didn’t get the turkey on film, but I got Bubba on film sitting by the tree and pointing and telling me how the hunt went.
“Bubba was too sick to carry his gun, but when we came out of the woods nothing would do him but to carry that turkey, and he carried it most of the way. He died not long after that.”
The stories of Jack and Bubba’s turkey hunts are only a few of the tales Jack has accumulated. If you ever meet Jack, ask him about the time around 1986 when he and Hal Shumans were belt-deep in a slough in the Ogeechee River swamp in Bryan County — Jack was calling, Hal had the gun, and there was no time to get out of the water because the gobbler was on top of them. The gobbler was thundering away just out of range, and that’s when Jack saw the cottonmouth drifting down the slough straight toward his belt buckle. Never has a turkey-vest seat cushion come in handier.
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