The Telemetry Tom

This gobbler had a GPS transmitter and a leg band, and the hunters learned it was being tracked by South Carolina researchers.

GON Staff | July 1, 2019

Robbie Angel and Jason Hendrix, both of Savannah, were hunting on private land in Effingham County on the second day of the 2019 Georgia turkey season when they managed to kill a 2-year-old gobbler that carried with him some special DNR gear. Robbie was doing the calling, and Jason was doing the shooting.

“We had roosted several birds the previous opening day and knew where their strut zone would most likely be. That morning, I started working two birds directly in front of us, but then we heard a third bird gobble way off to our left,” Robbie said. “I told Jason that we ought to keep a look out to our left because he may come in silent.”

“We went back to focusing on the two birds in full strut in front of us, which we could see about 100 yards through the swamp.

Robbie Angel (left) was doing the calling and Jason Hendrix (right) was on the gun when they killed this Effingham County gobbler on March 24. The Savannah hunters were surprised to find a radio telemetry device attached to the bird.

“As we inched closer, I saw Jason begin to ease his gun up to his shoulder. Knowing that the birds in front were nowhere close to being in range, I looked to my left. About 10 steps away stood the gobbler we had only heard a single gobble out of staring us right in the face. The bird stepped behind a tree as I let off several excited cutts with my mouth call.”

Jason, who could still see the bird, fired a single well-placed shot from his Remington 870 Super Magnum.

“All I remember in that adrenaline-filled moment were feathers and flapping,” Robbie said.

They didn’t immediately get up because the two birds in front had not left and had instead gobbled at the shot. Jason had not killed a gobbler in several years, so out of excitement he slowly crawled over just to give the bird a quick once over. When he crawled back, he whispered to Robbie inquisitively, “That gobbler has got a band on its leg.”

Neither Robbie nor Jason had ever heard of a turkey being banded before.

“I knew ducks and geese were banded in order to help track migration, but I couldn’t figure out why a turkey would be banded,” Jason said.

They went back to trying to call in the two birds in front of them; however, several uneasy hens slowly led the gobbling duo off to safety. Once the gobblers were out of earshot, the two got up and high-fived.

“I walked over to the bird and noticed what I initially thought was a large parasite on the turkey’s back,” Robbie said.

Upon closer examination, Robbie and Jason found a GPS tracker strapped to the gobbler’s back by way of two elastic bands around the base of its wings.

This device on the gobbler was sending regular GPS coordinates to researchers, who were charting the bird’s movements on a South Carolina WMA and across the river to private land in Georgia.

“We weren’t sure exactly what we were looking at and were initially worried we may have killed someone’s pet,” Robbie said.

They looked closer at the band on its leg and found a South Carolina Department of Natural Resources number to call.

Jason called the number the following evening and spoke to April Atkinson, a wildlife biologist for the SCDNR, who was working on a study in tandem with several graduate research assistants from Louisiana State University. She relayed that the SCDNR/LSU researchers had been capturing juvenile male turkeys over the past five years and attaching transmitters to them in an effort to see how far an average gobbler travels. Several of these birds had been killed in South Carolina, but this was a first for a South Carolina tagged bird to be killed in Georgia. She asked Jason to FedEx the GPS tracker back to her, and she sent him a detailed map of all the places the turkey’s GPS transmitter had pinged since it had been attached. Jason was allowed to keep the leg band as a memento, and it now hangs in his trophy room.

Jason was sent an email detailing that it was a 2-year-old bird caught on Jan. 24, 2018 at Adams Field in South Carolina. At the time it had a 1 1/2-inch beard and no measurable spurs. He also received a map showing where the bird had traveled in the time it had its GPS transmitter. As you can see from the map, the turkey’s total range was about 4 kilometers, or just under 2.5 miles.

The purple dots indicate GPS locations where the gobbler was tracked. The dividing line is the Savannah River, with a South Carolina WMA above the river and private Georgia land in Effingham County below the river.

“What’s interesting is that it looks like this turkey flew the river multiple times and spent most of its time in the Savannah River swamp and hardwoods on either side of the river with little time spent in fields,” Jason said.

Robbie added, “There are plenty of folks out there who have duck and geese bands, but there are very few who have turkey bands, and I was just so blessed to be a part of that hunt. I have killed several gobblers over the years but have never had the chance to call one in for a longtime friend and fellow hunter. To call a once in a lifetime bird like that in for the friend who introduced me to hunting makes it that much more special and something I will never forget.”

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