Corky Pugh is the former director of Alabama’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. He is also a certified turkey hunting nut. I have been fortunate enough to hunt with Corky on many occasions. As you can imagine, a large part of our friendship revolves around wild turkeys and hunting them. Several years back, Corky wrote what he calls the “axioms” of turkey hunting. It is a list of facts all turkey hunters should know. These facts come from people who impressed Corky in the turkey woods, a couple of which are from me, i.e. “You must be present to win." Each axiom is explained with a short, witty explanation that makes for a fun, eye-opening read.
Editor's note: Corky Pugh's axioms of turkey hunting follow here. He also calls these the "Rules."
© Tes Randle Jolly photo
One of Corky Pugh’s earliest memories is that of being taken turkey hunting by two of his parents’ friends, Buck Rhoad and Preacher Springer. They borrowed him to take along and gain access to his Aunt Virgie’s farm. Corky considers this a perfectly understandable practice and one that should be engaged in more today.
He clearly remembers stumbling down a dim road in the dark and being required to hold onto Buck’s belt so they wouldn’t lose him. They stopped on a gravelly, longleaf-pine hilltop to listen and they told him they heard a turkey gobble. He was somewhere between 4 and 5 years old and too young to know what he was listening for.
He heard his first gobble several years later with another family friend who tried to teach him to yelp using a green leaf. These experiences left a mark on him that would last a lifetime. As a former director of Alabama’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division for over 12 years, he has witnessed the ebbs and flows all things turkey.
As a fellow turkey hunting nut and friend I have had the pleasure to watch and learn from Corky. To say he is patient would insult a spider. To say he is persistent would shame a mosquito. To say he is methodical would be like saying water is wet.
© Tes Randle Jolly photo
These distinguishing traits are applied to Corky’s goal of filling his legal quota of Alabama longbeards each season. Has been for over 40 years. Each kill is a success to be celebrated. The ultimate goal is to have all tags filled and a few free days to recover before the season ends.
You see, unless the sun fails to rise, a doctor has him tied to a bed or the Crimson Tide has a losing season, Corky goes turkey hunting every day of the season. A hunt may only last a couple hours before, after or during work hours but Corky makes the effort. Some years he fulfills his goal of tagging out. More years than not he doesn’t.
Over the years Corky has developed a list of circumstances that explain what happens in the turkey woods. These translate to loss of hair, bags under your eyes, power naps in odd places and a marriage on hold. He calls them the Rules.
The Rules for Turkey Hunting
© Corky Pugh (Used with Permission)
At this point in Corky Pugh’s life there is not a lot of hair left to lose, the bags under his eyes are permanent, power naps don’t require turkey season and his wife does not complain about the marriage on hold. The hills seem steeper, but he is certain that is the result of severe soil erosion.
There are more turkeys to hunt in Alabama than when he started hunting them all those years ago. He has improved his calling skills, woodsmanship and knowledge of what turkeys tend to do. He has learned the lessons of success and failure that make all turkey hunters humble and appreciative of the bird that keeps all our egos in check.
When Corky wrote the Rules in 2003, he shared a copy with famed author Colonel Tom Kelly. The Colonel replied, “I can’t believe I didn’t think of that!” He suggested Corky call it “Pugh’s Ten Commandments” and said Rule IX should be inscribed on every turkey hunter’s shotgun.”
IX. If In Doubt, Don’t — If you wonder if you should call or move or get closer or he’s close enough to shoot, don’t!
Never Gets Old
© Tes Randle Jolly photo
The Colonel’s response was a humbling experience for Corky. A man not prone to public displays of vanity, he chose not to follow the Colonel’s advice. Instead, he stuck with the name and refers to them regularly as he chases the goal of filled tags and days off before turkey season ends. He limits his vain moments to encounters with wild turkeys.
At this stage in Corky’s life there are not a lot of “firsts” left to experience. He has been there, done that, but turkey hunting never gets old. Each season is met with the same excitement he felt following family friends on his first turkey hunt. Like all the seasons gone by, there will be firsts and never-befores. If all goes well he will give a limit of Alabama longbeards their first-ever ride in a pickup truck and have a few days off before the season closes.