Can You Hang with the ‘Old Pro Turkey Hunter’?

by Braxton Taylor

Turkey hunting, no matter where it’s done, has a way of humbling even the best hunters. Gene Nunnery’s Old Pro Turkey Hunter echoes this lesson throughout the book, but it also provides a road map for gauging the difficulty of your successful turkey hunts. Most hunters aren’t as acquainted with Nunnery’s work as they are with the seminal Tenth Legion by Colonel Tom Kelly, but OPTH belongs to the limited canon of turkey literature.

To paint a short synopsis, Nunnery provides an episodic tale of the influential turkey hunters (and turkeys) who mentored him and played a role in his growth as a hunter. It’s clear that these hunters shaped his own ethos around turkey hunting. The book is slam full of encounters, botched hunts, and lessons from both the turkeys and the men that hunted them. Most of these tales occurred around the mid-twentieth century, before red dots, TSS loads, aftermarket chokes, and turkey-specific shotguns, so keep that in mind.

If you’re familiar with Nunnery’s work, then you probably remember his scoring system, “The Turkey Hunter’s Score by Degree of Difficulty,” detailed at the end of the book. For those who aren’t familiar, Nunnery creates a system of points that a turkey hunter can earn by hunting under certain stipulations with tactics that Nunnery subjectively deems appropriate or not.

He’s what most hunters refer to as a purist, and he doesn’t shy from that. So, before you get your turkey vest tangled in a wad, just know these standards were set almost a half-century ago before some states even held a turkey season.

Some of these rules seem like no-brainers. Others provide insight into the outlandish tactics hunters used during the early days of turkey hunting. Some just leave you scratching your head. Whether you want to add a challenge to your turkey season or dub yourself an Old Pro, here’s a rundown of Nunnery’s scoring system.

The Turkey Hunter’s Score by Degree of Difficulty

  1. Each 1-inch of beard length = 3 points
  2. Each 1/16-inch of spur length = 2 points
  3. Each 1 lb. (undressed) = 2 points
  4. Pen-raised turkey = -20 points
  5. Turkey is a gobbler = 20 points
  6. Wild turkey = 20 points
  7. Years of hunting pressure where turkey was harvested:
  • 3 years = 10 points
  • 6 years = 15 points
  • 7+ years = 20 points
  • Length of season
    • Less than 10 days = 100 points
    • 10-20 days = 50 points
    • 20+ days = 10 points
  • Turkey Population in state
    • 12,000 or less = 100 points
    • 12,001-25,000 = 50 points
    • 25,001-50,000 = 25 points
    • 50,000+ = 10 points
  • Killed from a blind = -30 points
  • Killed near a food plot = -30
  • Tagging out = 100 points
  • Killed with a bow = 40 points
  • Killed with rifle (open sights) = -20
  • Killed with rifle (scoped) = -40
  • Bait or grain within 200 yards of kill = -50 points
  • If another person located or called the turkey = -20 points
  • If your turkey gobbled at least once = 15 points
  • If turkey was killed:
    • On the ground = 5 points
    • In the air = -10 points
    • In a tree = -20 points
    • From a boat = -40 points
  • If the turkey you killed was forced out of his natural habitat by floods, road building, etc. = -20 points
  • Turkey killed from wheeled or motorized vehicle = -40 points
  • If you broke any laws to kill your turkey = -100 points
  • *Any mature gobbler called into shotgun range that the hunter willingly lets live = 200 points.*
  • If the total score is 425+ for 3+ consecutive years = Expert Turkey Hunter
  • If the total score is 425+ for 5+ consecutive years = Master Turkey Hunter
  • After you compile your points and deductions, how do you fare?

    Sure, it might not be an accurate representation with the current hunting conditions of 2024, but Nunnery makes it clear that his scoring system isn’t the one to rule them all. He attempts to approach this with as much objectivity as possible and knows it’s not a perfect system.

    There are holes and certain exceptions that hunters in the twenty-first century would pose to Mr. Nunnery were he still around. Like the fact that Nunnery spent most of his turkey hunting seasons before major timber companies started leasing land to hunters when it was still “free” to anyone who had a notion. While I’m sure he had competition from other hunters, I doubt he faced the crowded trailhead parking lots that most hunters bemoan today.

    Still, it’s a good way to humble ourselves before we get to full strut, only to be deflated by a bird with a pea-sized brain. If nothing, it’s a bit of fun. You might even add your own stipulations to Nunnery’s system, like “How many other hunters were calling to your bird when you killed it?”.

    Even if you disagree with Nunnery’s criteria, it’s clear that he prioritized the chess match of calling and hunting wild turkeys in wild places. And that’s something we can all support.

    Feature image via Captured Creative.

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