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The Hunting Public matches wits with Alabama turkeys

The guys from YouTube sensation The Hunting Public made a swing through the state early this turkey season and found out how much work it takes to bag an Alabama bird.

Aaron Warbritton, Greg Clements and Zack Serenbaugh had previously worked together at Midwest Whitetail, a deer video website, and all were in between jobs when this new venture was considered.

“We had this idea we concocted sitting around the dinner table one night,” Warbritton said. “We said, ‘Man, we know how to make hunting videos, but we want to make videos that relate to people like us, sort of made for the average person.’ The average person is hunting small private land or they’re going out on public land, trying to deal with deer, turkeys and small game out there. We decided we wanted to make videos for the general public that hunt. We said let’s just call it The Hunting Public. Our goal was to have a positive impact on hunters and hunting culture. We wanted to show people that they could get together with family and friends and go out hunting. You didn’t have to have a bunch of money or fancy gear. From the get-go, we tried to show people this is doable. There are plenty of places to do it, and we’ve tried to show that over the years.”

Since the inception of The Hunting Public with deer hunting videos in 2017, the crew has hunted in about 30 states and has made multiple trips to Alabama, one deer hunting trip and four to chase turkeys. The team has hunted turkeys in northwest, northeast and south Alabama.

“All of us grew up hunting public land or private land with permission,” Warbritton said. “We’re from different parts of the world, but we all grew up hunting public land. We’ve got a lot of experience dealing with property where there are other hunters. Over time, that experience has helped us be more comfortable in those environments. Alabama certainly has a lot of hunters, especially early in turkey season. That’s what we were dealing with on our recent hunt, for sure. But you can use that hunting pressure to your advantage. If you communicate with other folks, you can ensure everybody is having a good experience. That’s a big part of it. We always talk to other hunters when we run into them.”

Warbritton said the videos stress the courtesy aspect of hunting on public land and how not to infringe on other people’s hunts.

“That’s the way we’ve always operated,” he said. “It’s sort of an unwritten rule for public land. If there is one access point into a relatively small area, and they beat us there, we let them have it. Or if we’re moving in on a turkey, and somebody is already set up, we ease out and let them work the bird. We hope they would do the same for us.”

Although Warbritton says Alabama has plenty of turkey hunters, the state also has a good population of wild turkeys. However, early-season birds seem especially difficult to deal with.

“We’ve never had a problem finding a turkey to hunt on public land,” he said. “But when we go there early in the season, we found that the turkeys were flocked up, henned up and pretty quiet. At times, you have to deal with adverse weather conditions. You occasionally have cold fronts and the turkeys get quiet. The henned-up birds don’t make much noise. They don’t gobble as much.”

To deal with the early-season obstacles, Warbritton and pals have developed a reconnaissance strategy before they even try to hunt.

“We try to locate birds first thing in the morning, even if we only hear them gobble one time,” he said. “We try to find birds in as many locations as we can. First thing in the morning, we’re listening. Throughout the day, we’re scouting for turkey sign – tracks, scratching, droppings in the woods around potential roosting areas. Once we have a handful of areas with turkeys, we go about hunting them. We bounce from one to the other throughout the day until we get on a turkey that wants to play. At the same time, we’re gaining more options if we pull into an area that is being hunted by somebody else. Then we don’t have all our eggs in one basket.”

If their schedule had allowed, Warbritton would prefer to hunt Alabama’s tough turkeys in the middle of the season.

“As turkey season progresses, especially in Alabama, fewer hunters are going to the woods,” he said. “The pressure has slacked off. Turkeys realize that. They start going back to what they were doing before that hunting pressure moved in. The hens are also starting to nest. As the woods continue to green up and temperatures get warmer, turkeys are going to start gobbling more. If I was coming to Alabama, I’d probably pick this time frame to hunt. The gobblers that remain are going to gobble more than they did earlier in the season. There are a lot of advantages to hunt the whole season in Alabama. If I was a resident of Alabama, I’d just spend the first part of the season scouting and finding all the areas with turkeys. I’d have a lot of spots on the map where I’d heard or seen turkeys.”

Warbritton applauded the efforts of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division and its wildlife management areas (WMAs).

“That’s one thing about Alabama,” he said. “They do a good job of maintaining good turkey habitat. The most diverse habitat is going to hold the most turkeys. They do a good job with prescribed burns, and they have different stands of timber.”

Warbritton said he depends heavily on the Outdoor AL and OnX apps during hunting season.

“We use the Outdoor AL app a bunch,” he said. “We use the app to check in and out of WMAs, but we also read specific regulations about those WMAs. Each is managed a little differently. There is tons of information on the app. We also use the OnX maps that we can download to our phones when we’re offline. We’re constantly flipping back and forth between the apps as we’re hunting. When we’re looking at maps, we’re looking for areas with habitat diversity like creeks and rivers or clearcuts and burns. We get an idea of the areas we want to check out. Then we go in with boots on the ground and see if it’s good turkey habitat. If we find turkey sign, we’ll drop pins on the map.”

While Warbritton says “a turkey is a turkey,” he admits that birds in the South are generally tougher to deal with early in the season.

“But that’s why we love to come down there to hunt,” he said. “We love the challenge of hunting turkeys in Alabama. We learn a lot about turkeys doing that.”

During this year’s trip to Alabama, Warbritton managed to bag a bird., Ted Zangerle, another The Hunting Public team member, also scored on a bird late in the afternoon. Zangerle’s bird never gobbled, but he could hear him drumming.

“We struggled to get on birds at first,” Warbritton said. “We dealt with the hunting pressure, but we stayed persistent and were able to kill a couple of turkeys in a week’s time. If we go into any new area in any state, that’s pretty good. It’s about all we could ask for.”

On Warbritton’s fateful hunt (Episode 11), he had to belly-crawl into a position to be able to spot the turkey strutting on a ridge. After his accurate shot, he celebrated for several minutes.

“Man, I love turkey hunting,” he said. “I got excited about this one. We had struggled in Alabama and north Florida. We got our butts whipped in Florida. We came to Alabama and had adverse weather conditions and a lot of hunting pressure. It was difficult. Combined, we had been hunting about 11 days without a bird. I was really pumped when I got that bird.”

Warbritton admits he doesn’t quite understand the popularity of The Hunting Public, which has 363,000 YouTube subscribers. Warbritton and Zangerle were gracious enough to do an interview on the Outdoor Alabama YouTube page. Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxLjGKA1_40 to check out the video.

“I really don’t know why people decide to watch,” he said. “Most people say it reminds them of themselves or their own group of friends and buddies who hunt. That’s pretty much who we are. We’re just a bunch of average guys who love spending our time hunting. A lot of young people use YouTube for entertainment and to learn how to do stuff. Kids these days use the internet to solve all kinds of problems. You have to be on there quite often so when they Google how or where to go turkey hunting, your page will pop up.”

Warbritton said not to be surprised if 2022 turkey hunts from Alabama show up on YouTube.

“We plan to come down next year,” he said. “We love coming to Alabama.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.