From punting to putting

NATCHEZ, Miss. — Chit chatting with a new patient, Cedric Dunbar probably didn't realize his life was about to change.

The man he was treating for a rotator cuff injury, three-time world champion turkey caller Troy Wheat, brought up that he was a natural voice caller.

"So me and my brother say, 'Hey, let's see what you got," said Dunbar, a former punter for the NFL's Miami Dolphins who became a physical therapist. "And man, he started unleashing those. At that point, our whole clinic shut down. Everybody was paying attention to Troy Wheat. So we wasn't having therapy any more, we were learning all about turkey hunting."

Dunbar, who hunted since his youth and took in taxidermy work as a teen, never thought much of turkeys, or hunting them.

"I was like everybody; wild turkey is just a dumb old bird," he said. "I see them all the time during deer season, and really no excitement in seeing all these turkeys walking in the woods. I can kill them whenever I want to."

But the two set up a hunt.

"I got spoiled from day one," he said. "We jumped in those woods, got right on top of a bird; one of the prettiest hunts I've seen thus far ... those birds sail out of those trees about 150 yards in front of us. He strutted and drummed and everything you wanted in a turkey hunt. And came right in, and killed him. And I said, 'That's history.' I've been hooked every since."

And he's learned tons and tons in his turkey hunting tutelage under Wheat.

"Woodsman already know how to move about in the woods," he said. "The next thing is taking good instruction, because a lot of people, once they've master deer hunters, they feel like they're master turkey hunters, and they know nothing about turkey hunting. I lend my ears to Troy and just listen to everything he has to offer."

Dunbar played football at Jackson State and gave the NFL his best try. He and his brother ran a physical therapy clinic before closing it and starting a business to treat patients in their homes. In his travels, he's had clients offer their property for hunts.

"When you're talking, you let them know how interested you are in turkey hunting," Dunbar said. "A lot of times people will just spring up to the conversation, 'We have tons of turkeys on our property. Feel free to come out.' "

He said he has about 10 properties he hunts but he never tries to hunt a place out nor wear out his welcome. Wheat has joined him for many trips, and he has learned so much in the past 5 years that he feels comfortable going on his own.

"I was under the mentor for the first 3 years, where I wasn't doing any calling," Dunbar said. "I was working on my calling, but I hadn't yet been turned on the birds in the woods. But last year I got an opportunity to call a bird in for another guy I went out with, and said, '"Hey, I can do it now.'

"Troy told me a while back, you're ready to be turned loose in the woods. So essentially, this year, I' ve had the opportunity to work some birds. Like yesterday, it was a tough, tough hunt. There was a lot of little decision making. The decisions you make will determine the outcome of the hunt."

So it was a simple chat in the office that turned Dunbar into a turkey hunting aficionado.

"It's the ultimate challenge," he said. "Deer hunting is a sport that's exciting only for a few seconds. When you're hunting you sit here all day, and then he pops up and it's really over in just a couple of minutes.

"In turkey hunting, there's so much that goes on. You have to be an artist. You have to locate a bird by being able to owl. And all these other calls, like crow calls, to shock gobble these birds to respond to you. There's a lot more going on, and a lot more vocal stuff going on."