Cody Durden had a heck of a week beginning April 29. He went from an underdog in the Ultimate Fighting Championship cage to a guy with a new contract and a pay raise. Five days later, he harvested his first turkey, which bordered on a state record.
If life was a roller coaster, Durden had climbed to the top and was enjoying the view.
“Life is crazy,” said Durden, a Loganville, Georgia, mixed martial arts fighter who is currently on a three-fight win streak and received a four-fight extension from UFC president Dana White after his April 29 win in Las Vegas. “Just a few months ago, my truck broke down, my wife’s car engine went out, my knee was injured and I needed to win my next fight to get a new contract. I just knew if I stayed consistent, got up every morning and made good decisions, good things would happen. I just tried to stay positive.”
After Durden’s late-April win over Charles Johnson, a top 20 fighter in the UFC Flyweight Division (125 pounds), he got home in the middle of turkey season and felt the itch to hear one gobble. Though he had hunted turkeys before, Durden had never had any success, so he reached out to a friend, Jay Maxwell, a well-known deer and turkey hunter in Georgia. The two discussed a few spots they could try late in the season, but as soon as the conversation ended, Durden got a trail camera photo of a gobbler in a field on one of his places where turkeys had never appeared.
Just days after an intense fight, Durden’s entire body was sore, and, after three ACL surgeries, sitting for lengths of time in the turkey woods is no easy task.
“I’m 32 with the body of a 55-year-old,” he said. “But when Jay says let’s go hunting, and you’ve got a longbeard on camera, you’re going to get up and go hunting.”
Maxwell, Durden and friend Michael Fortner set up as daylight broke on a small tract where the never-before-seen bird was caught on camera days earlier. Maxwell got one to gobble early but the bird hung up at a distance so they moved around to mimic an approaching hen. Within 75 yards, Maxwell snuck to a high point, showed the gobbler a decoy and scurried for cover. The longbeard came in on a string to investigate, and Durden didn’t waste any time.
“When [the gobbler cleared an obstructing tree] and stepped forward and squared up with me, I thought, ‘He sees me,’ and that’s when I dropped the hammer on him,” Durden recalled.
Some of Durden’s first words after the hunt were, “That’s better than fighting.” The strategy, the maneuvers, the adrenaline rush: they were all there.
“It’s the same feelings you get, the anxiety, the adrenaline, the nervousness,” Durden said. “I’ve been in over 30 fights, gotten confident and have done it so many times, it doesn’t compare [to turkey hunting]. Think of it as a roller coaster, the first time you ride it, you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ Ride it 30 times, you know what to expect. For that being my first turkey, how it all came together, with Jay, my best friend [Michael] behind me. I was speechless and didn’t know what to say. It was indescribable, an unbelievable moment.”
Then he learned his first limbhanger was truly that – it had double beards, the main beard at 121/8 inches and the second at 9¾ inches, and one spur at 1¾ inches. Maxwell compared it to a 200-inch deer, and he was right. The spur length for the atypical gobbler may rank in the top five all time of Georgia gobblers entered in the NWTF Wild Turkey Records.
“There’s no way for a novice turkey hunter to understand what he just did,” Maxwell said.
A few days later, Durden was hanging out with former Atlanta Braves player and NWTF Foundation Board member Ryan Klesko, country music star Jason Aldean and University of Georgia head coach Kirby Smart at a fundraiser. And then, he was hunting again days later with his 11-year-old son, coming close but no cigar.
Durden’s roller coaster ride will continue this year, with four more UFC fights into 2024 and more hunting and the outdoors to enjoy along the way.
“Three things I love to do: fighting, hunting and fishing,” he said. “It’s the sacrifices you make; anything you want to do, you have to make sacrifices and work hard.”