I do not read as much as I should these days, but one thing that always catches my eye are top 5 or 10 lists for hunting and fishing tips. Just like hunting big whitetails where everything seems to only come together with a little luck, I tend to subscribe to the theory that luck is the crossroads of good skills and opportunity. Doing the right thing at the right time is crucial to success in anything we do. So here is my shot at a top 5 list for turkey hunting strategies. These are not cheesy little tips that we all know, these are serious strategies that will work if you use them. I’m not going to waste your attention by telling you how much experience I have or how many turkeys I’ve taken, but I will tell you that I genuinely care about sharing a little of my 30 years of turkey hunting and calling experience gained in both casual and professional settings on both public and private land. I’ll add a few more top 5 or 10 lists and expand on these as the season approaches. Some will grow in complexity a bit as we get closer to season.
- Know the Terrain and use it: What would seem universally understood by all hunters is still worth mentioning, even when you don’t know the property that your hunting very well, it is important to have a general understanding of the terrain. You want to attempt to be up-ridge or above your target bird. The only exception would be in relatively flat areas, a pin-down situation with a bird that gets too close or surprises you, or with the bird in a well patterned roost to field situation. Flat featureless topography can be tough, but give me a few hills, hollers, and better yet, a dry creek bed about 6 feet one inch deep and I will be a serious contender for positioning myself for success. More on specific tips on how to move discussed below and in future blogs, but at a minimum take a walk now through your turkey woods or check the GPS or topo maps at a minimum before you get in the woods. Positioning is second only to effective calling and sometimes more important on 3 year old and older turf dragging long beards.
- When to move and when not to move: If there is one thing I have been more frustrated with in guide and novice friend trips in the past is the complete lack of understanding of the perception of the slightest movement that the brain of a turkey can process as danger. The turkey is not a smart animal, but their little head is the most tightly compacted bundle of instincts known to man. The phrase “if turkeys could smell us like deer, we’d never see one” is simply a fact. Don’t move. Adopt a Hunger Games level game attitude when you are in your hunting or calling position, and if that spot doesn’t work, make like a tree and stay there motionless for another 15 minutes, then get up and move if you need to. This becomes more important in situation where the bird has shut up. If he has answered your call and shuts up, he is either coming, going or strutting around his girl. I tend to lean toward the – he’s coming mindset until he sounds off again. Try to stay put and DON’T MOVE until you hear him gobble again, then make a move decision.
- Calling is communicating – know what you are saying: One of the biggest challenges to turkey hunting is learning how to make the basic sounds made by the hen turkey. I’ve seen a lot of good turkey callers who knew how to call at turkeys, but knew little about communicating. Most callers over do the cutting, cackling and all the hyped excited hen stuff and forget that there are some basic communications that all turkeys have known since the nest. We will talk about mating yelps, cuts, putts purrs and the 10 other calls we don’t have space for right now, but know this now: Every gobbler in the woods knows one call above all others and without exception; the one call that means COME TO ME, NOW. This same call has perhaps saved the bird’s life from daily predator threats and other dangers as simple as loosing track of mom and siblings. The ASSEMBLY CALL is the call the hen uses to gather the flock from birth. It is also the call she uses to call her mate. If you effectively use it at the right time, they will come.
- Call enough but not too much: As the stick hit me square on top of the head from behind as I showed off my future Grand National calling skills for my father at 12 years old, I realized as I turned around that dad wasn’t happy with me. Learning later after nearly blowing the reeds out of the Ozark Ridge Pro V on the first setup. Dad said you froze him in the tree – you called too much, froze him in the tree, and the hen roosted behind us flew down, made her way around us and the gobbler flew down only after he saw the real hen. Lesson learned, and it has served me well since. I will expand on this later, but two to three soft tree yelps and a putt or two when the bird is topside and answering strongly – then you need to shut up. I don’t care if he gobbles 29 more times in the tree. Don’t fall in the answer every gobble or two trap, especially if he is in the tree. He’s got no better vantage point than his tree and he is content to stay right there if you talk too much.
- Hunt a little longer: As a kid in my public hunting land days, I loved my 7:45 nap in the timber. Sometimes after starting up birds for other hunters that spooked them; or worse yet those guys that move in on your setup thinking they are between a hen and a hot gobbler effectively cutting you off and usually spooking or shooting the bird headed your way. My alarm clock was their trucks starting and heading to the coffee shop to tell stories about their big hunt. Turkeys are like roosters in the morning. They gobble because they are glad to see the sun rise and warm them up. Morning light also means safety after a long night listening to things that want to eat them crawl through the leaves all night. What makes a bird gobble at 6:00 a.m. is not what makes a turkey gobble at 8 or 9. This may sound arrogant, but let’s call it experienced confidence- I will kill most birds that answer my call after 8 a.m. By 8 or 8:30 he has had breakfast, he’s strutted around, he’s warmed up and if he answers me, it’s not just because that giant light bulb is coming over the horizon. He’s answering me because I have communicated something that means come to me and he is communicating back that he understands. As I said earlier, he’s coming until you know that he’s going, DON’T MOVE, and get ready.
Good luck this season my friends; more next week.
Ozark Ridge Calls