If your goal is to shoot a turkey, you’re only going to find success where there are birds — preferably decent numbers of them — to hunt. You can’t call in phantom gobblers. The challenge becomes getting out, finding birds and identifying a good place to hunt, whether it’s public or private land.
By Tom Carpenter
Video courtesy of Shane Simpson and callingallturkeys.com
Don’t let the challenge of securing private land foil you. In most places, access to decent turkey hunting land can still be had for the price of door knocks, friendly smiles, common courtesies, polite requests and heartfelt thank-yous.
Having birds to pursue is more important than any other facet of the hunt. If there are few to no turkeys around, and scouting or hunting effort proves that so, go find them. Whether it’s down the road, across the township or on the other side of the county, the best turkey hunter is the one with the best hunting spot.
They’re all henned up. They’re not coming to the calls. Hens are stealing the gobblers away.
How many variations of that theme have you heard or uttered? Me too. Well, what do we expect out of a gobbler in springtime breeding mode? News flash: Early season, midseason or late, gobblers are always going to be chasing real hens.
Hens are a continuing fact of turkey hunting life. There are always hens ready to breed, which translates into stealing your target gobbler’s attention, every day of every spring hunting season.
What to do? Just hunt. Never let “they’re all henned up” become an excuse. In deer season, that would be like saying, “The deer are hiding today” and then quitting, or in bass fishing saying, “They’re sure backed up into those weeds today” and then going back to the dock.
Ignore perceived hen problems. Just hunt. Don’t lose faith during the first hour of shooting light, when gobblers are gaga about real hens. Be ready for that second hour after sunup, when satellite gobblers have had enough rejection and start prowling. No doubt, mid- and late-morning hunting can be great for boss gobblers. Afternoons are prime too. Hit it before the toms can hook up with hens coming out to feed.
Sooner or later, you will run across that magical gobbler without a hen. You won’t find him while sitting at home or camp, lamenting how henned up the toms are.
Today’s gobbler didn’t get to be 2, 3 or more years old by throwing caution to the wind or sprinting in at the first squeak of a henny sound. Every gobbler is bad in those ways. Genetics makes him a nervous, suspicious, paranoid mess, and survival experience cements the feeling.
Gobblers follow hens. These are bad birds. Boss gobblers are really bad birds. They have territory and a harem. Subordinate gobblers are bad birds. The boss has been kicking them around whenever they approach a hen. Jakes can be bad birds. They come running when you’re calling to a mature gobbler, and they run away when you decide you’d shoot a shortbeard.
Can you kill a bad bird? Of course. Wait for him to become a good bird (next section), or find the chink in his armor. The latter usually involves scouting, learning travel patterns and then “going whitetail,” as I like to say. Hunt that turkey like you would a deer — silent, patient and well-hidden on a travel path to feed or roost, or at the breeding area. No, it’s not a classic call-in scenario. But after all, we call our sport turkey hunting, not turkey calling.
There are good birds out there. What’s a good bird? A gobbler in your immediate area that is willing to come to the call. Here’s more good news: Bad birds become good birds — maybe for a day, an hour or a few minutes at a time. The only trick is being out there when he’s being good.
It used to be all the rage in turkey hunting articles to talk about how calling a gobbler in with hen sounds is reversing what nature does. That’s silly. Wild gobblers go to hen calls all the time. You just have to find a bird willing to do it.
At its core, that’s what classic spring turkey hunting is all about. You know how easy it can be to lure in a tom that is “hot” and ready to come to calls. Gobblers like that make a guy feel like a real pro. (Conversely, isn’t it amazing how you can go for days with every tom in earshot ignoring your overtures?)
When hunting gets tough, just remember that a good bird is out there. He might be bad at the moment. But in an hour, tomorrow, next Tuesday or next weekend, he’ll be ready to cooperate. Time and effort will get you there.
If you like to watch weather reports as a turkey hunting trip approaches, forecasts are everywhere on the internet. I used to be guilty of this — endlessly checking, fretting and analyzing what the weather was going to do, and what that would do to the turkeys and hunting.
Then I realized a few things. First, weather forecasts can be highly accurate, sort of on, somewhat off or totally wrong. Second, turkeys are out there (and carrying on rather typically) no matter what the weather is doing. Third, hunting can be good no matter how the weather is. You don’t need — and seldom get — perfect conditions.
In today’s busy world, you just take the weather that’s dished out when you have time to hunt and go hunting.
By nature, spring weather is volatile. Warm fronts meet cold fronts. One day it’s 70 degrees, the next 35. Wind blows, and winter pushes back in while spring surges ahead. Cold rain falls, drizzle drips and sleet pelts. Snow comes down, clouds brew up and then you get a sunny, clear, bluebird day.
I suspect weather conditions affect our hunting attitude and approach more than they do the turkeys’ behavior. Expect conditions that are less than optimal. That’s the norm for spring. And just hunt.
There is no arguing this absolute: You must respect the hunt and the quarry.
Turkey hunting is not easy. Early-morning risings. Long hours waiting. Sometimes lots of miles walking. Much frustration, because sometimes the birds just aren’t coming to calls. Late-evening roosting sessions that can make nights mighty short.
And the wild turkey is challenging quarry indeed. Huge eyes that see everything. Ears that hear it all. A sixth sense of wariness, nervousness, suspicion and paranoia. Turkeys just “know” when something is a little amiss. Turkeys are like this everywhere — from Texas mesquite to Missouri hayfields, New England pastures, Mississippi swamps, Midwestern woodlots, prairie river bottoms and Western mountainsides.
Bottom line? Spare no detail in preparation for the hunt, in camouflaging yourself or making a good setup. Get lackadaisical and the turkey will bust you every time. There’s no arguing that.
What absolute remains? You must make the shot.
It’s true that most turkey hunters do a fairly efficient job of killing turkeys when a good shot is offered, and misses are rare, but whiffs still happen. Even if we make nine out of every 10 shots, or even 24 out of 25, that one miss is disheartening.
So pattern your gun, practice shooting before the season and make sure you take care of business during those moments of truth. Have a reliable sighting system that you like and know you can hit with. I use a simple two-bead system, and when those beads are lined up and pointing below the noggin of a gobbler in range, I always feel pretty good about what’s going to happen next. Everybody needs to find their own sighting system. One year, I used a slug-gun scope on a shotgun for one of my boys. He loved it and pounded his bird.
For patterning and practice, the idea is simple. Confidence in your shotgun and shooting ability (along with knowing your effective range) will help you drop turkeys in their tracks.
And when the time comes, really get that cheek down and feel the cool wood or composite of the stock. Sight right down the barrel. Keep that head down, and don’t peek. Line up the sights, and then check them again before squeezing the trigger like you would a rifle.