Spend much time around guys who hunt both elk and turkeys and they will most likely comment on how similar the two can be to hunt. Well, that is if we are talking archery hunting elk. I realize that while almost everyone in the U.S. has turkeys close to home, not all of us have elk or get to hunt them. For those that do let’s break down what we can learn about hunting turkeys from what we know about hunting elk with archery tackle.
I’ve heard hunters from the South swear they were busted when an inbound gobbler saw them blink! While elk cannot see that well there are certainly times that it seems they have ESP. That nose can pick out the smallest molecule of human scent. The point is that to consistently take either a stud strutter or beast of a bull you have to be on your A-game and pay attention to the details. Limiting movement as a Tom is closing is obviously crucial but, and I’ve said this before, using topography to your advantage can tip the odds in your favor tremendously!
I remember a hunt in northeastern Wyoming years ago when I shock gobble located a small group of birds in the middle of an open pasture. There was no way I could cross that wide-open space and the gobblers weren’t going to leave the bevy of hens they already had. However, they were within about seventy-five yards of the forested edge of a deep ravine and I used that ravine to keep myself out of sight while making my way to them. Their gobbling kept me aware of their location and when I was parallel with the posse I began some soft clucks and purrs. I kept myself hidden just below the lip of the ravine and remained standing behind a tree. Within minutes two curious gobblers poked their heads over the edge looking for the coy hen in the bottom and well, you guessed it, one of them didn’t make it back to the roost that night.
The reason that hunt sticks out to me is that it is so very different than the classic set up and call scenario most turkey hunters employ. The key to its success? The topography lent itself to a spot and stalk then call tactic. I’ve used this same exact plan to successfully lure bull elk into arrow range as well and must say that it is dynamite!
Pattern and Ambush
Perhaps the most memorable Thomas I’ve taken was a bird that was easy to call in but tough to kill. He was a cagey old gentleman who haunted the same thickly wooded bottom every afternoon and would readily answer a call and come thundering in, only to either keep himself hidden in the brush or stay just out of effective shotgun range. I had several clients experience his performance only to come up short as he stalked away none the worse for wear. As the season’s end crept near I knew one thing for certain, I had to have this bird and with a tag burning a hole in my pocket I formulated a plan.
While calling him into range seemed impossible I possessed an advantage, I knew where he spent a large portion of his day. So, I snuck into that wooded bottom and hunkered down as quietly as I could in hopes he would slip up and give me a shot while he fed. I did not call and placed no decoys and as the afternoon wore on, he magically appeared in front of me only twenty yards distant. I waited for him to scratch his way behind a large pine and when he emerged from the other side, my shotgun report shattered the stillness of the May afternoon.
This was not a glamorous harvest but it was effective and resulted in the largest Merriam’s turkey I’ve taken. The reason I was successful? I knew the bird’s daily pattern and that calling to him only made him more alert as he’d obviously survived several hunting seasons on his public land home. He was very similar to some of the wily old bulls I’ve chased who would bugle while walking away only to frustrate me. A better tactic for those bulls would be to find where they wallow or feed and lay in wait for a chance. It worked on my best gobbler and it works on big bulls too.
Being flexible and adaptable to given scenarios can be key to consistent success in turkey hunting, don’t get stuck in a rut. When a difficult situation arises think like an elk hunter and take home that stubborn tom instead of an un-punched tag.