“This Is The Way” - Turkey Hunting Lies
Turkey hunters love it when a big boss tom struts into our setup, spitting and drumming, looking for either love or a fight. It’s the show, the crescendo, the ultimate experience in turkey hunting. It’s what we envision when we think about turkey hunting, thanks largely to what we’ve been led to believe happens by hunting shows and social media. “This is the way.”
However, the truth of the matter is that we would all be more successful turkey hunters if we ditched that lofty ideal and focused on hunting turkeys instead.
Now, before you throw up your hands and scream, “Blasphemy!” Here me out… I’m not talking about sniping gobblers with rifles or bushwacking them from vehicles. I’m talking about adapting to the conditions and situations you’re given so you don’t come home empty handed from a difficult turkey hunt. Afterall, most of us don’t get to hunt nearly as much as we’d like and making the most of our precious hunting days should be what we’re all after.
Here’s an example for you. On my most recent turkey hunt the birds had dispersed across an incredibly vast area and were henned up to boot. In four days of hunting I was only able to locate two mature gobblers and five jakes, we only saw six hens all spread out over thousands of acres of accessible land. The lack of birds was the first clue that this hunt was going to be difficult. We also quickly came to realize that the pair of toms we located were bigtime henned up and not willing to entertain our elaborate setups. They gave us the cold wing every time we worked them; gobbling sporadically with zero interest in leaving the ladies they already had. It was a very tough scenario.
What we did have to our advantage were terrain features that allowed stalking and the fact that the birds weren’t moving around much. Once located, we noticed that they stayed almost exactly where they were, stubbornly corralling the ladies in thick swaths of cover or tight to it. It was only after half a dozen failed setups, with the hunt clock ticking, that Dan Pickar and I realized we needed to adapt our plan of attack if we were going to be successful. It was time to mix it up!
We relocated one of the big toms we’d worked in the morning to no avail. He hadn’t moved 100 yards and was strutting for a pair of hens on the edge of a wild plum thicket atop a small rise. The new plan was to creep and crawl our way as close to him as possible while softly hen calling to make it appear that he had another receptive hen working his way. The only reason this was possible was the combination of the rolling terrain and plum thicket that allowed us to remain hidden until we were virtually on top of him. This setup also gave the tom the chance to come peek around the corner looking for us and offering a shot at the same time.
Unfortunately, the gobbler didn’t budge but luckily for us our improvised tactic worked perfectly and got us within 30 yards of the bird before he realized the gig was up and by then it was too late and he got a free ride home in the cooler.
If I’d stubbornly kept setting up and calling I’d either have had to settle for a naive jake or go home empty handed. I wasn’t willing to do either and the end result was a challenging but successful turkey hunt that didn’t look anything like what you see held up as “The Way”.
My point to all of this is simple. Don’t get so stuck in one single way of hunting turkeys that you’re one dimensional and rigid. Mix things up and try new methods, the more tools in your toolbox the better turkey hunter you will be. Again, I’m not purporting the stretching of fair chase, I’m telling you to expand your horizons and become a more well rounded turkey hunter.
The next time a gobbler isn’t cooperating, survey the scenario and if you can, try something different; no decoys, stalking, different calling tactics or calls… Each of these can be a difference maker and result in a fried turkey dinner.