Years ago, well-meaning turkey mentors told young hunters that if they spooked a turkey, the bird would likely settle down soon and resume normal behavior. Other veterans, however, maintained that bumping a turkey made it that much harder to hunt.
Who was right? They both were, probably, considering that birds in many areas of the country weren’t yet heavily pressured. Nowadays, however, the scales tip toward the opinion that spooking a bird makes hunting it tougher.
Actually, recent research seems to back that up. A 2012-13 study by several noted researchers, presented at the 11th National Wild Turkey Symposium, indicated that gobblers that survived hunting season encountered areas of relatively great hunter presence more frequently, which suggests that they learned anti-predation behavior.
Much anecdotal evidence also suggests a cause-and-effect relationship. Many hunters accidentally bump a turkey every spring and then learn later the bird has relocated somewhat after the encounter. The turkey is still within its seasonal home range, of course, but seems to prefer a part of that range where it likely doesn’t encounter human pressure.
Hunters who spook turkeys — that is, everyone at some point — often question how to overcome the mistake and hunt that bumped bird. These tips might help.
If possible, give the bird plenty of time to resume “normal” activity. Hunt another bird or another farm for a week or more. Even pressured turkeys often filter back into areas with previously high hunter traffic after a few days of peace. After all, they favored the spot for a reason, whether it was hens, food or loafing areas. If left alone, they might return.
Double down on sneakiness, patience
Make darn sure to avoid bumping a previously spooked turkey again. Be extremely cautious in your approach to a roosted bird and about your movements while setting up. Often, a careless turn of the head or hasty walk out of the woods is all it takes to bump a bird again. Use all your woodsmanship skills to avoid detection.
Likewise, don’t expect a turkey you spooked the day before to run to yelping the next morning. He might approach, but he’ll likely do so quietly or stop gobbling just before sneaking into your setup. Remain aware, listen for drumming and scan your surroundings for any flicker of movement.
Change your approach
Spooked and pressured turkeys are notorious for answering calling and approaching your position but then hanging up out of range or at a property line. If a bird does this to you once or twice, throw him a change-up. If possible, approach him from another direction. Or, hunt him at midday or evening instead of morning. Run various calls, and switch up between soft, subtle yelping to louder, aggressive calling. Hunt without decoys, or adjust your spread somewhat. Or, in simple terms, try the opposite of your most recent unsuccessful approach.
Showing a boogered bird different stuff will never hurt your chances, and it might help. Trying the same thing again and again on a pressured turkey will only ensure heartache.