We hear a lot about woodsmanship but it can be tough to define what that term means. Basically, it’s your knowledge of outdoor environments and your skills in them. That means being able to move quietly and unseen through the woods, noticing and identifying clues or movement, and recognizing changes in terrain and vegetation. Good woodsmen blend into their environment and move within it naturally. And being a skilled woodsman is paramount to becoming a good turkey hunter.
Woodsmen constantly seek and find turkey sign. They listen to and watch turkeys, and they identify good set-up areas based on terrain, cover and bird behavior. Using those clues, they formulate solid pre-hunt game plans and react swiftly when turkeys do the unexpected.
Good woodsmen are quiet and stealthy. They slip through the timber, avoiding clumsy footsteps and other noise, while staying alert for clues. They can walk along a ridge without being skylighted, slip along a field edge without sticking out or cross a rushing creek without wasted movement. They know when to move and when to remain still. If necessary, they can judge cover and terrain and then relocate quickly on a gobbler. They’re constantly filtering through sounds, listening for crows, scratching, drumming, yelping, gobbles or other sounds. When they hear something, they can swiftly determine where and how far the source is.
Anyone can become a solid woodsman, though some folks are better at it than others. The only way to learn woodcraft is to go afield as much as possible. Watch and listen to turkeys and other critters. Learn about the plants and animals in your hunting area. Observe how turkeys act when it’s sunny, windy, rainy, hot or cold. Notice when animals see you or your movements — and when they don’t. Get a sense for the land, and pick out features such as creeks, wetlands, flats, benches, bottoms, saddles, ridges, valleys, meadows and agricultural fields.
If possible, scout or hunt with an experienced woodsman, and pay close attention to how they move through the woods and absorb their surroundings. Ask them why they chose to walk where they did, and question them about trees, birds, flowers or other flora and fauna. Quiz them about how they might react in certain situations.
Above all, slow down, and pay attention. Reacting or moving through your hunting area without thinking is a sure-fire way to miss clues, spook turkeys or otherwise blow a hunt. Always scan open areas ahead of you for movement or odd shapes. Constantly listen for turkey noises — vocal and nonvocal. Plot every step, striving to be quiet. Feel for twigs, branches or brush under your boots, and avoid snapping them. Pick up your feet and set them down gently, shifting your weight subtly to avoid excess noise. Never shuffle your boots through leaves or slosh through streams.
With enough practice, this approach will become second nature, and you’ll begin to blend into the turkey’s world instead of feeling like an intruder.