The challenges of turkey hunting are numerous. Not only are we facing an opponent with better situational awareness and intuition of danger than we could ever understand but we also face our own natural predatory deficiencies.
Unlike more efficient predators, such as the big cats, humans are impatient, impulsive and clumsy. Even with the best boots on the market, the best camouflage and other gear, our footfalls clomp, shuffle and grate when we walk; we move too quickly; we're jerky in our motion; and we rarely pay attention to things like cover.
The human body was not designed to be a predator; we were made to eat insects and plants. Only through intelligence did we advance to become a predator. It is not by strength, speed or stealth, but instead through cunning and the use of advanced tools were we able to climb the food chain.
You may be thinking, This guy's not talking about me! I creep on a cushion of air. Nothing knows I'm stalking them. I am one with the woods. So maybe it is just me who's clumsy, oafish in the woods. I can accept that. I'm not ashamed of my shortcomings. It is what it is, as they say.
We spook many more animals than we see. Those mornings when “nothing was moving,” were actually filled with activity, but because we moved at the wrong time to look behind us or shifted to get more comfortable, the animals that were in our vicinity vacated to a more secure area. We never even knew they were there.
But all’s not lost. We do get lucky at times. Even animals as wary as a wild turkey make mistakes.
What we hope to do is create a situation where we minimize ours and capitalize on theirs. These few tips can help you overcome our human nature and give you the upper hand this spring.
- Give yourself plenty of time to get to your hunting location. Many of our mistakes happen when we are running late. Getting into a listening or hunting position while the birds’ heads are still tucked under their wings allows you to move in close to the roost.
- Wear camouflage that is appropriate for the time of the season. Early in the spring, you might want to wear more browns and grays, where later in the season a greener camo helps you better blend in with foliage.
- Use a shooting rest. A small bipod or shooting sticks will keep your shotgun pointed in the right direction and ready for the shot with a minimum amount of movement. A harness for the buttstock will keep the gun on your shoulder while you can operate friction calls in your lap, under the gun.
- Sit down before you call. If you are into running and gunning, find a suitable setup and sit down before you start calling. Try to find a tree that is wider than your shoulders to protect your back from other hunters and keen turkey eyes. Call for a couple of minutes, wait 10, then move on if you want.
- Use cover to your advantage. Don’t sit on the tree that’s closest to the field edge. Get into the woods a few yards and use natural vegetation to provide some concealment.
- A gobbler with hens is a hard bird to kill. You have to deal with competition as well as numerous eyes. It’s not impossible, though, and by mimicking a hen’s calls back to her, you can sometimes use her territorial behavior to bring the gobbler in close.
- Hunt the late morning. Gobblers who have lost their hens to egg laying react better to calling. Sleep in a little and try a 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. hunt instead of a roost hunt. When starting late, the birds will be on the ground and moving around, so start hunting from your vehicle and move as quietly as you can.
- Turn the cell phone off. It’s good to have one on you for safety’s sake as well as to take photos after the shot, but turn it off and don’t be tempted to play games or browse social media while you’re hunting. We often miss movement and other signs of turkey presence when we are distracted by an electronic device. And we all know what a badly-timed text message notification sounds like in the woods! It always happens at the worst possible moment.
- Wear hearing enhancement and protection if you are hard of hearing. The older I get, the closer a bird has to be for me to hear its gobble. A good set of in-ear units, like SoundGear’s Instant Fit or Custom Fit ear buds, magnify sounds while shutting off at the shot to protect your hearing.
- Call quietly at first then increase volume. Each time you start a calling sequence, start out soft. Clucks, purrs, soft yelps, etc., will let nearby turkeys know you’re there without blowing out their eardrums. If you don’t get a response after a few soft calls, increase the volume a little. It’s OK to get loud occasionally with cutts and yelping, but for most scenarios, softer calling works better.
- Don’t stretch your shot. The ideal range to kill a gobbler with a 12-gauge shotgun using lead ammunition is 40 yards and closer. Newer alloy pellets will allow you to shoot farther, but the pattern opens up significantly past 40 yards, reducing the number of pellets on target that can penetrate the gobbler’s head and neck. Try to keep your shots within 40 yards and you will see a significant reduction in wounded and lost birds.
These tips can help you gain success, but keep in mind, your biggest obstacle to success is you. Think before you act. Slow down. Use your eyes to scan your surroundings and not your head. And most important, be patient. Wait 10 to 20 minutes longer than you think you need to wait at a setup. Do these things, and you’ll increase the chances a gobbler wanders into your sights and takes a ride home in your truck. Safe hunting.