I’ve enjoyed participating in Outdoor Life’s forum over the last 5 years. Because I get a lot of questions about turkey dogging like Turkey Hunter 39 asked on one of the OL Answers Thread. So I thought I would publish it here for other would be turkey doggers to enjoy.
Turkey hunter39 started by asking-
Q: Anyone planning to use a dog for fall turkey hunting this year? If so, what breed?
Charlie elk could not resist helping out a turkey dogger to be. The thread contains a lot of good information so I decided to reprint it here.
I love turkey dogging it only took one season that would be last year to get me hooked. My dog is a Vizsla there are some of his puppy pics in my profile. There would be more of him and his turkeys but OL will not let me load them up without a Facebook page which I don’t have.
If you Google “turkey dog hunting with charlie elk” a wide variety of my posts and pictures on this subject will come up.
Charlie, thanks for the reply. I am a member of the American Wild Turkey Hunting Dog Association, new member, and have talked to Jon several times. Jon was very helpful in helping me choose a dog. I will be picking up Steve Hickoff ‘s book, it is on my literature list. You are absolutely correct that fall hunting makes you a better spring hunter. In the fall, you get to hear the turkey’s full vocabulary. The fall is a great time to practice your calling, and more importantly, how to match the call to the situation at hand. Turkey dogging is a small world, but almost everyone that I encounter is interested in it. The common response is….”I have never heard of that.” I don’t know that I want it to go mainstream, but it would be nice to have additional resources available for the new guys. Keep posting the material and I will keep reading, maybe even contribute some of my own. If my pup isn’t ready this year due to age, he definitely will be next year. If anyone else is interested, don’t sit on the fence, just ask. Turkey meat is even sweeter in the fall!
Sometimes we get a little off subject, that’s OK too as JM chimes in-
A few years ago I drove 16 hours out of state to bring a friend of mine who was in college archery hunting for the first time (first time hunting at all for anything besides rabbits). Since we were too far away from my farm and he did not know anyone with private land, we decided to go to public land. It was a 2500 acre property (all woods) and for three days straight the same three people had 6 dogs running around barking throughout the entire property looking for a turkey. On the second day we caught up with them at the parking lot when we went in to eat lunch and asked them if they could leave an area alone for me and my friend to hunt. They seemed nice, and showed us an area on the map that they would leave for us (was a nice big area, so we just agreed and headed straight out without even going into town to buy lunch). About 45 minutes later all three of them walked right past us (in the area they said they would leave alone), and when we walked up to them all they would say was “public land.” On the third day we thought we caught a break because they were not in the parking lot that morning…but nope. 30 minutes after it got light they drove down a trail in 4 wheelers (It was illegal to ride them on this section of public land). We just gave up and called the police and they contacted a game warden who came out. Turns out all three of them weren’t even supposed to be hunting (warden wouldn’t tell us why they lost licenses). Needless to say we did not see a single deer (or turkey) and I have been unable to get him to try it again since….hopefully there are some respectful turkey hunters that use dogs (I know Charlie is one), but sadly this was the only encounter I have ever had with one.
JM those you describe were obviously lawbreakers and or poachers. We should take great care and never refer to them as hunters.
Turkey doggers do not use packs of hounds. The vast majority use one dog maybe 2 (an older trained dog and a younger being trained) that work closely together to find a flock. Then they charge for the break, hopefully they bark to let the hunter know the exact location so they can all setup and call the birds back in.
Welcome to the American Wild Turkey Hunting Dog Association! Glad to have you as a member. I am sure Jon has given you a lot of very sound advice. When I was debating whether or not to get a turkey dog and what kind he was most kind, open and helpful. As a member you have access to a lot of very good information in the member section of the website. Make good use of it.
What state will you be hunting in?
I have been all through that website and it is great. Read the pamphlet that Jon sends out as well. Most of my fall turkey hunting will be in KY and TN. Jon has extended an offer to come up to Wisconsin and I plan to take him up on it. I was very interested to read how versatile Vic is as far as hunting turkeys and upland game. That is what I am hoping to accomplish as well. Kentucky has two very short fall turkey seasons, 6-7 days in both October and December. Tennessee also has a short fall shotgun season, but a more liberal bag limit. My ace in the hole is a public hunting area that has a really long fall season and an amazingly liberal bag limit. All combined, I could run my Brittany for about 4 months…which is fantastic. I have access to some wild quail as well, so we are going to go the double duty route. It is funny to me how welcoming the turkey dogging community is, and how passionate the hunters are about their sport. Everyone has been unbelievably helpful. I feel like I have stumbled onto the best kept non-secret ever.
JM, I hate that you had a bad experience with some questionable hunters. I would say that conflict would most likely occur during archery season as the seasons will undoubtedly overlap. I will be hunting both public and private ground. The private ground is a non-issue, but I don’t believe I would turn my dog loose on just any Wildlife Management Area (WMA). The public area that I will hunt is more regulated and it is not very likely that I would run into anyone else, if I do, they will be turkey hunting also. I also lease ground from time to time, and didn’t renew a lease this year because of their dog policy. No harm, no foul. There is enough space for all of us. I wanted to do something different than the crowd, and so it wasn’t a good match anymore. All forms of hunting has its time and place, and I have no desire to ruin someone else’s hard earned hunting time. Hopefully your next encounter will be more positive. Happy Hunting.
As Charlie stated, I shouldn’t have even called them hunters. Just 3 selfish poachers who thought they were more important than anything around them.
-I wish you and your dog luck in the upcoming hunting seasons. I hope someday I will the time to train a dog to hunt with me. I just do not think I could give a dog enough attention right now (I Work 60hrs/week over the summer and still working on my degree).
Turkey hunters are arguably the most considerate sharing easy to get along with hunters of them all. That goes double for turkey doggers.
TH39, WI has no limit on fall turkey hunting you get as many as you have permits for and the season is 3 1/2 months long. Should you find your way to WI drop me a line and perhaps our paths will cross. To contact me just make a comment on my website or PM me on the other sites you see my posts on.
Check out the January turkey hunt at Fort Campbell, they allow dogs. Also some states allow dogs for spring hunting too. Jon has those posted on the turkey dog site.
You are right on about fall turkey tasting so much better.
How old is your pup?
At 4 months old I started getting Vic accustom to gunfire. A turkey dog must endure very close gunfire more so than any other hunting dog.
Turkey doggers don’t usually interfere with bowhunters. Turkey dogging is a mid-day activity and the vast majority of bowhunters have already left the field by the time we start. Although they should stay on their stands because I see more trophy bucks within easy bow range when Vic is with me than I do sitting on my butt during “prime time”.
But some bowhunters are upset about anyone else doing anything else in the woods because–
The scent control salesmen and inexperienced outdoor writers have too many deer hunters so freaked out about leaving scent in the woods that they think if anyone walks around without a has-mat suit on; the area is contaminated making it impossible for them to kill a deer let alone a trophy.
Oh well what I can say about these guys. Except you need to get out more. 😉
What do you expect Charlie? Have you seen hunting shows lately? I saw one where the “hunter” said that the hunt was the hardest of his life. He spent three hours in a stand and passed on more than 20 bucks (all within easy bow range) that 90% of hunters would have called the biggest deer of their life. Yeah, real tough hunt.
I do hunt Campbell and it is loaded with turkeys. The fall season has two segments, so you can run ’em early and late season. The funny thing about Campbell is access, you have to call in and get a unit. I tried all spring to get a unit and couldn’t, it was full every day. They allow you to take 4 bearded turkeys in the spring, so I ate 4 tags. I haven’t had any problems, knock on wood, getting in units during the fall season, very few people fall turkey hunt…it is tough hunting. Campbell is one of the reasons I started investigating alternatives for fall turkey hunting, as it is so vast. I hunted multiple days without seeing or hearing a turkey, and I know they are there. So it got me thinking that there had to be a better way, and that is when I came across Jon’s website. I started doing research, decided it was something I wanted to do, verified I could use a dog on Campbell and the rest is history. My pup is four months old now and he is definitely interested in birds, he just seems to not be quite ready yet for any real training. I am reading a lot about Brittany’s and they don’t seem to mature very early. He has taken to yard work very well and has no problem plowing through the brush, but he still seems too hyper to really focus on the task at hand. Could be my training as well. He has the pedigree and seems to have a good nose, he is just very puppyish. I don’t want to rush him and we are keeping it fun. The weather hasn’t really cooperated with me either. It is either 100+ or thunderstorms. My tentative plan is to continue the yard work for another month or so, mix in as much live bird work as I can, introduce the e-collar around 6 months of age, and take him with me in October for the early KY season. It is private ground and we can just go out and hunt. No pressure and lots of birds. I am very familiar with their fall habitat on that piece of land, so I can help focus his efforts. I am working on getting him to settle down next to me and I will introduce him to the bag in the next two weeks. I am definitely seeing progress, I just don’t want to push him too hard. Let me know what you think. Did Vic mature early?
Come August the turkeys of the year will be old enough to take some chasing. Turkey hunter 39, you should get your pup out in some turkey areas so he can get a nose full of the good stuff. If you have some wings, tails or feathers introduce them into his play routine. Pups have short attention spans but when they like the smell of something coupled with your strong approval; well that is the start of something good.
Vic was about 3 1/2 months when I was leading him in charging across March’s frozen fields yelling turkey, turkey; those flocks broke with cackling, wing flapping pandemonium and the strong scent left behind for him to inhale. Soon he was spotting and beating me to the turkeys though I’m not too tough to beat. Then we did practice setups, I’d call for bit and maybe spend 5-10 minutes kind of still. A couple of times the turkeys came back that quick and he learned to point at them as they came in. He is rigid while pointing.
We did these exercises until my spring season opened 3rd week of April. Vic was allowed to nose the dead gobblers over good and I would direct him to grab their heads and drag them to me. He really like that game. Then we went for a hike to the kill spot where I had left some feathers lying about. Vic would go crazy sorting out the trail the gobbler approached on. All great fun and I let him be like a kid on his first hunt, but Vic did seem to realize there was something very serious going on.
In August we pursued turkey flocks, scattered them and practice setups. During all this training I should mention I used a blank starter pistol to shoot around Vic including on our practice setups. From there we graduated to 22, a 410 and then 20 gauge. The first time he heard a 12 was on opening day when a nice gobbler rolled over dead in front of him.
Some trainers tried to discourage me from taking him hunting until the next year. Said I was rushing him too much. But like you I did not put the screws to him very hard rather just let him develop at his own pace while giving him plenty of exposure to what counts. All the while letting him know what I liked and disliked.
BTW, Vic does not know what an e-collar is, my training methods are very old school.
You are in for more fun than you can imagine.
Charlie Elk, I laughed when I read your last post, as I too have been waiting for the poults to get big enough to handle some pressure. I want to train my dog, but not at the expense of the animal I love to hunt. I am conflicted about the e collar and if I was just hunting private ground, I might not go that route. I am looking at the e collar to keep him honest and out of harm’s way. Also, the fallout of not bringing the family pet home from a hunt would be unbearable. He follows me everywhere I go, but there is always that chance that temptation could end up in a lost dog, especially with a young dog like him. So I plan to use an e collar and a gps collar. I do some traveling to hunt, so those items give me some piece of mind. I have some wings that I am cleaning up…they were treated with Borax as I make wing bone yelpers. I want to make sure I have the Borax off them before he plays with them. I think the time of year they were born in makes a difference. I got him at 10 weeks old in the dead heat, with poults everywhere. Oh well, I am a patient man…lol. Have you had any issues with Vic getting on a scent and heading to parts unknown? I have read about the old timers leaving their jacket on the ground so the dog could find it and they would pick them up the next day…which isn’t a situation I want to find myself in.
I have never lost a dog in afield. Good basic obedience is critical. Does Vic cross property lines while in hot pursuit? Yes. Do I wish I could really teach him a lesson then? Yes. Like with an e collar? Yes, let his hair smoke.
Fortunately it now seems we are past this due to whistle training. We use a very shrill whistle that seems to cut through his excitement of the moment. Once I have his attention he has a strong desire to please so he comes back.
I have never used any training collar so I have no way to give a meaningful opinion. Guys who use them swear by em. Except one friend of Jon’s who thought his dog was chasing a deer so he zapped his dog. Oops, it turned out to be a turkey. The dog never pursued a turkey again for him, he used it to hunt other birds but remained confused as to why this dog refused to chase turkeys. Until he loaned his dog to friend who reported back the dog was the best turkey dog he had ever hunted with. Hmm… Guess you have to be careful with those collars. You might have read about this one I think it is in Jon’s booklet.
A turkey dog must be able to operate independently out to 200-300 yards, this is one of the tough parts of the hunt. Where we hunt there are bears, coyotes, wolves and rattlesnakes; I worry about Vic when he is a little overdue for check in. A GPS locator might be in his future.
“Have you had any issues with Vic getting on a scent and heading to parts unknown?”
Not so far. Should he, I am prepared to stay afield overnight in the last place we parted company.
To prevent this I used Jon’s technique of showing great displeasure and dislike of things like deer. The idea is to get the dog to think you hate deer or whatever he should not chase.
In my area the deer are more numerous than rabbits. Of course as Vic and I hiked around preseason they would run, what great fun for a pup. My reaction was oh an awful smelly deer, no like deer. Vic would then bark at the deer and bluff charge them a few yards to chase them away and come back for his reward. Now he does not care about deer at all, they are just something on his way to the target birds.
I will never forget the look of betrayal on his face when I came home with the first dead deer he ever saw. He sniffed it over real good and looked at me as if to say you LIAR! But he still does not have any interest in deer while we are hunting.
This is good, in addition to turkeys I arrow a lot of deer each year too. But sitting on deer stand is getting really boring compared to all the excitement and action of turkey dogging.
Charlie Elk, The e collar is definitely something you have to be careful with. I haven’t even bought one yet, as I am still reading over the various training techniques and how to introduce and use one properly. I am with you on the overnight vigil if the dog would run off. Private ground, no problem. Fort Campbell, they are going to start looking for you if you don’t sign out. Sign out and stay in the unit to find your dog……? Guess it depends on who finds you, and what kind of day he/she is having. I need to go back and read about the avoidance training…my shoes could definitely use a break. LOL. He likes to carry them around. We still have some basic obedience training to work on as well. He responds well to basic commands, but we seem to have a little bit of a focus problem. Any tips on helping to deal with distractions and increase focus would be much appreciated.
In a Fort Campbell situation it might be prudent to leave the field early with your dog in order to avoid that lost dog scenario. An old fashion leash would be a good idea, allowing the dog off leash only when turkeys are encountered.
When Vic gets overly spun up I leash him to keep him close until he settles back down. An inexperienced pup encountering all the rich turkey scent…well who can really blame him for getting all excited?
The leashing helps focus attention and keeps the master in command. I keep telling Vic there is a reason I wear the whistle and he wears the collar. 😉
A pup’s attention span is that of a gnat so look for the moments of focus and capitalize training on them at that moment. I believe a trainer of a young dog must be very careful to not crush the spirit of the dog. For example Vic still points and dashes after butterflies, perhaps embarrassing if anyone else sees, but an important part of the desire and drive. As Steve Hickoff reminds desire must be there it is the one thing you cannot train into a dog. So if you stop the dog constantly from chasing he might lose interest.
Charlie Elk, Good tips. Do you have a suggestion on leash length? I have a 20 foot check cord that I let him explore with, especially when we’re someplace new. That really isn’t conducive for a hunting situation though. Of course, I have a 6 foot leash as well. I have found that he does calm down when I leash him, so that might very well work. I guess in my mind, I am having trouble imagining the scenario. I still don’t know if he will point, then flush; point only; flush only. In the leash scenario, are you putting the dog on the leash after the flush, so he calms down for the calling? I know Jon will leash his dogs until he gets to a promising area, and I can see leashing the dog for the walk out when the hunt is over. Can you give me a scenario when you would put Vic on a leash during the hunt?
I have never used a check cord, too long in woods and as a turkey dog first, Vic needs to range wide. We just use a 4′ leash. My favorite for turkey hunting is the Mendota British-Style Slip Lead in 4 foot length, do a search on Cabela’s to see it. For Vic and I this is just the right size on turkey setup and when necessary for spin down time. It is fast to put on as it slips over his head so you don’t have to find the clip and loop on his collar.
During Vic’s first season, hopefully only because of his youth, he would get over stimulated (spun up) and start dashing about, obviously not hunting just going through the motions at a high rate of speed; this is an example of leash time for spin down. I don’t treat this as punishment, I talk to him a sympathetic soothing tone telling him what and how we need to hunt. When he sees this lead in my hand he now comes over and sticks his head through the loop as it signifies something really good might be getting ready to happen like a turkey becoming dead or I’m taking him to a more game rich area.
The lead was used to teach Vic to “sneak”. Sometimes turkeys are feeding on the other side of a field; if the dog just charges across at the turkeys they flush as a group. The better strategy is heel the dog and sneak in as close as possible ideally so Vic can run into the center of the birds to scatter them all directions. My command to Vic for this is “sneak”, he knows the difference between heel and sneak. It is cute when he sneaks, he crouches down with me and pads lightly.
Another leash scenario is when hunting private land you must be careful of the property lines in order to maintain good neighborly relations. So Vic gets leashed when we are getting close to the lines. I preferred hunting large tracts of public land during Vic’s rookie year in order to avoid these.
Trust me, when you need to leash your pup, you’ll know it.
Yesterday, Vic and I went out scouting we encountered a flock of about 20 feeding in hayed barley field. Told Vic to sneak, we did the crouch to the end of an adjoining cornfield. On command “Turkeys Get Em” – Vic slipped 2 rows into the corn and charged down the row until he was opposite the turkeys, turned into them…
It was a beautiful heartwarming sight all those turkeys, surprise putting & cackling, flying to different areas.
The kee-kees and assembly yelps started before we left the area, clearly those turkeys would have been callable to the gun.
Charlie Elk, I will check into that leash. Thanks for the nuts and bolts. I like the idea of “sneak” and will see if Max will take to that. I have been contemplating the command for charging the flock and will probably try “bust ’em.” Any thoughts on what you wish you had done for your first “dry run” or what you did do that worked very well?
Each dog has a different personality and they each seem to understand our language and inflections with differing levels of comprehension & excitement. So as long as the dog comprehends what is necessary the chosen command does not matter. As long as the master is consistent in its use.
Usually Vic busts the flock on his own. Only when I spot the field flocks do I take control. Otherwise I trust Vic will sniff em out and charge on his own, just wish I could figure out how to get him to bark and let me know about it.
I do like to use different commands than those in the “book” for safety reasons. Like “kennel” I use a different word when its time to get in the truck. Around here there is an unusually high incidence of hunting dog theft. Also, I allow Vic to be a little aggressive toward strangers, I ask companions to not give him any commands.
That way, hopefully if someone stops and orders Vic to Kennel he’ll bark and find me or bite them if they try to grab him.
Charlie Elk, Do you use a bag for Vic? Max is white, so we have to use the bag. Any suggestions for getting him to like the bag?
Vic is deer colored, he blends in really well so he usually wears a wide reflective orange collar or orange vest which easily slips off for setup. During cold weather, because of his short hair mrs elk made some camo vests to keep him warm. Vic has quite the wardrobe, snow, brown, gray, green camo and orange vests both nylon and fleece. Depends on the weather and where we are going to hunt.
Glad you asked, I have been meaning to post some pics of him in his camo on my website. I’ll try to get that done this weekend.
In Steve Hickoff’s book he describes how to get a dog blind/bag tolerant.
Charlie Elk, I really need to order that book. Thumbs up to Mrs. Elk for making the vests. My wife also sews and is making some custom bags for me. I need something really lightweight for early season and a fleece one for late season. I checked out that leash you recommended online and I think it is available at my local Bass Pro Shop so I will check it out in person. There is one thing in particular that I haven’t decided on and that is water transport in the field. Max drinks a ton and I am not sure a couple of bottles of water in my vest is going to be enough. I will be dealing with warm weather for a lot of my fall turkey season, and a good water source isn’t always readily available in some of the areas. How much water do you carry and how do you do it? At this point, as I go through the mental checklist, I feel like I need to take a mule with us. LOL. Water, blind bag, leashes, calls. Have you encountered the same problem or do you have a minimalist approach you would like to share?
Minimalist while turkey dogging? Let me know when you figure that out. 😉 My vest gained at least 30 pounds and doubled in bulk when Vic joined me.
I have my calls down to 2 wing bones and a slate.
Water is heavy and necessary for an extended warm weather hunt. I carry 2 one quart water bottles, mostly for Vic I don’t drink much.
Tried one of those bladder type re hydration things too cumbersome to operate.
On really hot days we woodlot hop with a couple gallons of water in the truck or boat.
As far as container I just lug the proper size plastic juice bottles and when they get icky throw em away.
Charlie Elk, I am laughing because I keep looking at the gear and I am wondering just how I am going to haul it all. Glad to see that I am not alone. I have actually been thinking about how I can divide up some of my hunting so that we circle back to the truck. I am also considering carry a tub with water in it as a dunk tank for Max on really warm days…I might see 90 plus degree days. Circle back to the truck, hydrate, and dunk him to cool him off. For the fall, I use wing bone calls, mouth calls, and a tube call, so they are not that bulky. I basically need shells, calls and a therma cell. No blind, no decoys. Realistically, how long do your hunts average? Some of my places we could cover in an hour or two, some we couldn’t cover in a full day. Do you feed Vic between wood lots when you are putting in a long day? Have you ever tried to run Vic and harvest a turkey with a bow?
Well TH39, Jon uses a backpack, he carries all the stuff we do plus a pop up blind and chair.
On really hot days I plan a series of shorter hunts and return to the truck or boat. Many hot day hunts take place in river valleys. Not only does Vic need resting, I need resting more than he. 😉
If I need food on a hunt then I offer Vic food too.
No on the bow; I have killed numerous turkeys with arrows and have found I just don’t care for it. This may sound strange but I do not find any extra challenge in taking a turkey with a bow. For it is about the same as shotgun, so I just use the shotgun. Plus with a shotgun the turkeys do not flop away requiring tracking. Although, with a turkey dog tracking is no big deal.
Last spring a neighboring hunter arrowed a gobbler but it got back up and ran away. He mentioned this to me, I told him about my turkey dog. In about 10 minutes Vic found the turkey dead 250 yards away from point of shot. The hunter had thought the turkey survived.
Forgot to answer your question about how long does hunt last.
Vic was a pup last season, his attention span was short so at first a couple of hours at a time or less depending on his attention. Sometimes we just leash timed out, spun down, while we practiced being setup with some cold calling. Other times Vic would start hunting for himself rather than with me.(very bad habit for a hunting) Then it was back to the truck, until he recovered and settled down.
Typical day last season; I would go out bow hunt deer early morning until 10. Come back get Vic and hunt until 3-4 in the afternoon. Then Vic spent resting time with mrs elk while I went back out deer hunting
Thanks for all the helpful advice. I have noticed a change in Max over the last week or so, it seems he is starting to understand what I want him to do. Not perfect mind you, but he seems much more focused when we are going through exercises. I have noticed from your comments that you really focus on Vic having fun along with getting down to business. I decided I would relax some and Max has responded well. I mentioned bow hunting for turkeys due to season length. With the exception of Campbell, both of my typical states have really short shotgun seasons. With a bow, I have months. I have considered just taking Max and putting him in a blind with me, a little bonding, and let him get good and excited over a fresh kill. I plan to take him out in a week or so and see if we can’t get on a flock…see what he does with it. I have roughly 6 weeks until we could potentially start chasing birds on Campbell. I am planning to run him, carry a gun, keep expectations low and see how he does. A lot of trial and error headed my way. I guess I am a little unsure and don’t want to mess him up, as he is a good dog.
TH39, this has been an enjoyable exchange, thank you.
If a bow was the only way I could turkey hunt, well then bow hunt it is. Please do not let my comments about that discourage you and anyone else who is reading. I am not against bow hunting turkey. In WI we are blessed with a 3 1/2 month fall season, bow or gun, I just choose gun.
If you would like to write about Max and your experiences, Jon would love to post them on www.turkeydog.org and of course www.charlieelk.com complete with any pictures you would like to share. The more turkey doggers the merrier.
Charlie Elk, I too have enjoyed the exchange. I have learned a lot. It has been nice to get practical advice. I plan to post our adventures as the season progresses. I will keep you posted on the training and Max’s antics. I hope others who are interested will come across these posts and join in on the fun of turkey dogging. Good luck this fall. Check back periodically, as I am sure I will need additional advice. LOL.
Oh yes Th39 there will some Max antics and I will love to hear about them.During hunting season I become what the OL editors lovingly refer to as a ghost. So if you have a story or two you could also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org Good hunting and have a grand time building a relationship with Max.