A frequently asked question; What is the one most important thing that makes a great turkey hunter?
I can’t speak to the great part, not sure what that exactly means. Great is probably defined differently by each person. Let’s assume great is not a video star; instead, they’re a successful turkey hunter who enjoys the hunt and bags some birds.
For most turkey hunters Preconceived Notions are the number one impediment to killing wild turkeys.
Pick up most any hunting magazine or read online articles this time of year and you’ll find a plethora of expert advice:
- About where the turkeys will fly down to,
- you must be there early, in the dark.
- How they’ll travel certain routes,
- respond to individual calls,
- Only call once every 20 minutes or whatever period of time the author made up. All of these examples assume turkeys are creatures of habit that show up, fly down and act according to preset rules or as I’ve learned to understand this advice as Preconceived Notions.
When I started turkey hunting, I heard all the advice above and assumed it was correct. After five turkey hunts during which I was out somewhere in the dark woods setup by a preselected tree in an area that should hold roosted turkeys. Only to discover as the sun rose the gobbling turkeys were everywhere I was not. There I would sit making a call every 20 minutes, after all, I surely did not want to make the turkeys call shy. This setup had everything a turkey could want an open slightly elevated strutting area, with drag marks and scratchings all over, and this is a classic example of a preconceived notion. This type of planning and setup works for deer, not usually turkeys.
The turkey hunting light bulb burst on in my head one day when my hunting partner was too sick to leave camp early in the morning. Upon my return to camp, he told me about a hunter who drove into the parking area then just sat there until a turkey gobbled. He slipped out in the turkey’s direction. In short order, there was a shot, and this mystery hunter returned to his truck with a fine gobbler. All of this happened while I was much further away in the dark at a preplanned location. At that point, I was a lifelong deer hunter, and now the epiphany hit. Turkeys are random in action.
The next morning found me on the ridge not far from camp listening with no intention of moving until the gobbling started. When it did, I walked towards that area in the light after the turkeys had flown down. My calls answered almost every sound the turkeys made. Shortly a magnificent strutting turkey appeared. My heart raced, and I forgot to shoot until he was down the ridge out of sight. Those iridescent feathers catching the multi colors of the sunrise mesmerized me, in all my years of hunting I’d never seen a more hypnotically beautiful display. Without more thought, I propped the gun on my knee and called. Nothing, call again, nothing called a lot, not loud just persistent and that Tom reappeared to become my first turkey.
There was no looking back since that time some 33 years ago I have filled a tag during every season. Nowadays some hunting units allow more than one tag, in those cases, I have not always filled all the tags in my pocket but filling just one is perfect ably acceptable.
Some preconceived notions to avoid:
- You must be somewhere in the woods before first light. Entering an unknown hunting area in the dark when you have not put a turkey to bed risks bumping the birds off their roosts before a hunter can set up.
- Restraining your calling for fear of making turkeys call shy; Experience teaches you when to call how much and at what volume — not an arbitrary rule established in advance of the real-life hunting situation.
- Assuming a turkey will only travel through an area one way or that he must pass by a particular spot. Remember turkeys have wings they can and do fly across the water, valleys and from tree to tree. During late season hunts, gobblers have come into my calls using leafed out trees to find the hen/ me on the ground.
- Believing turkeys have left the area due to hunting pressure, weather, etc. The turkeys are always there even when they can’t be seen or heard. Turkey dogging has taught me turkeys will lay on the ground unmoving and unseen as a hunter passes by. However, a turkey dog finds those birds, and in the fall I’m shocked at how hard it is to see one laying on the leaf-strewn ground a few feet away.