Most turkey hunters seem to fall into one of two camps – on one side you have the people who prefer to sit in one spot and wait for the turkeys to come to them, while on the other you have the folks who like to keep moving as much as possible. And both camps generally think their way is best. It’s kind of like politics, only (usually!) more polite. They each have their pros and cons, and you can be very successful using either strategy, but I prefer a more situational approach, where I let the needs of a specific hunt dictate what kind of tactics I use. I think the following story illustrates the benefits of this approach very well.
Going into our 2nd shotgun season this past spring, my hopes were high, as I had roosted 3 birds on one of my favorite properties a few days before. I expected a relatively short hunt on opening day, and my expectations were met, although not quite in the way I envisioned. Despite picture-perfect weather that morning, there was very little gobbling on the roost anywhere within earshot, and none at all on the property I was hunting, nor on the neighboring one where I also had permission. I set up anyway, and stayed until 7 AM, but heard nothing close except for a few hen yelps. I knew there had to be gobblers around but was getting impatient, so decided to go elsewhere in search of more cooperative birds.
I drove to another property a couple of miles away from where I’ve often had good luck later in the morning. This is a small farm, only about 35 acres, but I’ve killed a number of gobblers there. They generally roost on the neighboring properties and congregate on this one after fly-down. I set up just inside the woods on the back side of a small cornfield and made a few series of yelps. After my 2nd or 3rd series, a gobbler answered me from the neighboring property to the north. The tom was about 300 yards away, so I decided to cut the distance between us as much as I could, and eased down over the crest of the hill on which I’d been sitting until I was about 75 yards from the property line. I don’t know if he spotted me moving, or just wasn’t that interested, but after the 2 initial gobbles, I never heard from him again. After a fairly dull half-hour, I decided to make a move and headed back up to the ridgetop where I’d started out. I walked to the end of the ridge, which overlooks a very large valley, and pulled out my loudest aluminum friction call. The first series of ear-splitting yelps brought a faint response from a distant gobbler way off down the valley, so I elected to drop down to the valley floor, even though I knew I couldn’t get very close because the property ends just past the base of the hill.
When I got to the bottom of the hill I called again, and the still-distant bird answered again, but this time another, a much closer tom gobbled as well. I quickly found a spot with decent visibility and hunkered down next to a tree. The gobbler answered my next series of calls enthusiastically, then went silent for a few minutes. Finally, he gobbled again, and I could tell he had closed the distance quite a bit, but was circling around me on the hillside above. He continued to gobble as he moved but didn’t deviate from his course, and I was unable to move because I knew he could see down into the valley from his position on the high ground. Eventually, he circled far enough around the shoulder of the bluff that I figured he couldn’t see my position anymore, so I grabbed my pack and gun and took off running around the base of the hill, trying to get ahead of the bird and cut him off. Running up the steep, 300-foot bluff nearly killed me, but I knew I had to beat him to the spot where I wanted to set up. Thankfully he kept gobbling every so often, so I could keep track of his position. I huffed and puffed my way to the top of the bluff about 100 yards in front of the gobbler, and just over the crest of the hill from him. I crawled up behind a large oak tree that offered good cover and scratched out a few soft yelps. He hammered right back, and I thought it would be over quickly. But even though he gobbled heartily every time I touched a call, he wouldn’t budge from what I now assumed to be his strut zone on the ridgetop. I knew I was between where he was and where he probably wanted to go, so I settled in to wait him out.
After a 20-25 minute stalemate, during which time he didn’t seem to move more than a few feet in any direction,
I suddenly saw a red head pop over the crest of the hill, peering down the slope in my direction. The head was quickly followed by the rest of the bird, as he came walking down the ridge toward me. I already had my gun up and resting on a fallen tree branch, so it was a simple matter to swing it over a few degrees and track him with the muzzle as he approached. After navigating a patch of thick saplings, he finally popped out into the open at a mere 20 yards and stopped. A trigger squeeze later, and my first turkey of the year was flopping his way down the hillside.
Given his behavior and the fact that it was relatively early in the spring when most older toms would still be flocked up with hens, I assumed I was dealing with a 2-year-old bird. But when I bent over and grabbed a leg to pick him up, I almost fell over in shock. He had perfectly matching 1 9/16” spurs,
both razor-sharp. He was otherwise relatively ordinary, weighing just under 24lbs, with a wispy 9” beard. But judging by the spur length, he was definitely an old turkey. That fact made the successful conclusion to the hunt even more rewarding.
Looking back on the hunt later, I realized I had utilized both patient and aggressive tactics to kill that bird, and most likely would not have been successful had I stuck with one or the other. It was a good example of why you should let the turkey’s behavior determine how you hunt, rather than sticking with a predetermined course of action. Planning has its place, but to be a consistently successful turkey hunter, you sometimes need to be able to change things up on the fly and adapt to the situation at hand.