To most people who don't hunt, a turkey is just a vacuum-packed holiday commodity, a glorified overgrown chicken. But we know better. To us, the ones who like no sound better than a thundering gobble on a spring morning, turkeys are one of the smartest animals that God has created—and the ultimate game bird.
If you're new to turkey hunting, there are a few things you need to know about these wary birds before you put your brain against theirs on opening day.
- A turkey's eyesight is three times better than a human's. They can detect even the slightest movement. They also have a wide visual field meaning they can see an entire 360 degrees with just a slight head turn.
- They have excellent hearing.
- They are fast learners when it comes to calls and hunting pressure.
If you didn't know any better, it would almost seem like turkeys are impossible to kill. Fortunately, that's not the case.
Turkey time is now in its beginnings, and the time has come to sharpen your skills. While I'm by no means a turkey expert, I've learned a few things that have consistently brought me success. I think you'll find the following tips helpful, whether you're just learning the ropes or have been at it for years.
The list of turkey smarts doesn't end. They not only have fantastic vision and hearing, but they also like to travel in fairly open areas, where they have a lower risk of getting ambushed. Because turkeys prefer open spaces, locating a place of channeled movement can be tricky. In the big woods setting, turkeys use edge habitats like most game animals. If you're hunting these areas, keep an eye out for transition zones.
One easy way to find pinched movement is to hunt farm country with a maze of fence rows. Fence rows are thick and provide a good place for you to stay hidden. The strategy for hunting fence rows is to find a recently mowed or tilled field on one side and a tall field on the other.
The setup should pull the birds from a roost site or timber into the cut field. Focus your effort on the end of the fence row in the area that splits the fields. Your decoy setup should draw the turkey from the cut to the tall field. This likely won't leave you much to look at, but when a mad Tom rounds the end of that fence row to smash your decoy, it won't matter.
This tactic is for the missed bird that came in hot the first time around. If you've had the calamity of missing a turkey, you might want to consider a redo. A hot Tom will often stay hot for a few days. Occasionally a Tom looking for love will excuse a miss, especially one that doesn't end in injury.
What will be challenging is trying to call that bird to the same location. Give the rebound plan a try by using a sitter and a caller. Place the sitter in the direction the turkey came from on the first encounter. Have the sitter place decoys in line of sight of the gobbler. When the tom starts sounding off, begin calling from the initial calling location.
The object is to pull the bird in close enough to see the decoys and allow the sitter to get a clean shot. Of course, there's a chance the tom won't use the same route and may still present a shot to the caller.
The Hail Mary
This one is for the windy days. It isn't easy to hear birds gobble with strong winds, so be sure to slow down. Use loud calling techniques in an attempt to elicit a response. A box call is the loudest, but mouth calls will work if you have a good set of lungs to create volume.
Once you find a turkey willing to respond, move towards the bird quickly. The best result will come from an area of higher ground, so if you can, move towards the bird in the uphill direction. Use wind gusts to muffle the sound of your movement. Set up and call again. If the bird is still a ways off, move across the higher elevation towards him. Be careful: if he's gobbling every time you call, he is probably on his way to your location. Another forty to sixty yards will do. Settle in quickly and be ready. Often, these windy day birds commit well, and they are ready for action.
The most common theme you'll discover in the turkey woods is that no two days are alike. I've used all of the strategies I talked about and have had success with them. They all required a lot of trial and error to learn how to make them work. Don't get discouraged this spring. Keep at it, and it will click. That moment when the swaying rope of a beard comes your way will make it all worthwhile!
Author: Aaron Helpler, Exodus Black Hat Team Member