Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Turkeys and Barriers

© By Othmar Vohringer

Here is a question I received in the email from a hunter who visited my recent turkey hunting seminar. I would like to share the question and my answer with you because it’s a frequently asked question. The hunter described the following situation.

“I have permission to hunt turkeys on a farm which borders onto a river bottom. On the other side of the 20 to 30 foot wide river is a rocky hillside populated with lots of tall pine trees with open spaces in between, ideal turkey roosting area with easy access to the river bottom. However, there seems to be little food on that side of the river, whereas the farmland has many crop fields. To access the farm fields the turkeys would have to fly across the river. My question is would the turkeys do that provided they roost on the hill side?”

The short answer to this question is; although turkeys can fly quite long distances they do not like to across rivers, canyons and other barriers if they can help it. Unfortunately the hunter did not tell me if he has seen turkeys on the farm or on the rocky hillside. Without knowing this vital fact I was left no choice but to answer the obvious.

Scout both sides of the river, the farm and the rocky hillside, for turkey sign and turkeys present. While turkeys prefer to roost in tall trees on a hill or ridge top they have no hesitation to roost is a river bottom if there are suitable trees available. I suggested to the hunter to check out the river bottom on the farm side of the river and if there are tall trees it is quite likely that the turkeys will use the farm as roosting, strutting and feeding area.

The hunter also should check out the rocky hillside. If that area provides the turkeys with everything they need there is no need for them to fly across the river to access the farm. With the rocky hillside also bordering onto the river bottom it is very likely that the birds find enough food there.

As I said earlier, turkeys do not like to cross any sort of barrier. This is something to consider when you set up on turkeys and call them. Make sure that there are no barriers that prevent the birds from coming to your calling. I had this happen a few years ago. I called a tom and when he came in he just paced back and forth below a little dip in the landscape. After about an hour of calling the tom finally gave up and walked away. When I checked the area where the gobbler paced I found that that little dip was a small and shallow creek not much wider then a couple of feet. The tom could have easily hopped over it but he didn’t.

Barriers come in many forms and we need to be aware of it before we set up. At another occasion a tom refused to cross a cattle fence although all he had to do is tuck his noggin in a bit and walk right under the wire to cross the fence. Downed trees are another barrier that turkeys don’t like and so are roads, thickets, the above mentioned creeks but also sloughs and many other features.

This brings to mind how important it is to scout and get familiar not only with the resident turkey population but also with the lay of the land and how the birds navigate that area.

Related Articles:
Scouting - Turkey Sign
The Ultimate Turkey camouflage
Top 11 Turkey Hunting Tips

For more information about my turkey hunting seminars and courses visit:
Othmar Vohringer Outdoors


Bio Bo said...

I have to disagree with your premise, at least in part. I have seen turkeys do all of the things you say they don't like to do. If they were so inclined to hang up on so many obstacles, they wouldn't be able to navigate the woods.
I agree that turkeys prefer to avoid obstacles, and conventional wisdom also agrees. But I also believe they will go where they need to go, providing the impetus is there.
However, IF an obtacle exists and the turkey has any doubt about his motives or his safety, he will hang up. But he will do that without obtacles as well. They are very smart birds, smarter than some people give them credit.

Othmar Vohringer said...

Thanks for your comment Bio Bo. Of course turkeys will cross whatever obstacle they have to navigate the land they live on. I have seen them flying across canyons and wide rivers. But here we talk about turkeys that been called and hunted. The same turkey that would fly across a canyon will not do so just to answer a hen call. Remember toms are male chauvinists in that they expect the hen to come to them.

Yes toms hang up on a hunter even without barrier (obstacle) between bird and hunter and that is mostly because the hunter is set up where the gobbler can see for a long distance that there is nothing where he expects to see another turkey. This subject has been covered at length here on this blog.

As you read through my blog you will notice that I give turkeys, like all other game animals I hunt a lot of credit and respect. The views and opinions here are shaped by 20 years of hunting and guiding hunters on turkey hunts.


Bio Bo said...

OK, you've got some experience with the subject, and so do I. We simply don't agree, in part, on what your original post implied.
Everything you said has been conventional wisdom for years. It's nothing new, and I've read it all before. But, as I said, I've seen birds do those things in the wild. Why? I don't know... maybe they hadn't read the books.
For example, last year I made a call in the road where my truck was parked before getting into my truck to eat my lunch. I was hunting FS land and parked on a public road. Nothing answered immediately.
When I was about halfway through my sandwich two longbeards crossed the road about 100 yds in front of my truck, passing through barbed wire fences on both sides of the road, and climbed up on a fallen tree to look for that hen who had made that call 15 minutes before. I sat in my truck and watched as those two longbeards eventually walked up the fenceline directly across from my truck and began gobbling... searching for that hen.
Those two were motivated to break several of the conventional rules mentioned in the books, and by you above.
Please don't be offended by my disagreement, but biology and what we know of it is an evolving science. And so is wildlife psychology... if such a thing exists, and I believe it does.

Othmar Vohringer said...

Situations like you describe do happen at times but they are rare in my experience. I am not offended and as an animal behaviorist I am aware that biology, as all animal study, is an evolving science that is why I keep studying and observing. Yes there is such a thing as animal psychology, not the twisted kind we humans use, but it still it could be called that.


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