© By Othmar Vohringer
When the pressure is on it needs skill, a bit of luck and these 20 tips to shoot a wily public land gobbler.
1.) Rain is your Friend
The majority of turkey hunters are, what I call “fair weather hunters”. They stay home when it rains. Sure turkeys hate rain too but they still have to eat and go about their daily business of ensuring a new generation. Turkeys seem to know about mans habits of staying home when the weather turns sour and move more and less alert than usual. This is the time to call less and stalk more. In the rain your movement is less noisy then at other times. Try to get as close to the birds as possible and keep your calling friendly. This is not the time to be aggressive.
2.) Ambush Toms
When you spot a tom watch which direction he is moving and then try to intercept him. Some pressured birds will actually move away from any calling. This is especially the case if your calling “vocabulary” is in the learning stage. There is no shame in walking out of the woods with a turkey hanging over your back that you have ambushed. Actually ambushing a tom takes more skill then calling them in.
3.) Think Positive
If you don’t get a bird the first day don’t think, I am a failure, think instead, I want to hear a bird today or tomorrow and see what he is doing so I know his routine and get him the next day or next week. Keeping a positive attitude is what keeps you going back day after day, week after week. A positive attitude also frees your mind and lets you observe more.
4.) Use Your Eyes and Ears
Even if a gobbler doesn’t answer you, never assume he is not close by or lost interest. The biggest mistake many hunters make is to give up to soon and go to a new spot. Public land birds are extremely cautious and often come in to calling without uttering a sound. Before you move to a new location probe your surrounding carefully with your eyes, using binoculars. Listen carefully for any sound that could announce the toms approach.
5.) Move Like a Predator
Don’t trample though the woods like an elephant. When you head to your spot stop often, listen, look and call. Then wait a few minutes before you move on. Be stealthy like a tiger when you move on. If you run to the woods from one spot to the next chances are you will be caught flat-footed by a turkey or just as bad spook a deer that then in turn alerts the turkeys to your presence.
6.) Get in Early, Stay Late
Wherever possible find pockets with fewer hunters. Then be there early and stay until the last minute of legal hunting time. Many toms are killed because the hunter put in that little bit extra time when everybody else went back to camp. Most hunters leave the woods earlier than they have to and it is then that time when turkeys start to move more.
7.) Always Have a Backup Plan
Nowhere is it more important to have a plan “B” than on public land. Never fall in the trap of thinking that the “hot spot” you found is your secret. If you do you will quickly learn on opening day that your “hot spot” is five other hunters “hot spot. You need always an alternate place to go. Good scouting habits will give that option.
8.) Be Prepared to Walk The Distance
It is very tempting to sit down on the first promising location as close to the vehicle as possible, but most other hunters have that same mentality. It is not uncommon on heavy hunted public land so see hunters sitting within eyesight of each other. Walk further where other hunters don’t go early in the morning before legal shooting light and then work your way back after the other hunters have packed up and gone home.
9.) Hunt When Others Don’t
Turkeys are keenly aware what is going on around them, they know at what times and days hunters invade the woods. Turkeys have learned that weekends are the most dangerous times for them to be out and about. Try to get a day off work during a normal weekday, like Wednesday or Thursday. You will find that you have the woods to yourself and turkeys are less paranoid. It is very likely that you can kill a turkey during a regular weekday where it is impossible to kill one on the weekend.
10.) Use Other Hunters to Your Advantage
If you see or get a feeling that most of the hunters are in the same area as you, then the turkeys do too. Go to the opposite area of where the majority of the hunters are, the turkeys do too. Make sure you cover your tracks so other hunters will not follow you. On public land it is always advisable to figure out what the other hunters do as much as figuring out what the turkeys do and then do something or go somewhere different.
11.) Hunt the Thick Stuff
every turkey hunter loves to sit on a woodland edge overlooking a lovely green field. It’s tempting to sit down and stake a few decoys out in the middle of a field with a great few off in the distance and watch a big tom working his way in. Because it so tempting you can bet your bottom dollar that every hunter in the area does exactly that. But consider this. A big 3 to 4 year old tom didn’t get to that age by running across open fields to every decoy or call. The young and stupid birds to that and they will not make it into their second year of life.
Set up in good thick cover the toms use to approach open fields, you just increased your chances of killing a mature boss gobbler dramatically, because no other hunter will do that.
12.) Be Aggressive
On private land you have the luxury of hunting conservatively. Then getting more aggressive as the season goes on. On public land you do not have that privilege. Here it’s the rule of the jungle, first to come first to take. During the first few days of the season call aggressively, try to outcall every other hunter, while covering as much ground as possible to strike up a gobbler. When you this remember the tips above about moving around.
13.) Slow Down After the Initial Aggressiveness
After a few days of giving the gobblers an earful of your calling they can become wary. Now is the time to be more conservative with your movements and calls. Loud repetitive yelping and cutting can drive any spooky tom away. Try soft enticing “love talk”, short series of hen yelps, content clucks and putts of feeding hens, to add to the romance include a few heart melting purrs.
14.) If You Hear Gobbling Ones Get Up And Move
Many turkey hunters adhere to some sort of ritual like it is a law or something. When they hear a tom gobble they call again and wait for the second gobble. If you hear a gobble and are reasonably sure what direction it is coming from and that there are no hunters in the same area, get up and close the distance between you and the tom. The closer you can get the more likely the tom will come in and not change his mind half way in.
15.) Try a Different Locator Call
Again be different than other hunters. If the majority of hunters use a crow call use something different, like an owl hooter, pileated woodpecker. Personally I have never been a great fan of using coyote howls. Coyote have turkeys on their dinner menu. Enough said. However, I have been known to use an air horn and it worked like a charm.
16.) Find Out Where Not to Go
This is almost as important on public land as to find out where to go. If a flock of turkeys are roosted in a big old tree in plain sight of the highway or within other easy access, then you can be rest assured that every hunter seeing that will be “roosted” near that tree too. Joining them will make no sense at all. Instead, circle around behind the tree where access is not so easy and scout there for turkey sign and then set up. With that many hunters near the roosting tree it is very likely that the turkeys come of the roost and walk right up to you because they do not expect a hunter in that hard to access area.
17.) Hunt at Odd Times
The best times to hunt turkeys is when they are most active, which is from dawn to about 10:30am. After that most hens head to their nests. Most hunters consider this the toughest to kill a tom and go home. Boy, are they making a mistake. The early noon hours and where permitted the afternoon can be the best time to kill a gobbler. After most of the hens are nesting toms are busy looking for the remaining hens. This can be your ticket to score big.
18.) Use a Boat
If you have a boat use it to drift silently along a river and call. If you get a response park the boat and get him. If you miss continue down river with the boat. River bottoms make great turkey habitat, but is often difficult to access for hunters due to being plain visible to the resident turkeys. Turkeys never expect “danger” coming form the waterway and that makes them vulnerable to a silent hunter in a boat.
19.) Be Different
Instead of hunting the same piece of real estate with easy access, change and hunt the most unlikely spots where no other hunters go. You have nothing to loose only to win.
20.) Do Not Overcall
There is a fine line of calling to little and too much. You can pique a tom’s curiosity by calling sparingly and you can put him of by being a “chatter box”. Listen to the mood of the turkeys and how much they talk and then imitate that mood. Most hunters, especially on public land, call too much. Most hunters never kill a bird on public land. Strive to be different then anybody else and you will succeed where others don’t. As I said earlier, big old toms are perfectly aware of the habits of hunters, being different will fool them.
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