Why do we hunt turkeys? Every spring I go after them, and every spring I seem to find myself using language that would make a sailor blush and vowing to give it up. It’s not as though I’ve never been successful at it, but they rank pretty high as one of the most frustrating birds to hunt.
But it’s the challenge that makes them worth it, isn’t it? If it was easy, it wouldn’t be as much fun. The wild turkey is a great symbol of our hunting heritage. If Ben Franklin had had his way, it would be our national bird, supplanting that the bald eagle. Each spring hunters from all over this great land head to the woods in search of a long beard. Some of us are motivated by a strong desire to spend time outside after a long winter. Others are after the thrill of the hunt. Me? I’m out for blood.
It always seems that something weird happens during turkey hunting. My favorite was when I pelted one at less than 20 yards. I shot him right in the face. Woo-Hoo! Turkey down! I stood up and so did the turkey. Wait, I hit him - HARD. He was flopping around, feathers flying… Dead bird, right? Wrong. You’ve got to be kidding me! I hate turkeys. I hate them every year. This year was no different.
I think the harsh winter we experienced in the upper Midwest took a toll on the turkeys. I just flat out didn’t see anything much during my seasons. I haven’t seen much since either, which is odd, because I usually have tons of birds running around now that the hens should have hatched broods. It kind of makes it a little easier to take, but not by much.
Finding birds on the roost
To find roosting birds, start by slipping into an area in mid-afternoon that you’re pretty sure has some gobblers around. Scout the open areas positioned not far from stands of trees that look “roosty.” Be calm and quiet, listening for turkeys moving to a likely roosting branch.
You’ll hear them go up in the roost. You might even see them go. Once in the trees, birds will often move from branch to branch and make some noise. This is when you bail out and plan for the next morning.
Calling all birds and other gear
There are a lot of similarities between hunting waterfowl and hunting turkeys. Calling can make the difference. You can easily over call to a turkey, just the same as you can to a flock of ducks or geese. The only way to know is to go and gain valuable experience, both by hunting and scouting.
There are about as many call makers out there for turkeys as there are waterfowl and just about every hunter has his/her favorites. The goal is the same, however. You want to try to sound like a real bird.
Decoy or not to decoy
There are several schools of thought when it comes to decoying turkeys. One prominent turkey killer I know said that using a decoy can ruin a hunt because once the live birds see the fake ones, they often don’t come in close enough.
However, we’ve all seen footage of toms thumping jake decoys and there is the notion that once the bird fixates on the decoy, it isn’t looking at you, giving you the chance to level it with your shotgun or bow.
Where I hunt, a tactic I use quite often is to place the decoys behind me and slightly uphill of my position. I like to hunt a field with a wooded hill next to it. The turkeys are often in the field, or come out across it. They see the decoy and hear the calls and start into the woods/up the hill, only to be intercepted by a load of #6 shot right in the kisser from the barrel of the A400 Xtreme. Well, in theory anyway. It works though. I’ve had success with the decoys in front of me too, but not quite as much as I do with the dekes behind me, especially when I’m hunting alone.
Turkey hunting can be frustrating, but it is a great pastime and is highly addictive. For many, it is the only option for breaking out of the winter blues and getting back out into the woods after a long winter. I still hate them, but can’t wait to hate them all over again next spring.