By Matt Johnson
Now that deer season is a distant memory, many of us here in Iowa are switching gears to begin pursuing turkeys. The excitement that comes from a tom gobbling on the roost, to having him strut all the way across a field right into your decoys, is what we all look forward to every spring. Unfortunately, more often than not, it doesn’t happen that way. In all reality turkey hunting is very difficult and challenges are around every corner in the turkey woods. That is the way it should be or else it just wouldn’t be that much fun! However, as hunters our goal is to always come back home with a tom in the back of a truck. Below I have listed 10 topics that can help you increase your odds of bagging a tom this year.
Knowing the terrain you will be hunting and the features it has will help you get closer to your prey undetected. If you are hunting land that you spent countless hours in during the fall, you have an obvious advantage, because you already know the way the land lays and have probably found a few ambush sites. For others who are hunting new properties, if it’s at all possible, try and get out there early and scout the land. Look for obvious travel routes, roost sites, ambush spots, and entrance and exits for you to remain undetected from the wary eyes of the turkeys.
2. Practice, practice, practice your calling
Calling to a wild turkey isn’t as hard as some people think it is. You don’t necessarily need to know all the calls, but familiarize yourself with basics such as yelps, purrs, and clucks. Knowing these simple calls will help you get closer to your prey and increase your odds of success this spring. While you don’t have to sound like a pro on the calls you should strive to improve the sounds you are making. Listen to dvds, YouTube videos, go to calling competitions and try and mimic each sound. The more realistic you sound the better chance you will have at calling in birds on a more regular basis.
3. Pattern Your Shotgun/Stay Sharp With The Bow
Knowing how the shells you use pattern at different yardages will help you be successful in filling your tag. If you don’t know how well they shoot, there is always that chance that you could wound the bird or miss completely. For those of us who use archery equipment, be sure to continue shooting even after deer season closes. Practicing creates muscle memory, and it will be second nature when the opportunity arises in the woods. If you can get your hands on a 3D turkey target go for it…lifelike practice is the best!
4. Roosting birds.
If you can put the turkeys to bed you are in good shape for the next day. Meaning every night you should try and find where the tom/s are roosting. 9 times out of 10 that is where they will be the next morning. If you are not able to roost them in the evening, having a locater call such as an owl or coyote howler, even a gobble call, could create a shock gobble at dawn. Knowing exactly what tree the birds are in will aide in slipping in on them under the cover of darkness without spooking anything. Another thing to keep in mind while doing this is to use calls sparingly. You are already close to the birds, and you don’t want them to see you move before they fly down. Call enough to get a tom’s attention and let him know where you are at. Once you have done that call just enough to keep his interest. The only time I call aggressively when I have a bird roosted is if I am competing against a wound up hen. The goal is to get the tom to fly my direction before the wound up hen fly’s down.
5. Turkeys will often use the same travel routes from day to day.
Figure out where the turkeys want to be and set up there. Hunting in a turkeys’ natural travel corridor can be very useful, especially if hunting “call shy” birds. Your goal is to follow their patterns throughout the day. Where do they roost, where do they fly down to, where do they go an feed, where do they go to strut, back to feed, and then finally roost again. If you know their predominant patterns you will have a leg up and stay on birds all day long.
6. Decoy Placement.
Knowing how to place decoys is important. If you are using the “run and gun” method for hunting turkeys, locate the tom on the ground by getting him to gobble. Close the distance on him if he is a little ways off. If he is gobbling to your left, you will want to place your decoy on the right side of you. I like to place it anywhere from 20 to 30 yards away from where I am set up. When he comes in, he will be looking for the hen that was calling to him. Having the decoy set this way will draw him past you instead of head on, creating a better shot and less chance of the tom hanging up out of range.
If you will be hunting with archery equipment, you will want to place the decoy closer to your blind. When bow hunting, I place decoys anywhere from 5 to 10 yards from the blind. I want the birds as close as possible, since turkeys don’t stand still for very long. Proper decoy placement is vital!
7. Don’t Over and Under Call!
Let the birds tell you how to call. If you are hunting public ground or heavily pressured areas, chances are you will want to use your calls sparingly. Over calling to a wise tom can make him nervous and push him away from you. On the other hand, if you have a tom that gobbles at every sound you make, keep on him. I try to call lightly until I figure out what the bird wants to do. I have had turkeys hang up at 200 yards and not come in until I kept calling to them. The second I quit calling, they quit coming. I have also had birds that were “call shy,” gobbling once or twice. If that happens, put the calls down and just be quiet, if you must call to him, I would suggest a light purr or cluck.
8. Be patient!!!
If you have a bird jumping all over your calls right at daylight and he either doesn’t come in or you see him just out of range, wait. Chances are a “real” hen cut him off before he got to you. Just stay where you are and wait. After the hen goes to sit on the nest, the tom will be out “looking” for more hens. He will remember where you were at daylight and will come back to investigate. If you stay where you are, you will be ready when he does.
9. Hunt With A Partner.
You can use the second person to run the calls while you focus on making the shot and vice versa. Another use for a second person is if you spot birds in a field, set up on them and have your partner drop back 20 yards or so behind you and call. Turkeys are amazing at pinpointing where a sound is coming from, and if that sound is not exactly where you are sitting, they are less likely to spot you when they come in.
10. Safety First!
Safety should always be front and center of your attention when hunting! Make sure you know if there will be any other hunters in the area, let friends/family know where you are hunting, carry a cell phone with you, use fluorescent orange flagging on your vest when walking around, always be sure of your target and what lies beyond. Bottom line be safe and use what you have learned in hunters safety classes, experience, and common sense. No turkey is worth injury or worse death!
Spring turkey hunting is an exciting time of year, with turkeys gobbling and strutting looking for a receptive hen. It is even more fun when everyone is safe. Keep these tips in mind this spring while you are chasing those gobblers, and you too will increase your odds of success. Be sure to check out Hunting is My Life on facebook and use the #huntingismylife when you post your hunting photos to facebook and instagram. Stay safe and good luck to everyone this spring!