Written by: Mike Mancl (@mjmancl)
Every turkey hunter whether novice or expert has experienced this moment. It is a beautiful spring morning. You are working a bird off in the distance and it would appear he is coming in on a string. Then, like a light switch the gig is up and the gobbler is nowhere to be found. You leave the woods scratching your head as to what went wrong. I’ve personally experienced this feeling oh so many times as a turkey hunter over the last 20+ seasons. There is a plethora of mishaps that can determine the success of a hunt. I’m here to tell you by preventing a few of these mistakes you can dramatically increase your odds and make almost any bird killable.
Sin #1: Calling & Locating Without Set Up
I’ve seen myself along with countless seasoned turkey hunters make this mistake time and time again. You are on a mid morning run and gun session, walking and calling through the timber every 125 yards. All of a sudden a bird hammers and you are flat out caught off guard with your pants at your ankles. You go into a panic, where do you put the decoys? Where should I sit? There is not a tree or reasonable place to put a decoy in sight. The bird is coming in hot and it’s too late by the time you are ready. The bird has either lost interest in your previous call or he picks you off and is already in the next county. Don’t allow this to happen to you.
When you are in run and gun mode, consider your set up prior to ever firing off a call. If it means walking another 50-100 yards further than you’d like to, do it! You can’t kill a bird if you don’t have the proper set up. Even if it means inching into the hardwoods further than you’d like, so be it. I would personally rather risk bumping a bird in a spot I can set up, then locate a bird from a position where I don’t have a chance in hell.
Sin #2: Failure to Create A Turkey Friendly Set Up
Turkeys are a very visual bird. More often than not they need to see what they are getting themselves into before they will commit to any set up. It puts a bird at ease when they can see your set and determine what they want to do. Even the slightest change in terrain can prevent a bird from working to your decoys causing them to hang up or skirt your set just out of gun or bow range.
How do you prevent this from happening? Utilize flat ridge tops or open bottoms for your set ups. This will allow the bird to either approach on the same playing field as you or come down to your decoys while they are in plain view. Set up in as much open cover as possible to prevent a hang up. Many times hunters set up in thick vegetation. They get a bird to work to them and then it decides to hang up out of range. If he can’t see your set up in the approach, most birds will hang back naturally wanting the hen, or in this case the hunter to close the distance. When setting up on a field edge, I try to utilize the corners and the ends of a field. Why? By forcing the bird to the corner it does two things: One, it prevents them from trying to circle around your backside. And two, it draws them into a killable range the majority of the time from the moment they hit the field. The sooner you can kill a bird when he hits the field the better. The more you allow a bird to work a field you risk the odds of him either working out of range or getting picked up by ensuing hens. If that happens it turns in to a waiting game that quite often doesn’t bode for you. Hit up the corners and you’ll kill them much quicker.
Sin #3: You Call Too Much or You Didn’t Call Enough
We all love to call and work a bird into range. The rush you get when you hit your favorite mouth or friction call and a gobbler cuts you off is hard to beat. But throwing everything but the kitchen sink at them will 75% percent of the time end up with an unfilled tag. Calling is a vocalization mind game between two birds of the opposite sex. How you manipulate that game can drive a bird bonkers if done correctly.
One of my favorite calling tactics I like to use, I call the “give and take method.” If you can strike the interest of a bird, work him up, and then cut him off. It will drive him wild almost every time, and you will get him coming in on a string. All birds have their own breaking point. If you play the mind game with them, and keep them guessing where you are while showing slight interest, you will win. Calling too much a lot of the times gives away your location, expresses your interest in the gobbler, so in result he waits. He is going to always want you do all the work and come to him. Try to flip that mindset around and turn the table. Be sure to call enough to show your interest, however, you need to find that balance and establish that you aren’t coming to him. If you don’t call enough he may give up on looking and search for greener pastures.
Sin #4: Patience Kills and Doesn’t Kill
We all know the turkey hunters who go to there favorite 40 acre parcel pop up a ground blind, sit and wait. They call sparingly, spending hours on end awaiting a long beard to work into range. It can be an effective strategy for sure, but for me personally it’s not my cup of tea. When it comes to hunting turkeys, I enjoy the chase. The fast pace run and gun style in my opinion is what turkey hunting is all about.
Running and gunning however requires one of two things. Either a large amount of private parcels you have permission to hunt or public hunting access. The squatter approach can be done on any size of property large or small. Both methods can be very deadly, but in both cases there comes a time you need to know when your approach is not working.
When your run and gun tactics aren’t working it can often occur because the birds aren’t vocal given the time of day or they aren’t in search of a hen at that particular time. The heat of day can often drive birds into this state. Don’t call it quits just yet. Turn to the squatter approach. Find a field where birds frequent or hit up a shaded hardwoods spot. Be patient, make a few calls and you may be rewarded when a gobbler slips into your set.
If the squatter method isn’t working put on some miles. Walk logging roads, peak into fields, open CRP, or hop in the truck. Whatever you need to do to find or locate another gobbler. Squatting will work but you need the birds in your location to do so. If no birds are nearby find where they are spending their day. Most turkeys have there own daily schedule between fly down, strut zone, feeding, locating new hens, feeding, and returning to roost. If you begin to run and gun keep in mind where you have been seeing strutters mid-day or where you’ve heard gobbles during daylight hours.
Sin #5: Forget to Plan Your Moves
One of the biggest mistakes most turkey hunters make is they fail to make a plan of attack. More often then not your success is already determined from the moment you leave the vehicle. Whether you are going in for a morning roost set up or getting ready to put miles on the boots, if you don’t know your approach you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Layout your moves in advance. Where will we locate from? Where will we set up if they are roosting where we expect? Where will we go next if we don’t locate a bird? Theses are just a few things to consider. When you are walking and calling, plan how you will call your way through the timber. Where will you access a field so birds wont spook? Try to stick to the field edges where you can easily get set up on a tree row if needed, but limit your time walking in the open. Getting caught in an open field situation will most of the time result in the gig being blown. Utilize any contour so you can to put yourself out of sight of any birds until the time comes you wish to call or locate. Take a few minutes to layout the foundation of your hunt. You might be surprised how many more tags you fill.
Sin #6: Failure to Translate
What are you trying to tell the turkeys? I would bet many seasoned turkey hunters have failed to give any thought to the yelps and pitches that come out of their calls. With every frequency in your call you are expressing your demeanor to the bird you are trying to attract. Try to listen to the birds around you, “feel the room” you might say. The other birds vocalizations often can give you a feel for their current mood or activity taking place. Use their mood to either try and play along with the group or work the flock up and stand out as a boss bird. If you are just pushing air through your call just for shits you aren’t sending a message to anything. Study the birds and their vocalizations. Learn to decipher when they are excited, dying for communication, or want their quiet time. To talk turkey it takes many seasons of just listening and playing out situations, so begin to translate now.
Sin #7: Know When to Fight Another Day
I’m a firm believer any bird is killable. Whether they are henned up or reside in a heavily hunted area. They can be killed. There will always be sometime in that birds daily routine he is susceptible to being harvested. The days where he is henned up, not working to a call, or in a location where a set up isn’t possible, learn to fight another day. Go back to the drawing board. Determine where you need to be to cut him off. Try hunting him during a different time of day when his hens are on nest and when he is all alone. Wait again until he is in a killable spot and put a sneak on him or close in for a set up. Don’t be afraid to pull the plug and back out. The worst thing you can do is continue calling, risk bumping him off the property, or educate him any further with your calls or set ups. Let him go. Set the alarm clock, load up the coffee maker, and get ready to get after him tomorrow.