A loud booming gobble erupted from across the wide mountain stream. The strong currents and waist-deep, bone-chilling water had kept the tom safe from hunters all season on this otherwise hard-hit tract of public land. But after the second gobble, I couldn’t stand it. I quickly unlaced my boot strings and stripped down to my boxer shorts. The first step into the frigid water nearly took my breath away.
As I began to question my decision, a third gobble from the fired-up longbeard provided the motivation I needed to push forward. On the other side, I climbed back into my clothes and began making my way up the steep incline. The first yelp from my mouth call brought an immediate response as the gobbler rounded the corner. When he strutted into range, I squeezed the trigger to end a perfect hunt.
Certainly, many sportsmen are hesitant to hunt public land because of the competition from other hunters. All that pressure tends to make turkeys silent and difficult to call. Don’t despair; by following these seven steps, you can successfully tag toms on public land while other hunters scratch their heads.
1 Get in Shape
Jeff Budz is a turkey-hunting fanatic who shares my passion for hunting public land. In fact, Budz has taken all four subspecies of turkeys on public land and currently has 35 grand slams under his belt. Now he helps others do the same through his Web site, tagitworldwide.com. Budget-conscious Budz forgoes guides and plans his hunts himself. He keeps costs to a minimum by often sleeping in his vehicle, eating food packed from home and targeting land that is open to everyone. But above all, he has found that getting and staying in top shape is his best advantage. When hitting an area where other hunters are present, it’s crucial to be the first one to set up on a gobbling bird.
“You have to be in top condition to successfully hunt public land. I prefer running over any other form of exercise. This type of conditioning is cheap and can be done almost anywhere. Without question, running enables me to be ready when it’s time to close the gap,” Budz says.
2 Go the Distance
Being in good physical shape will also allow you to target areas that other hunters overlook or are too lazy to hunt.
“I go as far away from the trail as I can. My GPS is my best friend on these hunts,” says Budz. “Every spring I see guys who want to drink the night away, sleep in, eat three meals at the lodge and hunt within two hundred yards of the truck. These same guys wonder why they’ve only shot a few birds in their lifetime. In order to be consistent, you have to go where others won’t.”
To Budz, this means going deep to locate and roost birds, walking out in darkness or camping nearby and getting up early to be right there when the turkeys fly down.
It is vital to focus your efforts on hard-to-reach areas. Eliminate locations that offer quick and easy access, since these are the places that most often attract other hunters. Crossing natural barriers such as rivers, streams, cliffs and thickets might lead to sites other hunters have ignored.
Enter heavily hunted areas from the side of the property opposite its usual access point. Hike in from a spot far from a parking lot or venture in by boat if possible.
3 Do Your Homework
Research an area before hunting it. Get on the phone and talk to area wildlife biologists, hunting stores, local members of the National Wild Turkey Federation and forest service workers or rangers. These people work in and around the areas where the turkeys you want to hunt live and can give you valuable information about the location of birds as well as their daily habits.
Get a topographical map or recent aerial photo of the places your sources suggest and mark any trails, parking lots or other features that will likely make it easy for others to reach the arrea. Then identify steep ridges, wide creeks and other land features that will deter fellow hunters. Note the spots that are far beyond where others are likely to hunt. Most turkey hunters won’t stray more than several hundred yards from a path. Figure out the best way to access these areas and take time to scout them before you hunt.
[pagebreak] 4 Make a Backup Plan
When hunting a place that’s accessible to everyone, you must have a backup plan in case somebody is already hunting a spot you planned to hit. In fact, you should have several fallback spots. Locating more than one longbeard and determining how to reach the area where each lives can save your hunt.
Having multiple hunting sites within close proximity or short distances from one another is also important, so you can minimize driving time and maximize hunting time. This strategy is also useful when birds aren’t gobbling in a particular location. If it’s quiet in the first spot you hit, jump in your truck and get over to one where the toms might be more active.
**5 Hunt Bad Weather **
Rainy, windy and even snowy conditions, while presenting challenges, will also keep other hunters indoors. During inclement weather focus your efforts on low-lying areas that are out of the wind as well as fields that provide birds with a good view of approaching danger in the noisy conditions. Set up and call loudly but sparingly. Be patient; keep your eyes peeled and your movement to a minimum.
The wind and the rain will probably drown out any sound of an approaching turkey, so it will be easy for one to slip in on you and make you out if you are moving around.
6 Hunt Midweek
Hunting on the weekend is like shopping at a mall the week before Christmas. With more hunters competing for the same number of birds, the turkeys get spookier. Odds are, if you hear a tom gobble, you won’t be the only guy going after it. Anyone who has ever hunted public land has a story that involves his setup being crashed by another hunter and his hunt ruined.
Once the first week of the season is over, many public areas remain relatively untouched during the week. That’s why it’s a great time to schedule some vacation days or call in sick with turkey fever.
7 Keep at It
Without a doubt, persistence is one of the most important traits a hunter can possess. Hunt the entire season with the same passion you had on opening day. Go early, stay longer and be willing to do what other hunters won’t. If the woods are silent, take heart; the turkeys are still there. Set up and be patient. This is the attitude and effort it takes to be successful when hunting public land.