Turkey Hunting: 8 Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Experience in the turkey woods will teach you plenty of things. Chief among them: turkeys don’t read rule books. After … Continued

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Experience in the turkey woods will teach you plenty of things. Chief among them: turkeys don’t read rule books. After years of chasing longbeards, I’ve learned some lessons the hard way and overruled some ‘rules of thumb.’ But it doesn’t take a lifetime of turkey hunting to hunt like a veteran. Start here, by putting these 8 turkey hunting misconceptions to rest.

1. Spooked Turkeys Return
Bump a turkey and your day’s hunt is done, some say. Don’t you believe it.

On a recent hunt in Missouri, a hunting buddy and I watched a strutter and his hen do their thing far across a wide field. We made plans to reposition and crash their party. Problem is we bumped the lovebirds.

“What now?” my partner hissed. “Let’s go sit tight exactly where they were,” I said. We called softly and waited.

“Strutter to our left,” I whispered, easing the shotgun toward the longbeard. Boom. Down. Nice bird.

2. Turkeys Cross Fences
We’ve all seen those pictures of gobblers puzzling over hog-wire obstructions, stone walls and barbed wire–stopped on the other side. Turkeys won’t ever cross fences, some say.

Although some turkeys seem obstinate about crossing fences, usually when you are trying to call them to your side, others have no such qualms. Over the years I’ve seen many gobblers come to the calls, stop at a fence, fly up and sail over to my side.
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3. Many Calling Tactics Work**
“Call softly every 15 minutes and wait that bird out.”

That’s what veteran Pennsylvania turkey hunters at roadside diners told impressionable youngsters like me back in the 1970s when I first turkey hunted. Well yeah, that works, sometimes.

Now, all these years later, I initiate contact with turkeys on a bird-by-bird deal. Some need that old-school soft sell. Others require that you hammer them with everything in your vest–early and often. Hear them out and feel them out. They will typically tell you what they like and don’t like.

4. Weather Doesn’t Always Matter
It’s too hot, it’s too cold, it’s too wet or it’s too dry. Excuses are many, but few truly impact turkey behavior. The birds need to be out in it regardless. You need to be out in it as well. If it’s raining, camp out on a field edge. If it’s too cold, tuck a few handwarmers in your pocket. Weather rarely impacts gobblers for any extended period of time.

5. Post-Miss Redemption
Miss a shot? That gobbler won’t come back to the same spot, some say. At least that’s what they told me. Sure, the feeling you have in that moment is sort of like dropping an end-zone pass. Maybe it’s you who wants to leave this location. Shake it off.

Turkeys deal with loud noises all the time, with predator attacks and suspicious stuff. Chill out and regroup. Let the woods settle down for a while and try using some soft calls once they do. You may even be able to call that bird back.

6. Camouflage Is Required
Don’t get me wrong, I love my camouflage. The truth: You can wear almost anything in the woods, so long as you don’t move.

Sure, camouflage allows you to become a tree. It builds confidence. Wiggle like an NFL cheerleader while wearing it though and that gobbler still might run away.

It’s the one constant rule in the turkey woods: Sit still, period. Movement alerts turkeys, and even spells potential danger.

7. The Un-Callable Gobbler
I’ve heard this one many times in turkey camp regarding a hung-up bird that won’t come: “That must have been an old gobbler you were working–we’ve been hunting him the last 4 or 5 years.”

All due respect, but my guess is that you’ve been chasing more than one turkey during that time in your preferred habitat. It may even have been a hard-to-sell jake. Older doesn’t always mean more difficult.

8. Mistakes Are Made
That turkey can only make one big error and it’s over. You can make plenty and will. Keep at it. Never stop until the season closes. The highs and lows of turkey hunting are many. Don’t beat yourself up too much. Enjoy it.
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Photo: National Wild Turkey Federation_