A loud boominggobble erupted from across the wide mountain stream. The strong currents andwaist-deep, bone-chilling water had kept the tom safe from hunters all seasonon this otherwise hard-hit tract of public land. But after the second gobble, Icouldn’t stand it. I quickly unlaced my boot strings and stripped down to myboxer shorts. The first step into the frigid water nearly took my breathaway.
As I began toquestion my decision, a third gobble from the fired-up longbeard provided themotivation I needed to push forward. On the other side, I climbed back into myclothes and began making my way up the steep incline. The first yelp from mymouth 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, manysportsmen are hesitant to hunt public land because of the competition fromother hunters. All that pressure tends to make turkeys silent and difficult tocall. Don’t despair; by following these seven steps, you can successfully tagtoms on public land while other hunters scratch their heads.
1 GET INSHAPE Jeff Budz is a turkey-hunting fanatic who shares my passion for hunting publicland. In fact, Budz has taken all four subspecies of turkeys on public land andcurrently has 35 grand slams under his belt. Now he helps others do the samethrough his Web site, tagitworldwide.com. Budget-conscious Budz forgoes guidesand plans his hunts himself. He keeps costs to a minimum by often sleeping inhis vehicle, eating food packed from home and targeting land that is open toeveryone. But above all, he has found that getting and staying in top shape ishis best advantage. When hitting an area where other hunters are present, it’scrucial to be the first one to set up on a gobbling bird.
“You have tobe in top condition to successfully hunt public land. I prefer running over anyother form of exercise. This type of conditioning is cheap and can be donealmost anywhere. Without question, running enables me to be ready when it’stime to close the gap,” Budz says.
2 GO THEDISTANCE Being in good physical shape will also allow you to target areas that otherhunters overlook or are too lazy to hunt.
“I go as faraway 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, sleepin, eat three meals at the lodge and hunt within two hundred yards of thetruck. These same guys wonder why they’ve only shot a few birds in theirlifetime. In order to be consistent, you have to go where otherswon’t.”
To Budz, thismeans going deep to locate and roost birds, walking out in darkness or campingnearby and getting up early to be right there when the turkeys fly down.
It is vital tofocus your efforts on hard-to-reach areas. Eliminate locations that offer quickand easy access, since these are the places that most often attract otherhunters. Crossing natural barriers such as rivers, streams, cliffs and thicketsmight lead to sites other hunters have ignored.
Enter heavilyhunted 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 ifpossible.
3 DO YOURHOMEWORK Research an area before hunting it. Get on the phone and talk to area wildlifebiologists, hunting stores, local members of the National Wild TurkeyFederation and forest service workers or rangers. These people work in andaround the areas where the turkeys you want to hunt live and can give youvaluable information about the location of birds as well as their dailyhabits.
Get atopographical map or recent aerial photo of the places your sources suggest andmark any trails, parking lots or other features that will likely make it easyfor others to reach the area. Then identify steep ridges, wide creeks and otherland features that will deter fellow hunters. Note the spots that are farbeyond where others are likely to hunt. Most turkey hunters won’t stray morethan several hundred yards from a path. Figure out the best way to access theseareas and take time to scout them before you hunt.
4 MAKE A BACKUPPLAN When hunting a place that’s accessible to everyone, you must have a backup planin case somebody is already hunting a spot you planned to hit. In fact, youshould have several fallback spots. Locating more than one longbeard anddetermining how to reach the area where each lives can save your hunt.
Having multiplehunting sites within close proximity or short distances from one another isalso important, so you can minimize driving time and maximize hunting time.This strategy is also useful when birds aren’t gobbling in a particularlocation. If it’s quiet in the first spot you hit, jump in your truck and getover to one where the toms might be more active.
5 HUNT BADWEATHER Rainy, windy and even snowy conditions, while presenting challenges, will alsokeep other hunters indoors. During inclement weather focus your efforts onlow-lying areas that are out of the wind as well as fields that provide birdswith a good view of approaching danger in the noisy conditions. Set up and callloudly but sparingly. Be patient; keep your eyes peeled and your movement to aminimum.
The wind and therain will probably drown out any sound of an approaching turkey, so it will beeasy for one to slip in on you and make you out if you are moving around.
6 HUNTMIDWEEK 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 getspookier. Odds are, if you hear a tom gobble, you won’t be the only guy goingafter it. Anyone who has ever hunted public land has a story that involves hissetup being crashed by another hunter and his hunt ruined.
Once the firstweek of the season is over, many public areas remain relatively untouchedduring the week. That’s why it’s a great time to schedule some vacation days orcall in sick with turkey fever.
7 KEEP AT IT Without a doubt, persistence is one of the most important traits a hunter canpossess. 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 thewoods are silent, take heart; the turkeys are still there. Set up and bepatient. This is the attitude and effort it takes to be successful when huntingpublic land.
Forconsistent success on public land, be willing to hike far from existing trailsand parking lots to spots where turkeys are less apt to have been pressured byother hunters.