There was an outdoor writer many years ago that opined that turkey hunters fell into 3 categories.
1) From 1 to 20 turkeys, the hunter is trying his best to learn how to hunt turkeys
2) From 20 to 40 turkeys, the hunter is trying to tell everyone else how to hunt turkeys
3) From 40 turkeys on, the hunter has learned to shut up and keep his opinions to himself.
Look, I don’t mean to be telling y’all how to hunt turkeys, but I’ve been at it most of 40 years. The way I look at it, sometimes it helps walking through the cow pasture if someone points out the plops before you step in them.
When I first started turkey hunting, I was convinced of several things.
1) Turkeys like to roost near water. They like to flop down and go straight away to water, and from there to feed.
2) The only way to hunt turkeys in the morning was to get out, get as close to a roost as you dared and get between the turkeys and their closest source of water and call the gobs off the roost.
3) If that didn’t work, it was time to start hiking, using locator calls along the way to get gobblers to sound off, and then sit yourself down beside a big tree and call him in.
4) If that didn’t work, it was probably time to go in. When I started it wasn’t even legal to hunt turkeys past noon, so it must be bad for the turkeys somehow.
I spent the first 20 years or so having a terrible time of it. I could go back and give y’all a rundown of all the wrongheadedness, but none of what I thought in those first twenty years of hunting turned out to be true. About 15 years ago, I started to have glimmers that what I was doing was all fouled up, and started thinking for myself. That is the key. Yes, I read a lot of books and magazine articles. I rented lots of videos. They were all by well-known legends of turkey hunting. I’ve even met some legends in my time. However, the breakthrough came when I started thinking for myself.
When I got my own property, I immediately started turkey hunting the way I’d been taught. On my 200 acres, Turkey Catechisms #1 and #2 dictated that I take off every morning and go to the lowest elevation on the farm, get down into the creek bottom and sidle up to a roost. By the time that scenario played out, it would be about 8 AM, and I would start doing the old Run & Gun thing all over the property. By 10, I’d be tuckered out and go back to the house for a cup of coffee. Wash, Rinse, Repeat. That almost invariably led to failure. In all my years of hunting turkeys, I have never seen a turkey pitch down off the roost and go grab a drink of water. The closest to this was about 30 years ago, I was out bow hunting deer on the last weekend of bow season and witnessed a gobbler deliberately break through the ice on a small creek so he and the rest of the flock could get the flowing water underneath.
Where all this running and gunning thing got me into trouble was that the idea had been coined by turkey hunters that had vast tracts of public land to hunt. Me? I could walk out the front door and be at the farthest edge of the property in 30 minutes, taking my time as I went. There wasn’t enough property there to run, and I was probably mucking things up by using a locator call and my big loud box call way to much.
It finally dawned on me that I was invariably finding turkeys out in the pastures on top of the ridges, and it finally sunk in that the best thing to do was to stay up on the ridge top and wait for the turkeys to come to me, rather than start down in the bottoms and chase them all morning on their way to the top.
Now comes the tricky part. By this time, I had started corresponding on a lot of outdoor forums. Along about 2008, I found Turkey & Turkey Hunting’s new forum. I popped on for look-see and immediately got assaulted by the old-schoolers. What I was doing wasn’t hunting turkeys. I was ambushing them. It as a sin as great as using a pop-up blind and decoys. One fellow actually likened it unfavorably to being pro-Abortion. Blah, blah, blah. Eventually, the old-schoolers all wandered off and infected some other forum. I ended up a pro-staffer at T&TH.
I want to give ya’ll some advice. Think for yourselves. There are enough turkeys out there for everyone now. You can hunt them the way you see fit. For me, that meant sitting my butt down and letting the gobblers come to me. It is not really what they call ambushing. That would imply I don’t call them. I do. I just don’t go chasing after them. Over the years, I figured out I was putting my butt down by the same trees, so eventually I gave up trying to act surprised over it. I stopped being hell-bent on trying to call gobblers off the roost. I don’t give up. I found out the gobblers are usually very henned-up after flydown. By 0900, they’re a lot more cooperative, and they are far more willing to come to a call. I stopped being all wound up at sunrise and learned flydown was just the overture. Over the years, I have had an increasing number of gobblers pitch down off the roost and come to me. I guess when I stopped trying, I stopped sounding so needy. Who wants to date a needy chick, right?
The Honey Hole looking towards the road
The old-schoolers did have one thing right. If you can find a tree that is wider than your shoulders at the base, this is the ideal spot for placing your butt while you wait for the turkeys to arrive. The thing they did not realize is that you can put your butt down by the same tree, day after day, year after year and get similar results. All that hiking around never got me to where I could sit and watch turkeys for long periods of time. I’m now watching the great-great-great-great-great. . . whatever grand dads of the turkeys I was hunting back in 2001. They enter the same fields at the same times from the same directions. Furthermore, gobblers that strut in the same corner of the pasture have similar personalities to the gobblers that strutted there a decade ago.
I found out a lot of other things to be true. If I have a mind to, I can go out to one of the pastures where I see gobblers in the afternoon and high-ball a box call from Noon until I start hearing the hens flying up to roost. Some days a gobbler will come, sometimes from long distances, to be with that loud hen. I have learned all sorts of tricks like that, but I had to start by opening my mind to the possibilities and look at the turkeys and the land with my own eyes and use my own head.
No, e, I’m not going to tell you how to hunt turkeys. When I was pro-staffing, I never tried to put myself forward as an expert turkey hunter. If I am, I am only an expert on my little 200 acre plot. No, the best I ever claimed to be was an expert beginning turkey hunter. 40 seasons on, I’m still just getting started.