We are on the eve of turkey season and all you will eventually find a hung-up gobbler. Sometimes changing position can bring the bird it, but not always. Too much moving will completely shut down a hunt. More so, moving is never advised in a turkey woods where other hunters may be, even if they are trespassing.
Yet moving can either make or break a hunt, depending on how you do it. Here are some tips:
SHORT MOVES: Some moves don’t have to be far. I once watched the top-expert hunter, Brad Harris move 10 feet up a grassy bank after calling to gobblers down a big, woody hill for at least 45 minutes. He sat and listened 10 minutes before calling again, slightly farther up the bank. The gobblers noted his new position and apparently thought the hen was slipping away. Soon two big gobblers stepped out in the sunlight, their bright red heads made dandy targets.
HOW TO MOVE: Mike Roux and I once crawled out slowly and walked at least 50 yards backward before making a wide circle. We were after a gobbler that simply wanted to go the other way. I have done the same with other professional turkey hunters. The key is keeping track of the slow-moving gobbler by shock calling. Then make a wide circle and reposition ahead of the bird.
A fast-moving gobbler is generally gone unless they decide to turn and find the trailing hen – but don’t count on that happening. I have hunted with many of the nation’s best turkey callers. They don’t call in every bird and neither will you. Even live turkeys don’t always call in other live turkeys. A fast-moving gobbler is either spooked or headed for some predetermined destination. Chances are no amount of sexy hen talk will turn him, but it has happened. You can’t always predict a gobbler’s behavior. They can do some strange, unexpected maneuvers, so always be alert.
Crunching brush is not totally a problem if you sound like a turkey or deer and not a human. Only a human sounds like a human in the woods by walking with a constant rhythm. Turkeys move then stop then move again. Most are not in a hurry. Those who are moving quickly may signal danger to others.
Moving on a gobbler requires moving slightly faster than usual when hunting. Too fast creates noise that will alert the bird. Not fast enough won’t allow you to gain the required position before the gobbler is gone. Experience is your best teacher on judging speeds and trails when changing positions on a moving or hung-up bird. Never generalize gobblers. React to what he gives you.
KNOW THE PROPERTY: Knowing the area you hunt and how gobblers use this area can be great help for repositioning. Some gobblers travel through funnels like motorists on the King’s Highway. Others move on well-covered trails alongside row crops or through the middle of strips. Others move along ridge lines. Turkeys can be creatures of habit, yet they often change their travel habits because of food source changes or excessive danger like hunting pressure invades their lives. No doubt scouting gobbler habits and travel routes can give you better ideas of where to move, especially early in the season.
SET UP FOR SUCCESS: Where to set up is another important factor. You can ruin a good stalk by setting up in the wrong spot. The key is thinking like a gobbler. Many years ago I sat down in an overgrown spot with little visibility. A big gobbler walked into the area and paced back and forth about 80 yards away on a small rise.
He was plainly visible and starring in my direction at the hen decoy. He could barely see the head and tail over several gooseberry bushes. I could not move the bird with my best calling. He strutted around, gobbling and looking at the decoy, expecting her to move his direction. He would not move into that thick cover – probably why he had lived to be an old long beard.
The turkey’s No. 1 defense is eyesight. A gobbler does not like to walk into thick areas of cover where he can’t see danger. He may avoid the direct approach and come in from an unexpected direction, or not at all. Their second line of defense is hearing. They usually can pinpoint the source of sound within a few feet. A longbeard will eventually reach an approach point where he should see a hen. He may stop or his mood might change. He might even stop gobbling and approach quietly, not an uncommon occurrence for birds who are pressured from human or predator traffic.
SAFETY CONCERNS: Avoid moving on a hung-up bird on public ground or again, where hunters could be. Sadly, a few hunters shoot at movement. You can’t be too careful in public or private turkey woods. Avoid using turkey calls while you move. I always sit against a wide tree to avoid being shot in the back by a slob hunter. Even private woodlots sometimes get uninvited visitors. So be careful!
Moving can mean walking up on another hunter. Never wave or speak. Some suggest that you whistle a popular tune. Waving or other types of movement may receive a load of turkey shot the hard way. Daydreaming hunters will occasionally snap shoot. Hunters who are deeply concentrating on their hunt may be just as likely to raise and fire without thinking. Strange how the human mind can work. Most who shot another hunter swore they saw wildlife.
When and where to move on a gobbler is best learned by trial and error. Some lessons in the turkey woods are learned the hard way.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at email@example.com.