Take a Stand for Tough Turkeys
Tradition is a wonderful concept. Classic set-ups on roosted turkeys are what we love. Knowing where the birds are roosting, getting there before dawn and setting up on them and following the routine we have all been taught, soft tree calls, fly down cackles and then maybe some aggressive cutting to get them fired up and coming in is a wonderful thing. If the birds are in the right frame of mind, traditional wisdom rocks, but what do you do if everything is thrown out of kilter for one reason or another?
Such was the case in Missouri in the spring of 2007. The combination of several factors had everything screwed up. A naturally occurring late spring, a cold snap and the state of Missouri moving the season up ten days, proved to make the 2007 season, one of the toughest on record in a number of years. The previous three years, the harvest total had tallied over 50,000 birds each year. With six days to go in the season, the state reported around 22,000 birds harvested.
I was guiding for IMB Outfitters. IMB is the premier whitetail and turkey outfitter in the Midwest. They offer guided and semi-guided hunts in five different states. Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Illinois for free ranging trophy whitetails and spring gobblers. (www.imbmonsterbucks.com)
The first couple weeks of the season were very frustrating, not only for the hunters, but also for the guides. Believe me! A good guide wants you to harvest a bird worse than you do. Itís a matter of getting the job done and if you are frustrated, your guide is probably twice as frustrated!
Birds that would normally come running in, screaming their heads off, would barely even look when you called to them. It was like the bar had just opened instead of being close to closing time. Traditional methods just werenít working like they normally did. When the birds are acting like this, chances are they arenít going to change overnight, so to be successful, we as turkey hunters have to change our tactics. As in all types of hunting, there are essential things we do that are important. Scouting, correctly setting up in the right place and paying attention to every detail normally increases our success.
Traditional scouting for turkeys means finding where they roost and making a good setup. The way the birds were acting this past season, I had to take my scouting a couple steps further. Instead of just knowing where they were roosting and setting up there, I focused on where the birds were going after they left the roost area, especially the hens! If I could identify where the girls were going, I knew the guys were going to show up eventually.
Another important part of scouting that is often overlooked are terrain features and travel corridors. I know this is starting to sound like deer hunting, but travel corridors work for turkeys too! Creeks, drainage ditches and thick brush are roadblocks that oftentimes force birds into traveling through certain spots.
A prime example of this is a property IMB has in Missouri. There are two fields next to each other, surrounded by timber. The bigger of the two is around 100 acres and the other is about thirty acres. A drainage ditch and a strip of timber that averages about twenty yards wide separate them. There is a big creek on the north side of the fields and another small creek on the south side. On each end of this ditch, about two hundred yards apart was a tractor gap that allowed not only the farmer, but also allowed the birds to go from one field to the other without having to walk through the timber or fly across the drainage ditch.
When hunting this property, there were always birds strutting in one of the two fields. Even though they would gobble at the calls we would make to them, they werenít about to leave the hens that were feeding around them. One day there was a huge bird in the larger of the two fields that over the course of the morning never left a twenty-foot area regardless of what we did. The birds would roost at the east end of the small field, and over the course of the morning, work their way up into the big field. After a day or two of watching the birds strutting and ignoring our calls, I decided to take a stand. Instead of getting the birds to come to us by calling, I decided to just get in their way. If they went from one field to the other, we had a 50/50 chance of being in the right spot, by setting up in one of the tractor gaps. Itís pretty difficult to sit still when birds are gobbling around you and traditional wisdom tells you to move on them. The first morning we set up on the tractor gap, there were birds gobbling from the timber all around the edges of the field. Over the course of the morning we witnessed a number of different gobblers and hens along the edges of the fields. I had also placed a hen and a Jake decoy on a high spot in the big field, adjacent to the tractor gap so they could be seen from both fields. Patience is a virtue! Did you hear what you just read? Patience is a virtue! I knew that eventually, a gobbler would show up that didnít have any girlfriends with him.
About 10 am, after sitting there for five hours, we saw three gobblers working their way towards the tractor gap on the other end of the drainage ditch. Even though we lost sight of them, we knew they were there. Eventually, we saw two of them, working their way out into the big field. When we called to them, they would puff up and strut, but that was it. On the other end of the field was an opening in the dike that surrounded the field that the birds would often use to leave the field. We could get to that opening undetected and were getting ready to do that, when I spotted a fan, through the brush along the drainage ditch, heading our way. The bird never gobbled, but had spotted the decoys, in a place where he was used to seeing other turkeys. A combination of soft purring and clucks, and a Jake decoy, standing near a hen decoy, sealed the deal. When the gun went off, the bird lay a mere 15 yards away.
Even though its not nearly as much fun as traditional turkey hunting methods, taking a stand for tough birds using the terrain, travel corridors and decoys can prove to be a deadly strategy for birds that refuse to come to traditional methods.