As we’re ready to start another turkey season, I was thinking about the nearly 40 years I’ve chased that beautiful bird. I don’t know how many times I’ve showed off my harvested bird and heard someone call my bird ugly. I’ve always thought the wild turkey gobbler is one of the most beautiful animals in all of nature.
When I first started to hunt turkeys and had a hunt that didn’t work out, I was always very hard on myself, believing I had surely done things wrong that denied me success. Even though on some occasions you may make mistakes that cost you a chance, most of the time it just doesn’t work out.
When I take a new hunter turkey hunting and the tom won’t come to our call, I’m often asked, “what did we do wrong?” My answer now is “nothing.” I often tell them the reason we didn’t kill that turkey is because they are just too dumb. Let me explain.
I respect and love to hunt the wild turkey more than any other activity in the outdoors. But there have been so many times I’ve done everything right, and it still didn’t work out. One year I scouted a flock of turkeys several times before season and every morning they ended up in the corner of a wheat field early after fly-down. So, on opening morning I was in the perfect spot well before dawn, only to watch the whole flock leave their roost and walk right by my truck which was parked right on a main road – the most unlikely spot ever.
I like to bowhunt deer – a very challenging activity. If a deer spots you or hears a strange noise, it will usually hang around a little or move closer to check out the danger. A turkey usually runs away instantly, far from the danger. Several times I’ve called in a tom to very close range, only to have him show up in a bad spot so that I am out of position with my gun pointed the wrong way. I found out the worst thing you can do is try to swing your gun quickly. The bird usually sees the sudden movement and instantly runs or fly away. If you think about this, it all makes sense, as a predator such as a coyote or bobcat would use this very strategy to try to get a turkey by waiting in hiding until the turkey is close and then rushing the bird.
So, I’ve learned over the years that it’s best to wait until the bird’s view is either blocked by a tree or it turns away; and even then, to move very slowly. They don’t seem to spook as bad if you do so.
Even without any movement, turkeys have spotted me and ran away. They are really good at spotting a new blob that’s out of place or wasn’t there before.
Let’s talk about the use of turkey decoys. If someone tells you they work every time, they’re either telling you a little white lie or their sample size isn’t big enough yet, because it’s just simply not true.
I’ve had a hen decoy out when a tom sees it and comes right in, but I’ve also called a tom in from a long distance only to have him hang up as soon as he sees the decoy. Right or wrong, I believe as soon as he sees the hen, he wants the hen to come to him. That’s the way it normally happens in nature – the hen goes to the tom. When we call a tom to us, we’re actually going against nature.
Another technique that’s become popular is the use of a fan. The theory being that the tom will not tolerate a rival in his area and will come in to chase it off or if necessary, to fight the other tom. I’ve found that it may work if it’s an older turkey who is not afraid to fight, but if it’s a younger tom (a two-year-old), he may be too afraid to come in. The pecking order is very strong in the flock. Because of this, the fan will not work every time.
If you hunt turkeys for the first time and it doesn’t work out, don’t get frustrated. It’s what makes turkey hunting so much fun. It can be very easy at times, but it can also be very challenging. That’s what makes success so sweet. One of the best-known turkey hunters of all time said, “the only sure thing about turkey hunting is nothing’s for sure.”
I do know one thing for sure: As always, I can’t wait till turkey season!
Rick Cunningham is an avid outdoorsman from Ellis, KS