By Cole Daniels
Turkey hunting is hard. Even in prime turkey hunting states, hunter success rates are only around 25%. Turkeys have great hearing but their incredible vision is what keeps them alive. They are always on alert for predators, whether those predators are coyotes or camo-clad humans. With everything going against us as hunters, making silly mistakes only creates more advantages for gobblers. Here are three easy ways to mess up a turkey hunt this spring.
Failing To Pattern Your Gun
I was in between shotguns a few years ago. I was still shopping for the right gun after selling my previous gun to a young man who just had to have it. So I borrowed a friend’s shotgun for a weekend hunt. He said he patterned it and even gave me the same shells. That morning’s hunt was one I’ll never forget. I watched 50 turkeys march around a young alfalfa field right after fly down. A half dozen gobblers strutted for the ladies as jakes ganged up on a few of the satellite toms. A few would come to the fringes of shotgun range but none close enough to pull the trigger. After teasing me for 45 minutes, the entire parade crested the hill and disappeared.
I moved locations and about three hours later a gobbler responded to one of my desperation yelps. I could hear him coming closer and closer. I sat just inside the woods with a hen decoy facing in my direction. No calling was necessary. He was coming all the way. When he made it to my decoy he was less than 20 yards out and I touched off a shot. He barrel-rolled and stumbled back to his feet. I cycled another shell and let him have it again. He kept running and I never recovered the bird. Maybe the shotgun was patterned, maybe it wasn’t. Either way, that was the first time I ever pulled the trigger on that gun. Some guys really like scopes on their turkey gun. I’m not a fan. I know something was off, it may have been the scope. It may have been me. It was a big mistake that won’t happen again.
Scouting is important for any hunter. But for turkey hunters, scouting is vital. When I first started turkey hunting I thought of scouting as a missed opportunity. Wouldn’t my time be better spent actually pursuing birds? Turkeys are woodland birds. But they spend much of their day in open fields, especially late in the season. Their defenses are predicated on seeing predators. When they are walking through the woods, predators can be hiding behind just about anything. In the open, they can see predators coming from a long way out. During breeding season, it’s easier to spot a potential mate out in a field.
You can use their preference for fields to your advantage. It’s easy to spot turkeys in the open. Time will need to be invested though. Knowing turkeys use a certain field during the day is only half the story. Knowing where they enter and leave any given field is also key information. It doesn’t matter how great you are at calling, if you’re where they don’t want to be, they’re not coming. It’s impossible for me to be everywhere at once. Trail cameras have made scouting much easier. I use the “plot watcher” modes on my cameras and set them up high in a tree overlooking fields. My cameras are set to take a picture every two minutes. This tells me when and where turkeys are using fields and doesn’t require a bird to walk right in front of the camera.
If you’ve done you’re scouting, there really is no reason to get impatient. Some days even great scouting won’t pay off. Maybe the birds were harassed before they made it to your location or for some reason just didn’t go to that field that day. But if you’re hunting a favored spot, they will come there eventually. A turkey doesn’t have a watch or a schedule or a job. It’s only job is to survive. We’ve all stood up from a sit only to have a gobbler fly off from right around the next tree. The longer you can sit in place, the better your odds of having a good hunt are. If you know boredom can be a factor, hunt out of a ground blind and bring a book or even a video game. Some hunters text or patrol the internet while watching out the windows of their blind. Whatever you need to do to stay in a good spot longer is good strategy.
There are certainly more ways than one to mess up a turkey hunt. These three are probably the most common and easily preventable.