If you’re like most turkey hunters, you’ll work a gobbler anywhere you can find him. When you strike a bird, the game is on and where you, or the gobbler, are standing at the time doesn’t matter. Lots of times the particulars of the property doesn’t come into play until some time has passed and the hunt begins to grind to a slow-paced battle of unknown maneuvers by you or the bird. More times than not, particularly if you are on hunting grounds that you aren’t overly familiar with, you will find yourself wishing you knew a little more about where the bird was standing the last time he gobbled and what was between you and him.
My home turf has expanded gradually over the years. When I strike a bird
in one of these areas that I know so well, I have an advantage. On the
other hand, I have missed out on opportunities to even get in the game
with birds simply because I had no idea where to even begin the hunt,
much less end it.
Let’s look at the valuable points of turning a piece of property into your personal stomping grounds and how to do it.
Find the birds: I think it’s safe to say that at some
point in our turkey-hunting careers we have all been a little shy about
jumping into a piece of public ground with any real confidence. That
could come from the amount of other hunters that might frequent the spot
or simply just because you have no idea where to begin. You have to
start somewhere, so you might as well dive in and start putting the
pieces of the puzzle together. The best way to go about it is to find
the birds first. This is better done in early March when birds are
pretty much where they will be come opening day. That isn’t to suggest
that you don’t need to spend any time in the turkey woods before March
though. You can learn an awful lot about your hunting grounds just by
Where are they going? Once the birds have flown down,
it is important to pay attention to where they are going; first the
general direction and eventually where that direction is going to take
them. Turkeys are rarely creatures of random habit. They have a reason
they travel in certain areas. It could be anything from something as
simple as the food supply is better up one side of the creek or the
terrain is more suitable in one direction than the other.
Pay attention to detail here. If a flock continuously heads in one
direction, find out what the reason is for doing so. There may be a pine
thicket in one direction and an oak ridge bordering a green field in
the other. Common sense tells you where the birds are more apt to go. Of
course, you don’t want to put all your faith in common sense when
dealing with a wild turkey, but it pays off sometimes. Once you learn
where birds like to go, you have really discovered a great place to get
in their way in the process. As the season fades, along with the surplus
of hens, gobblers will continue to frequent areas that netted him
romance in the early season. They will be more apt to be on the move to
cover as many areas as they can, so the more of these areas you can
locate, the better your chances of scoring. These areas can produce
gobblers at all times of the day.
Why did he do that? I remember hunting an area of Cedar Creek
WMA one morning where I had located a group of birds a day or so prior. I
won’t overdo the details here, but I got my fanny whipped. Not to be
discouraged, I tried the birds again the next morning, and the same
results followed. A couple of days later, I tried them again, and again I
was the loser. I had gotten the gobbler going each morning and had
pulled him to within easy hearing of his drumming but never saw his
face. Each morning, as I retreated to my truck with my tail tucked, I
cursed the hens for ruining an otherwise beautiful spring day.
I believe it was this gully and not the hens that ruined those previous
morning hunts. I simply didn’t know what was over the hill and had never
bothered to investigate. A little homework likely would have given me a
passing grade on this bird before he decided to skip town. I have been
guilty of being hard-headed on a turkey hunt or two, and this was just
another case of it. I was bound and determined that he was going to die
“my way.” I was wrong.
Sometimes it’s not enough to simply know what a bird did to whip your
tail. It’s a good idea and can pay huge dividends later if you find out
why he was able to do it so soundly. Most turkeys aren’t of the genius
stature, though we are quick to label them as such at times. Also, I
would imagine that most gobblers aren’t even aware that they are
whipping your backside when they do it. They simply have their own set
of rules, and sometimes they refuse to bend them. I think we are a
little too quick sometimes to give a gobbler all the credit when we lose
the battle. We just accept it as “he whipped me” and go to the house.
The truth of the matter is if we try to figure out why, he may be a
little less fortunate the next time we meet him.
I also believe if you have gained “home field advantage,” you are more
likely to learn a particular turkey’s habits than if you just hunt an
area every now and then. Some turkeys in certain areas will do the same
things, travel the same routes and roost in the same areas as their
ancestors did years before. If you know an area well enough, you will
soon realize how true that is, even on public ground. And you will
understand why it is so.
A good example of habits passed down occurred last spring while hunting
with longtime friend Jake Hill. We were hunting a very familiar piece
Cedar Creek WMA property one early April morning. The daylight chorus we
had hoped to hear was nonexistent. After setting up and going through
the motions for an hour or so, we finally heard a gobble a few hundred
yards down the creek. He sounded as if he was on the other side of it,
and I was pretty happy about it, too. Usually I’m not too happy about a
bird on the opposite side of a creek, but this bird had gobbled from a
spot I heard birds many times over the years. It was also in close
proximity of a place where I knew birds liked to cross this creek. In
fact, I had called birds across it several times over the years.
We hurriedly made our way toward the area I normally worked birds from
across the creek. The first call I made got jumped on by two birds. One
bird was on the hill above and behind us a couple of hundred yards away,
the other bird was across the creek. I told Jake to pay close
attention, and watch for the bird to slip in from across the creek. Five
minutes passed when I called again, and the bird across the creek
hammered it. He had cut the distance nearly in half and was probably
only 150 yards or so away. The only thing between us now was the creek.
Ten minutes passed when Jake spotted the bird slipping in from his
right. We watched as the bird stood strutting and drumming at 30 yards
for the next several minutes before he gave in and strolled by Jake at
just less than 30 yards on our side of the creek. This was his last
stroll as Jake rolled the good 3-year-old.
It was a case of knowing what birds like to do in a certain area. It was history repeating itself.
Growing your own: When I first started turkey hunting, I
had nothing but public ground to hunt. That’s fine, and I was proud to
have that. I still am, but there was always a piece of me that wished I
had the luxury of occasionally being able to hunt some unmolested
private-land birds. Sometimes I will get an invitation to join someone
on a piece of private property, but most of my turkey hunting takes
place on public ground. My family owns roughly 160 acres and is made up
of a slightly diverse landscape. A few different ages of pine make up
the majority of the property, and there are four or five sections of
hardwoods. I grew up deer hunting the property, but I decided a few
years ago to try hard to get the turkeys to take notice.
Three years ago I planted eight food plots. The turkeys found it pretty
much immediately, and last year I called up the first turkey that ever
died on our property for my 10-year-old nephew, Walt. Last year, prior
to the season, I conducted a controlled burn, and the results have been
as hoped for. My youngest son, Andy, and I both killed birds on the
property last year.
Not only is it rewarding just hearing a bird gobble on your own
property, it should be a piece of ground you know better than any other.
One morning in March of this past spring, Devereaux, my oldest son, and I
headed to a particular field on the property where Andy had taken a
bird a couple of days earlier. We were set up well before daylight, and I
can’t explain how excited I was to be hunting there that day. We didn’t
have to wait long before a gobbler began cranking it up in a small
hardwood head on another field about 150 yards away. He was where we
thought he would be, but he was in a spot the birds liked to roost
often, and as a result, we have decided not to hunt that particular
field. So, I did a fly-down cackle, and he humored me with a hearty
reply. He too was soon on the ground, but within a few minutes it was
clear he had hens with him.
“No big deal,” I remember thinking. “He’s going to come over here
anyway.” That’s when he threw me a curve and headed off in the opposite
direction. He went silent for the next 45 minutes or so and then gobbled
about eight or 10 times in a period of about 10 minutes from about 300
yards away. Then he went silent again. I thought about moving at this
point but talked myself into staying put.
Thirty more minutes passed when I decided to call to see where he was.
He answered from about 300 yards away, but this time he had traveled in a
direction that made me think he just might be coming to see us. Ten
minutes passed when the bird hammered again inside 100 yards. I knew he
was likely to show up soon. I answered him, and within a couple of
minutes a big white head came bobbing up the roadbed that leads into the
field. Two hens passed him and made their way into the field in front
of us. Five minutes later, he was flopping on the ground at 40 yards. I
had killed my first bird on my own property! It was one of the most
rewarding hunts of my career. When I was standing over the bird I
remember thinking that every time he had gobbled, I knew precisely where
he was standing. That’s some valuable information.
Now, I won’t try to convince you that you can live in downtown suburbia
and own an acre of land that you can turn into a turkey-hunting
paradise. I will tell you though that if you have a piece of hunting
property and you want the turkeys to take notice, you can work toward
that goal and maybe make it a reality. Food plots and control burns are
great ways to grab a turkey’s attention. If you are low on budget,
managing openings just by bushogging alone can help. Control burning is
still one of the cheaper wildlife-management tools there is. Managing
openings and creating more open understudy and promoting new growth
through control burns will make your property more attractive to wild
turkeys. Remember, generally, turkeys aren’t real crazy about thickets.
If money isn’t a concern, control burns and plot planting is the way to
go. The same plots you plant in the fall for deer are often planted in
the same things a turkey enjoys eating as well. Clovers, wheat, rye and
other seedy head plants are turkey pleasers. However, my No. 1 choice
for turkey plots would be chufa. It isn’t called turkey gold for
It’s all a matter of what you are willing to do to create home-field
advantage. Whether you own 50 or 1,000 acres, or hunt thousands of acres
of public land, you can create an advantage that will pay dividends for
years to come.
Written By: Donald Devereaux Jarrett