One of the most important parts of turkey hunting is choosing the right set-up.
I stood on the high hill as daylight was breaking over Monroe County, Alabama listening to the hard gobbling tom deep in the hollow below me, a perfect start to a perfect spring morning fr turkey hunting.
Minutes later, I followed a logging road down the steep hill leading me into the hollow. As the road reached the foot of the hill, a nice flat of beautiful, open woods about 50 yards wide and 200 yards long lay between me and this roosted gobbler. It would be hard to visualize a more-perfect place to call in this turkey.
I found a nice wide, comfortable tree about 150 yards from the loud-mouthed gobbler. I let out a few soft tree yelps, getting an immediate gobble in response. Moments later, my excited fly down cackle got the same response. Within minutes, this tom was on the ground, gobbling hard and quickly closing the distance.
My breathing picked up when I spotted the big gobbler about 80 yards out, still stepping my way. At about 60 yards, the tom stopped and dropped into a full strut. For the next ten minutes or so, the big tom stood right there, spitting, drumming and gobbling repeatedly as I continued staring down my barrel, waiting for him to close just a bit more distance.
To make a long story short, that didn’t happen. Minutes later, the gobbler turned and slowly worked his way back in the direction he came from. My calling seemed to have no effect in trying to coax him back. Having closed the distance and then not seeing the hen he thought he was hearing, this big gobbler had lost interest and moved on. This is a common scenario playing out each spring with turkey hunters everywhere. To avoid this common scenario, here are some turkey hunting tips to help get you through this turkey hunting season.
A Point Proven
A few weeks prior to the next turkey season found me back on this same pretty flat, searching for fresh scratching in my preseason scouting. I made my way farther out on the flat to roughly where this gobbler had been roosted that morning. I then turned and began making my way back. At the foot of the hill to my left, a large tree had been blown down by a storm. As I got closer, I realized the downed tree hid the base of several large trees at the foot of the hill. I walked over there and stopped beside a large Spruce Pine. A rock about the size of a basketball lay against the base of the tree. I rolled the rock a few feet away from the tree.
” Success in turkey hunting can be based on many factors, but none are more critical than where you choose to set up. “
About two months later, I killed my fifth gobbler of the Alabama season sitting in that exact spot. In fact, the rock made a nice prop for my left foot allowing me to be more comfortable. The nice gobbler flopping in front of me had come around the end of the fallen tree and right in front of my gun barrel, about 30 yards out. I had to wonder if he was the same gobbler that had gotten the better of me the previous spring. I like to think he was. The truth is, attention to detail is what led to this exciting and successful hunt. That and some pretty good calling.
Success in turkey hunting can be based on many factors, but none are more critical than where you choose to set up. In fact, an average caller sitting in the right spot will outcall a World Champion caller sitting in the wrong spot every time.
The difference in these two hunts was that the gobbler that I killed had to come into gun range to see the source of the calling, whereas the previous spring he could clearly see no hen through the wide open woods. This is one of the most common mistakes turkey hunters make each spring.
More Factors to Consider
We all have our idea of perfect turkey woods. For most hunters, this is a beautiful stand of wide open timber. Sure, turkeys love this type of terrain, but the truth is that it’s difficult calling them within gun-range in woods where they can see for a long distance. This should always be in the back of your mind when choosing your set up.
There are many other factors that come into play when choosing proper setups. While there are no absolutes when trying to call in turkeys, there are certain ways to put things in your favor. Just as easily, there are ways to make mistakes that put the odds in the gobbler’s favor. Believe me when I say they don’t need any help from you.
Factor number one is distance. There is no magic distance as to how close to set up on a gobbler. This is totally based on the terrain and foliage. Bottom line is to get as close as possible without spooking the turkey. The farther a gobbler has to travel to come to your calling, the more likely he will be intercepted by a hen or just lose interest. I tend to be a bit aggressive when it comes to getting in close. It’s just my style. Sure, I sometimes bump them and ruin my chance but I also have killed many gobblers that otherwise I believe I would not have killed.
We all know how good turkeys can see, but even the most sharp-eyed gobbler in the woods cannot see through the ground or over the crest of a hill. Always use the terrain to your advantage.
Obstacles are another issue. Turkeys walk under fences and fly across creeks on a daily basis, but for whatever reason, are very reluctant to do either when coming to your call. You must do whatever is needed to put yourself on their side of any such obstacles.
More Turkey Hunting Tips
Another thing I am very picky about is setting up in the shade. I probably am a bit OCD about this but when the sun is shining in on where you are sitting, it will greatly magnify even your slightest movements. Hiding from turkeys on cloudy days is even tougher. Without the aid of shadows, turkeys can spot you much easier. They seem to have an uncanny ability to spot anything that looks even a little bit out of place.
Over the years, most of my turkey hunting has been in hilly-ground. Hunting these hills has some unique challenges when choosing your setups. It is normally difficult to call turkeys down a hill. It’s not impossible, just more difficult. Personally, I think the turkeys are just not as comfortable with trying to escape back uphill. You should make the effort to be at or above the level of the turkey you are trying to call.
Another tip is that turkeys are very good at silhouetting you against the skyline of a hilltop. This is especially true early in the season when the foliage is still sparse. Keep this in mind when choosing your set up spot. Your best bet may be getting just a bit more down the hill or back up and try to call the turkey over the crest of the hill.
One of the best ways to avoid a bad set up is to never call before making sure you have a spot where you can quickly sit down should a turkey gobble close by. This has burned me more times than I like to admit.
Another tip is to use locator calls, such as owl or crow calls, when trying to elicit gobbles while moving toward your set up. Using your turkey call will often result in the gobbler silently coming your way while you are heading toward him. This will likely cause you to bump the bird. Ignore this piece of advice if you want, but rest assured, you will learn the hard way.
One last tip is that when a gobbler is in clear killing range, go ahead and take the shot. Don’t keep waiting for the turkey to get closer or to show off. Believe me when I say that letting them get too close will often have a bad result. The closer the gobbler gets, the more likely he will see something that just doesn’t look right and you ending up with a shot at a running or flying turkey.
Also, there will be times that you must quickly change your set up. This may be only a few yards or maybe a hundred yards. This is when you will find that hunting with decoys can be a hindrance. The time and movement spent retrieving your decoy may get you busted.
Again, it almost always comes back to details. Paying close attention to every detail can help you avoid setups that cause the gobblers to end up too far or too close for the ideal shot. Put these tips to use and best of luck this coming spring.