I don’t consider myself to be an expert in the art of deer hunting by any means but I like to think that I have a pretty good handle on the subject. When I head out into the deer woods I generally have a pretty good idea of what I should or shouldn’t be doing and am pretty confident in my ability to get the job done. Over the years I have been able to learn several deer hunting lessons through both my successes and my failures and my knowledge base is pretty broad concerning the sport of deer hunting.
Turkey hunting, on the other hand, is something that I have absolutely no prior experience with and videos of other people turkey hunting comprise nearly 100% of my knowledge base. I have always had a slight interest in turkey hunting (I mean, it’s hunting so it can’t be all bad right?) but have generally shied away from it for one major reason: I know how addicted I am to deer hunting and didn’t want to subject my family and myself to another addiction by going turkey hunting and enjoying it!
A few months ago a buddy of mine, who turkey hunts every year, challenged me to a turkey hunting competition. The winner was to be determined by combining beard and spur length with the loser busting out the wallet and buying lunch for the winner. Being one who hates to back down from a challenge, and one who was half looking for an excuse to try his hand at turkey hunting anyways, I gladly accepted the challenge. In the ultimate show of questionable judgment the guy who’s never been turkey hunting before in his life decided that he would take this challenge on while hunting with his bow instead of a shotgun.
It wasn’t until a few weeks before the season opened that I really felt the reality of what I had gotten myself into. I had absolutely no idea how I was going to go about turkey hunting. No game plan, no strategy, no experience and no scouting knowledge to fall back on and I had also decided to add the unneeded additional challenge of hunting with my bow. I headed off to the store to buy a few calls and jumped on you-tube for some quick calling lessons.
A few days before the start of my hunt I began to formulate a plan. I only had one weekend to work with so I knew the most important aspect of the hunt was going to be getting on some birds as quickly as possible. I couldn’t afford to spend my first hunt or two not seeing birds. I had a feeling this wasn’t going to be one of those “first sit success” stories and the more time I could spend with birds in front of me the better.
I talked to our two main neighbors, who we are good friends with, and was granted access to each of their 80 acre pieces. They each have nice green fields and I was hoping that if I was unable to find birds on our place I could find a few using one of their fields. I decided to spend Friday morning moving and calling looking to cover ground and hopefully find a few birds somewhere to set up on. My plan was to be mobile so I wouldn’t be carrying a blind with me. I had a small stool to sit on and would be using natural cover to conceal me as I sat.
I headed out Friday morning for my first ever turkey hunt and got set in our field trying to locate some birds that I could then make a move on. As the field began to light up I didn’t hear any birds calling from their roosts but I did notice several deer sharing the field with me. I watched the deer as I continued waiting for a group of birds to start talking. I did some light calling hoping to jumpstart a tom but again I heard nothing. After sitting in the field for a while with no action I decided it was time to start covering ground.
I worked through our woods with a few stops to call and then worked over onto the neighboring property and eased my way to the edge of their field. There were no birds in the field and, after some more unsuccessful calling, I moved on into the woods. I did eventually spot two birds and tried to make a move on them with no luck. They were moving when I first saw them and I was unable to figure out where they went. The first morning ended with just those two sightings but despite it being pretty uneventful it was a great morning spent in the woods.
Friday afternoon was when I first spotted the tom that I would chase for the rest of the weekend. The afternoon rain had me late getting back into the woods and the tom was already in the field when I arrived. As I got set up and ready to call he slipped out of the field and out of sight and although I called for a bit hoping to draw him back out but he never returned. I stayed put for a while before heading back out of the area and decided to set up on him again in the morning hoping that he would roost in the area and be there again in the morning.
The following morning I decided to try a popup blind and as I sat listening to the rain drum on the roof I was very pleased with my decision. As I tried to decide if turkeys would move in the rain I saw a bird fly right into the field from its roost. As I looked out with the binoculars I saw that there were actually 4 birds on the field including the tom from the day before.
Unfortunately the tom was with his hens and while he would respond to, and acknowledge, my calls he wasn’t about to leave his flock to come to me. I was able to get him strutting a few times and coaxed a gobble out of him as well but as the hens left the field he followed and my first real turkey encounter came to a close. It was definitely cool to see him respond to the calls and I could now see exactly why I was always hesitant to start turkey hunting, it could definitely be addictive!
Saturday afternoon I headed out earlier than I had the day before but as I neared the field I spotted the tom and his hens out in the field. I belly crawled towards the field edge and set my decoy as close to the field as I dare get. After belly crawling back a bit I set up and began some light calling. The tom responded and acknowledged my calls again but in the end he made the same decision as he had the hunt before, to stay with his hens as they left the field. I eventually got set up in my blind and one of the hens came back out for a moment as well as a jake and a hen a bit later but the tom never did reappear.
That same tom made his way out in front of me the following morning as well for a total of four encounters with him out of five hunts I did over the weekend. Each and every time he would respond to my calls, react with strutting and gobbling and certainly pay attention to me and my hen decoy but each and every time he would stay with his hens and not venture my way. After Sunday mornings encounter I realized the birds were looking pretty pattern able with each morning encounter featuring them on the east side of the field and each afternoon encounter being on the west side of the field. As is usually the case I realized this a day late and a dollar short as my hunting time ended Sunday morning.
As I packed up my gear to head home I couldn’t really feel disappointed about not being able to seal the deal during any of my encounters. I had gone into the weekend blind with essentially no knowledge or skill in the world turkey hunting as well as well as no knowledge of where the birds were hanging out. A few short days later I was able to say that I had four encounters with a nice tom and was able to pattern a group of birds.
It was definitely a very educational weekend of hunting as well as a very enjoyable weekend. I don’t know if I’d consider myself a turkey hunter just yet but as the truck pulled out of the driveway I couldn’t help but think “we’ll see how this ends next year”.
Oh, and as for my buddy who challenged me, he also came home empty handed but somehow he ended up talking me into buying lunch. Just another reason to hit the woods again next spring!
Take care, and thanks for reading.