Killing Easterns

My dad and I on the West Virginia opener in 2013.  Fayette County double.

My dad and I on the West Virginia opener in 2013. Fayette County double.

While ambushing turkeys from a blind is sometimes what you’ve got to do, actively pursuing a gobbler through big timber in the mountains is truly what it’s about.  When I think of turkey hunting, that’s what I think of.  All you have to do is move close enough without scaring him and then seduce him within shotgun range.  Simple.

It sounds easy.  Sometimes it is easy.  More often than not, though, turkeys can be a real pain in the ass.  I was extremely fortunate in the respect that I grew up around some really fantastic turkey hunters.  They aren’t on tv, they never wrote books, and they don’t promote anything.  Nobody outside my community even knows who they are, but they’re turkey serial killers.  They’ve forgotten more about turkey hunting than a lot of people know.  And I’m not talking about midwestern or Texas birds that truthfully, aren’t terribly hard to kill.  We’re talking grizzled eastern birds that live in some of the most rugged terrain in the east.  I’ve spent my entire life watching masters at work.  And this is what I’ve learned from them in its most condensed form.  It’s basically nothing more than a set of guidelines and a very simplistic approach.

Do your homework.  It seems pretty rudimentary, but a lot of people don’t scout at all before season.  You have to know where the birds are going to be if you plan on shooting one in the face.  For whatever reason, they may be doing a different thing than they were last year.  Get out there and listen to what they have to tell you.  Try and pattern their movements.  Figure out where they roost and then where they go when they hit the ground.  It won’t be exactly the same every day but a general pattern will be present.  And whatever you do, leave your turkey call at home.  Don’t be that guy that goes around and gets every longbeard in the country cranked up before season, just because you like to hear them gobble.  You may not believe in making them call shy, but you’re wrong.  Imagine if an attractive sounding woman seductively called to you from around a corner and every time you went to look, she either wasn’t there or it turned out to be something you perceived as a threat.  You’d probably stop doing it out after the first or second time. That’s how it works with turkeys.  Just listen at gobble time and wait until you’ve got a gun before you start whispering sweet turkey nothings.

Rule Number 1 Stay above turkey.  Rule 2 is don't forget Rule 1.

Rule Number 1 Stay above turkey. Rule 2 is don’t forget Rule 1.

Setup is key.  Always maintain the high ground.  Aside from a pronghorn antelope, wild turkeys are some of the spookiest creatures you’ll ever encounter.  Every predator in the woods wants a piece of them and their senses have evolved accordingly.  They will often get to the highest point they can to check out a situation instead of just blundering into it.  If you’re downhill of him, he has no incentive to come to you because he can see there’s nothing down there.  I’ve seen a turkey stand on a high knob just out of range for over 2 hours and try to find out where I was.  When he never saw a hen materialize, he went on his way.  Stay above him at all cost.

Keep your calling minimal.  It isn’t a calling contest, so don’t treat it like one.  Less is more when working a turkey.  In the hunters’ world, it is a common perception that the gobbler is supposed to come to the hen.  In the turkeys’ world, however, it is the exact opposite.  The hens are supposed to come to him and more often than not they do.  If he responds to your call, he knows exactly where you are and at some point in the day, before he goes to roost, he will make a trip by the spot he heard you call from and check it out.    Depending on his options it might take a few minutes, or it might take several hours.  But you can rest assured he will be there at some point even if he has long stopped gobbling.   Sit your ass still and be patient because this may take all day.  You’ve got to match your calling to what he is telling you.  If he triple gobbles and cuts you off, drop the call and get your gun ready.  If he plays coy, you might need to step it up just a little bit or just keep reminding him you’re there every half hour.  The only time I really find it acceptable to call a lot and aggressively is if I’m trying to pick a fight with a mouthy dominant hen he has with him.  He goes where she goes, and sometimes her desire to find you and kick your ass will get her lover’s beak blown off.

Here's a WV bird from 2004.  This was the first turkey that literally took me all day to kill.  6 hours of boredom and frustration  but the last 5 minutes of the hunt got really good.

Here’s a WV bird from 2004. This was the first turkey that literally took me all day to kill.  The season previous, I would have walked away from this turkey 5 times.  I toughed it out and after almost 6 frustrating hours, he messed up first.

Don’t quit.  Ever.  I know it sounds pretty straight forward but it’s one of the single best pieces of hunting advice I’ve ever been given.  The only reason you should ever give up is because the hunting season has ended.  It’s pretty easy to get discouraged and want to stop.  I’ve hunted several days in a row and never even heard a turkey.   I’ve gone back after taking a beating for the better part of a week and for whatever reason, gotten on a bird and killed him 20 minutes after fly down.  They’re not always going to be receptive and sometimes they do things that defy logic.   But if you just keep going, you’ll eventually get one to play ball.  Most seasons are at least 4 weeks long.  That’s more than enough time to get on a killable bird if you don’t give up.  The concept of not quitting is two fold.  Don’t walk away from a turkey to go find another one.  Like I said before, if he hears you, he knows where you are.  It might not be the most exciting thing in the world, but sometimes you have to wait him out.  People walk away from  a lot of killable turkeys because they aren’t patient or they think he’s gone and not coming.  You know better.

I ain't tellin lies.

I ain’t tellin lies.

No one every truly has these birds figured out and anyone who claims to is full of shit.  You’re going to run into birds you can’t kill.  Period.  You’re going to have situations where a bird does something it isn’t supposed to do, but it does it anyway.  Cusswords and confusion will abound.  The good part to all of this is you’re also going to get on a turkeys that want to commit suicide. You will eventually get on one that can be killed and then it’s your responsibility to do your job and not booger him up.   Stay above him, keep your calling to the minimum required amount, and don’t quit.  The law of averages will take care of the rest.