Why you may want to leave your turkey decoys and calls at home this spring.
When it comes to turkey hunting these days, there is a veritable plethora of equipment to “ensure” we have success in the field. Much like the whitetail hunting world, new and better gear (calls, decoys, blinds, camo patterns, choke tubes, binoculars, etc.) flood the market each year with manufacturer’s and sponsored celebrities telling us we “need” them (in certain terms) to have success. In fact, even a certain (unnamed) scent control company has been hitting the social media realm pretty hard lately suggesting that their products will help hunters bag that gobbler (since when can turkey smell hunters?). But, what are the chances without the calls, decoys, and other gear, to actually harvest a turkey?
Just last week my Michigan turkey season started, and ended the same day. Officially, it was 45 minutes long, and the only non-essential “gear” I used was a barely-adequate popup blind. On top of that, I filled my tag with my bow, not my shotgun (a very challenging task when you realize how close, and how exact the shot must be). How did I do this? Basically, I used standard whitetail tactics instead of common turkey strategy, which I have been using successfully for years. Now, before I tell you about that, let me say that obviously calls, decoys, and the like can work and help hunters harvest turkey. In fact, there is nothing more exciting (exception being whitetail in my opinion), than talking with a big Tom and fooling him to within range of your setup. So if that is what you enjoy, by all means continue. However, from my experience, many times calling gobblers, setting decoys, and working birds with textbook strategies simply do not work. If you’re like me, this is when our whitetail knowledge can help seal the deal without paying for a master’s in gobbleology (with the additional required course materials, AKA gear). Here’s how.
Lessons from 2017
Scouting: My season didn’t look good two weeks prior to opener. With a couple properties to hunt, very few birds were showing in fields or the usual haunts. In fact, it appeared as if they had mostly disappeared from the area. When glassing didn’t work, just like with whitetail, I switched to trail cameras for vital information. The target was a green, small food plot between a stand of mature hardwoods and a picked cornfield. Catching a Tom between roost areas (hardwoods, comparable to deer bedding areas), or where he would likely spend his afternoons, and the fields in the evening would be a good staging area or travel corridor to check. Sure enough, two days prior to the opener, a couple Toms started showing up there picking for buds and bugs.
The Setup: Just like with whitetail, a good funnel/pinch point and food source was my target to intercept turkey. The key here was I didn’t have to rely on calling them to where I wanted them, I was ambushing them where they already wanted to be. An out of the way food plot near good cover allowed the turkey to feel comfortable showing up all times of the day, when apparently the large field was not provided that this year. A heavily used trail led out of this plot into the larger field, and this was the perfect spot for the blind, allowing easy shooting distance to the plot and exit trails. This is where crucial thought comes in, especially with a bow. At first, I had my blind overlooking the field, a good spot to see gobblers in the past, and where I had successfully taken birds before. However, with the trail camera intel, I had to ask myself “would I rather hunt a large field where turkey meander, and have to rely on my calling (or luck), or a ¼ acre foodplot where all they have to do is show up to be in range?” Playing the odds is usually the way to go, so the food plot was a vital move. Entry, just like with whitetail, was key, and although you DO NOT need to worry about wind/scent, having a visual barrier of brush, grasses, or terrain was needed, and exactly what I had. Now all I had to do was check the field, and slip into the small food plot undetected on opening day.
The Payoff: Slip in is just what I did. The whitetail knowledge and strategies stacked the odds heavily in my favor, and just like whitetail, I knew the first hunt “on stand” would give me the best chance to release an arrow. Forty-five minutes later a splash in the ditch just behind me caught my attention, and I turned to lock eyes with a Tom just two yards from the blind! Slowly, he walked to the food plot in front of me, and after what seemed like several minutes (maybe 30 seconds), he fed behind some grass clumps which allowed me to slowly turn on the camera, and grab my bow. He was just twelve yards away. As he stepped into a small opening in the grass, I drew, centered the pin above his leg, and released. The arrow blew through in an instant, and a couple flaps later, a nice Michigan gobbler was down for the count. Almost too quickly, my season was over, due to..yes, probably a little luck, but also some whitetail tactics that just might help put a turkey in your fridge this year too if you’ll try them!
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