5 Keys to seal the deal on a longbeard when nothing else works.
Sometimes turkey just don’t cooperate, are henned up, or are over pressured and call-shy leaving hunters with little options. In these circumstances I’ve found that getting aggressive and taking the hunt to the bird can be the only chance a hunter has to fill a tag on a longbeard. The trouble is, there are 5 key factors that have to come together almost perfectly to accomplish this feat on one of the most elusive game species in North America. Do you have what it takes to stalk a turkey? Apply the 5 keys below and maybe you’ll join this exclusive club this season and successfully stalk a turkey!
WARNING: Attempting to stalk a turkey should be done with caution. One has to weigh the potential risk and reward when doing such an aggressive maneuver. If it works, you’re the hero. If it doesn’t, however, turkey will get shy real quick and be very hard to hunt the rest of the season in that area. Limited access private land hunters might want to err on the side of caution, where vast public land or hunters with lots of private property may be able to risk more as they can just move to another hunting spot if birds get educated from these tactics. So, all things considered, if you decide that a stalk is necessary, here’s 5 keys you’ll need to consider.
Key 1: LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. Like a locator beacon, you need to be able to keep track of him to put on a successful stalk. You need to know where he is, and know this for an extended amount of time as it might take thirty minutes to an hour or more to get yourself in position. If you can’t keep eyes on a bird (which will complicate your move as he might see you), or he’s not gobbling, this is going to be tough and increase the odds you’ll bump into him. So, ideally he’s not moving much, and gobbling consistently to let you know where he is every few minutes. A typical scenario I’ve stalked with success is when a gobbler is in a field with a hen and not getting any closer to your set or responding to your calling. If you feel he’s going to be there for the next 30+ minutes, and is gobbling quite a bit, you have key #1 on your side.
Key 2: USE YOUR CRYSTAL BALL. You’ve also got to conjure up your best idea of where he may go if he happens to move to maximize your success with a stalk. Odds are he will move some by the time you get into position for a shot. So, you need to look to the future and have a plan to cut him off if he moves. Will he work toward another food source? If you think so, then leave an option to cut off his most likely path. Is it late in the day and will he head to roost? Then pick his most likely option and be able to adjust before he tucks in for the night. If you don’t, you’ll be left high and dry with no option other than to just watch him walk off into the distance, and wish you’d considered a plan B for your stalk.
This season’s bird was a great example of Key 1 and 2 coming together. I was hearing birds all morning on neighboring properties, but they were just not coming to my calls. One finally sounded off a bit closer, but just wasn’t closing the distance. I decided to head his way as I had some hills and a woods between us for cover. As I crested a hill, I saw his white head about 100 yards ahead of me, causing me to drop to my knees. After crawling closer and tucking into a fence row, I called hoping he would commit. After twenty minutes it became apparent he was not going to budge. The positive was that he was absolutely gobbling his head off (key #1). This allowed me to get another game plan, which included backing through the fence row, circling around a hill, and popping out below him where a 2-track left the field. If he left the field, I guessed he may head down the 2-track toward the woods (key #2) and I’d still be able cut him off. Even if he didn’t, he was gobbling so much this would tell me where and how to readjust my stalk. Bottom line, it gave me several viable options to kill him and put odds in my favor because my plan wasn’t a one-chance hail-mary. So, I belly-crawled back and started plan B of my stalk.
Key 3: BUILD A WALL. Donald Trump wants one, and you need one to stalk a turkey. By a wall I mean a visual barrier to conceal your movement. Ok, not that you’ll build one in that moment (if you manage your own property, you should consider establishing visual barriers around field edges and food plots with plantings, cuttings, etc.), but you’ll need to utilize thick fence rows, woods, or hills to block your movement. A turkey’s eyesight being what it is, this is essential. Look around and plan your path utilizing these features in such a way that you can pop out within shooting range. If you can’t, you’ll have real problems as you will probably fall short on your stalk attempt, and should consider if it’s really worth trying.
Once I belly-crawled back down the hill, there was enough of the hill crest between myself and the gobbler to duck and move quickly back to a fence row. From there (a few hundred yards from the bird), I could circle around the base of the hill, put a row of brush between myself and him, and work within 60 yards before I popped out on the 2-track below him. I also had an option to weave through the brush to where he was in the field if he happened to move my way. Keys #1,2, and 3 were in place.
Key 4: HIT SLO MO. I quickly moved around the base of the hill because I knew he was a safe distance away (from his constant gobbling), and there were two visual barriers between us. I was moving fast and gaining ground quickly. As I got closer, the brush thinned and I saw his gleaming head facing my way. At this moment the stalk changed. He could see me, and he was out of gun range. I still had a good 50 yards to close, and the only way I would do it was gaining another visual barrier, or if I moving so slowly he would not detect it. I’ve found through many a successful stalk, if a bird is distracted in a field, that you can move very, very slowly and gain a few inches here and there until you get another visual barrier or just close the gap in this manner over time. Try to move when his head is down, hidden behind his fan, or just so slowly that there’s no way he will see the movement (we’re talking as slow as physically possible). This takes practice, but is possible. Believe me, you’ll know it if you move too fast, so err on the side of.. slower! After about 20 minutes of this I had gained a few yards. Luckily he wasn’t moving too far, and another gobbler was approaching from the woods (I could hear him gobbling as well). This was perfect, as now I had another option for a shot: the other bird. I planned to work my way up to the 2-track for a shot, or to cut the other bird off as they moved toward each other - my crystal ball guess was about to pay off.
Key 5: THE P WORD. At some point it’s just about persistence. You’ve got to outwit, and out wait the animal you’re stalking. Are you willing to stand motionless on one foot, with your gun held in an awkward position, for half an hour? Are you willing to feel your muscles burn, and be incredibly uncomfortable for a very long time in the hope it will result in a shot? These
mental and physical challenges of endurance are necessary to overcome at many points in a stalk. Unless your willing to persist in this battle of wills, you will never be successful (unless lucky). This happened many times during my stalk, and I just had to hold still, hold it together, breath, and endure on. Finally I reached a point where the brush between us became thick enough that I felt I could move faster. At some point I knew he would move off, and I knew I had to get within gun range of the 2-track to catch him or the other approaching bird.. and quickly. I picked up the pace and made it another 20 yards in about a minute. Just as I did, I saw the gobblers white head bobbing behind the brush where the 2-track led down to a clearing in front of me. I hit one knee, shouldered my gun, and the 12 gauge barked as he came into view at 40 yards. Five crucial keys to stalking a turkey all came together in that instant, ending my season with a flopping gobbler, five keys that can work for you too.
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