Trying new tactics and pushing the envelope to grow as a hunter is great, but some things work and some things do not. Some of this is location-dependent for sure, but throughout the decades, here are the five biggest turkey hunting mistakes I notice from the average turkey hunter and how to fix them.
1. Not Doing Your Part
One of the biggest turning points in my turkey hunting career was understanding my relationship with the turkeys and making sure I was doing my part. Turkey hunting can be thought of like a relationship. If each member of the relationship gives at least 50 percent of their energy to the other member, then it is a strong relationship. But if one member is putting in 90 percent and the other 10 percent, then things rarely work out. So many hunters find birds, whether seeing them or hearing them, and immediately set up expecting the turkey to put in 90 percent and cover the majority of the ground. Instead, once you locate a bird, do all that you can to put in more effort, cover more ground, and get near that turkey to show you are committed to the relationship.
2. Using Locating Calls That Generate a Response
Hunters who use calls to locate birds sometimes generate a response before they set up and miss an opportunity. Strangely, an air horn works great as a locator call. It is easy to use, carries distance very well, and every turkey in the county loses its mind. You gain a precise location with an engaging bird and can now plan for the perfect set up. The best part is that the response gobble is double the intensity of any traditional call. This is a must try!
3. Hunting the Roost
Nine of 10 hunters say first light is the best time to hunt as the birds leave the roost. Now, I'm not much different about starting early, my only difference is I do not engage or even try to hunt the birds until the hens start nesting or stop feeding. So many hunters work so hard to hunt active gobblers and end up educating and pressuring these birds. Generally speaking, sometime between 10 and noon the hens will nest and the gobblers become frustrated that their ladies do not want to play. These birds become 100-percent easier to call and 100-percent easier to kill. So I start early, use the first three or four hours as a scouting mission, educate myself on individual birds, learn behaviors and listen to the hens. At this point I know the daily patterns, habits, and sounds to make myself successful.
4. Not Understanding the Individual Bird
As I talk to hunters at seminars or in the field, everyone asks for the secret. Most people think the call drives success, but the truth of the matter, finding the right bird makes all the difference. If a gobbler has a motive, say, following a hen, going to water, or going to timber, the best caller in the world would have a hard time changing his goal. So, instead of working night and day to be a great turkey caller, I put myself where the turkey wants to be. If a turkey is working a tree line, I haul butt around and get in front of it. At some level, the call becomes secondary. Also, if I see a bird’s beard frequently, then I call because that bird is coming at me. If I see the rear of his fan or wings most frequently, then I need to move before calling.
5. Losing Out When Shy Birds Stop
Sometimes you must settle and hunt pressured birds. One year I was hunting with Robert Schmac of Turkey Creek Studios, who is a master at turkey taxidermy, and we flipped the standard decoy set-up and put the decoy behind the hunter. So, when I am dealing with over-pressured, over-called, stubborn turkeys, I take a turkey fan and set it up roughly 30 yards behind me and face the fan away from me as if the gobbler is looking away. I do just enough calling to get the approaching bird interested. They see the fan, start their approach, and when the fan doesn't turn around it drives them crazy. They rush in to investigate putting them in perfect range for a shot, even if they slow down or become shy at some point in the engagement.
These are five turkey hunting scenarios that are easier to combat than you might think. When the same tricks and tactics aren’t working, make a change in your calling, set-up or equipment. The more you get out there, the more you’ll learn about hunting turkeys.