Hunting Tough Turkeys

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  1. Can't Miss
  2. Tough hunts build strong character
  3. Tough Weather Turkey Hunting Tips - Game & Fish
  4. Best Practices for Hunting Tough Turkeys

Walking the last leg of a wide sweep through the woods, Joe and I were talking about strategic plans for the next morning's turkey hunt. We had been in the vicinity of a gobbler, but he wouldn't come in within range. Sometimes turkeys are tough to call in for no apparent reason.

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Just being a gobbler is enough reason, I suppose. As we walked into sight of a big field, we suddenly stopped almost in midstride at the sight before us. Three huge gobblers were standing on the far side of the field we were approaching. Based on their lack of reaction to our presence, they had not seen our movement.

We were still within the cover of the woods, and the birds were some yards away. After my initial excitement, the difficulty of the situation brought me back to earth.

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The birds were in the middle of a huge field and were headed away from us. There were hens with them. This was a tough turkey situation. At first, I thought I had not heard correctly. Stalking a turkey is usually a very low-percentage game, but I had hunted with Joe enough to respect his opinion. The plan was to make our way to a creekbed on the far side of the birds and crawl and wade through the water to a position near the birds where we would have a reasonable chance of luring them our way. Patience is also a Kelly virtue. For 45 minutes, we worked our way along the creek.

Spring Turkey Hunting - Tough Season Ends in Success

Our final approach was a belly crawl to a calling position less than yards from the birds. We were in ideal calling position. I thought I was prepared for almost anything, but I wasn't.

Tough hunts build strong character

When Joe made the first calls, the formerly nonresponsive gobblers turned and began running in our direction. It was every man for himself, and the hunt was successfully concluded a few moments later. The adjective "intense" doesn't even come close to describing that hunt. Odds are very high the birds would have continued to ignore calls from our original sighting position. By using a bit of out-of-the-ordinary logic, we got the bird.


Another overlooked turkey tactic is to hunt feeding areas. If they don't bag a bird first thing in the morning, many hunters will hunt aimlessly or simply go home. Instead, locate a feeding area. It can be a wheat field, chufa patch, hardwood mast or any area with plenty of fresh scratchings. Wherever there are turkeys, the turkeys will be eating something. Turkeys do not have to be on-site at the time you arrive, either. This tactic requires patience, but it will produce. One of Rodney Kelly's favored tactics is to set up a small blind and then sit and call intermittently.

Rodney will often use two calls at the same time to imitate the sounds of contented, feeding turkeys. A mouth call and a slate work great in tandem, as do a tube and a push-pull box. If that's the case, as he approaches, he'll pick up on the softer clucks, purrs and feeding turkey sounds. Often the gobbler will walk right up on you without a gobble, since he's really coming to a feeding area to eat and for companionship. Although a spring gobbler seems to always have mating on his mind, just the thought of other turkeys around seems to add an important security factor," Rodney added.

Many times gobblers looking for food approach silently or make only soft clucks. The burden is on the hunter to remain still while calling. The final Joe Kelly tactic I'll relate may sound strange, but it is deadly. Sometimes the only way to get a hard-core gobbler to approach you is to make him think you're leaving him high and dry. Walk away from him - but not too far.

On some occasions, the hard-hunted birds get extremely wary about coming to any call. These veteran gobblers have had some close calls and seem to insist that the hen come to them. They may gobble a response to every call you make, but they simply will not walk on in, even though you may change calling locations and perform some of the tactics already described. Sometimes, I follow with a gobble from my tube call, one of the few times I'll use a gobble call. If he gobbles at my soft yelp, I'll swap call for shotgun, and get myself ready. If your hunt time is limited and you have to make the most of a full day, focus on shade and any geographical temperature drop, such as a cool creek bottom.

One of my favorite late-season high-heat places to lurk lies at the bottom of a hardwood-studded hill. There's a small shallow creek tucked back into a permanently shaded little finger of meadow between two ridges, each filled with fine roosting trees and two-track-road strut zones. Mid-day, despite the sweat coursing down my back, I'll settle in behind a couple fake hens and, nine times out of 10, take a nap — but only after calling for the better part of an hour.

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  • More than once, I've awakened to find a strutter spinning among the decoys. And, yes, more than once I've scared him off as I've bolted into consciousness. Still, a nap and a longbeard? How do you beat that combination? One spring where I hunt, turkey hunters woke to a very cold morning with wind gusts in excess of 30 mph. Some folks stayed home; others dressed appropriately and ventured forth. Of those, many killed birds. How, given the undeniably inclement weather?

    As mentioned earlier, spring gobblers and their hens will go about their business — the business of breeding — regardless of the weather. They have to; otherwise, turkeys would cease to exist as a species. That said, cold weather, particularly a radically rapid drop in temperature, does influence turkey behavior. Simply, it slows it down.

    In situations of cold temperatures, I'll often delay my departure until later in the morning, or even wait until after lunch to head afield if I'm hunting where afternoons are legal. Once in the field, I'm looking for two elements — a southerly exposure and a good high-calorie food source. Sun, even small sunbreaks, means warmth, and the birds will take advantage of any radiant energy by heading to these south-facing locations.

    High-energy foods, such as acorns, corn, beans, or other grains, help offset the heat loss due to the fallen temperatures. Turkeys, typically — though not always — will become lethargic under cold conditions, but they will warm up, perhaps later in the morning. Maybe that afternoon. Or even the next day. Moreover, I love the challenge those difficult turkeys present.

    A friend once said he hunted Alabama because he had to do everything right to kill a turkey there, and that helped him succeed in other states throughout spring. I agree. If I have to pick the No. South Carolina has probably frustrated me like no other state, though. I have hunted turkeys in a variety of states and terrain, but no turkey hunt is more challenging than chasing what we call the 'cliff divers' of the Missouri River Breaks in Montana.

    In those five years, there have been only four tags notched TOTAL by an average of eight to 12 hunters every year! Throw everything you know about conventional turkey hunting out the door, and put on your good hiking boots because these thunder chickens don't like decoys, don't like to respond if you're within yards, and they've perfected the act of diving cliff to cliff to evade predators, including the two-legged kind. It's literally run and gun, sometimes up to 8 miles per day, in hopes of spotting them and making a play across the challenging terrain.

    It's essentially like hunting big game and has become a favorite week of ours that we look forward to every year. This, in my personal opinion, is easy to answer. By far the most difficult states or turkeys to hunt are the southern Easterns — namely Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Mississippi.

    Tough Weather Turkey Hunting Tips - Game & Fish

    Really all the southern states with the exception of Tennessee, where it seems they have had a boom in turkey populations. There is something about the habitat and attitude with the turkeys here that make overall typical turkey hunting difficult. You have to throw away all you know, and hunt on instincts and experience to be consistently successful. Florida; And not for the reasons you'd expect.

    Best Practices for Hunting Tough Turkeys

    My experiences in Florida vary greatly from ideal hunts to Florida, like many states in the South, has its own challenges; the biggest of which, in my opinion, is water. Whether it's coming from the sky or the myriad swamps, creeks, lakes, etc. While alligators seem the biggest threat, an encounter with them is less probable than with the disease-carrying mosquitos and a large variety of venomous snakes.