My dream in life is to own a large farm where the deer and turkeys are plentiful and only myself, family, and friends have the privilege to hunt. Until that day comes, if ever, I will just have to manage and continue to rely on the permission of others and this nation’s large expanses of public lands. Not a bad compromise, but it can be extremely challenging as increased hunting pressure from higher numbers of hunters is sure to make any game more weary.
The National Forests, Wildlife Management Areas (WMA), and other public lands can offer hunters access to some great hunting opportunities. However, I learned quickly that the hunting tactics vary greatly from state to state, WMA to WMA, an even hollow to hollow. While hunting with Adam for several years, I learned the ropes for chasing long beards around the high mountain ridges and deep hollows of southwest Virginia. Although we called in and harvested many birds together, often within in earshot of the road, many others were killed on long hikes (up to 3 miles one way) deep into the mountains. These hikes were necessary because by mid-season the “low down” birds, gobblers previously found within a few hundred yards of the road, had either shut up, been killed, or retreated to the tops of the mountains or back hollows to get away from the constant bombardment of yelps, owl, and crow calls being blasted at them. These high pressure birds soon learned the difference between the artificial calls and the real thing. They gobbled less, sometimes not at all, and usually came in slowly and cautiously.
Last year, I moved to northern Georgia and was quick to locate the closest public land hunting opportunity which was in the Redlands WMA. Having only hunted turkeys with Adam, and only in the mountains of Virginia, I was feeling very out of place in these flat pine woods and rolling drainages. I was certain that the same hunting tactics we used to kill Virginia gobblers would probably translate easy enough to these Georgia long beards, but I was mistaken.
On opening day I walked to the end of a low hill to listen for a new bird after my first set up was spoiled by another hunter. After hearing a gobble, I set up and called and called. But everything went quiet. Not used to such a one-sided conversation, I tried sneaking up to take a look and spooked the bird. My first goof-up of the year. It was obvious that the standard approach of roosting a bird, and calling him in after first light or “runnin’ and gunnin’ ” for late morning gobblers was going to be out of the question.
You see, my limited experience on hunting turkeys had me assuming that any bird on public land was under high hunting pressure and theretofore would respond similarly, but that simply isn’t the case. Those Virginia birds would gobble their heads off on the roost and usually answer our calls on their way in to our setups. It wasn’t until they had been fooled with for a few days or spooked that they would hush up and go quiet. But even then, you may catch a gobble after you gave them a few days to settle down. The Jefferson National forest of Virginia is also huge, numbering in the hundreds of thousands of acres. That means there is plenty of room for both the hunter and the hunted to spread out. While the Redlands is roughly only 37,000 acres and composed of a mix of public and private lands. So actual public hunting land is far less. These birds are hunted relentlessly all season each year and seem to have learned not to gobble so enthusiastically.
So what do you do when you hear a bird gobble once and if your lucky twice on the roost and not again? Well this season I am changing strategies and have already experienced success. Last weekend I called in a Redlands gobbler to within 10 yards. I normally do not like to call to a turkey before the season opens as it will educate them to the sound and rhythm of your call. Once they realize that it is not a live hen calling to them, it will be much more difficult to fool them again when the season comes in and your actually hunting. This year is a little different as I will be out of town for opening day. So when I heard a distant gobble last Sunday morning just before dawn, I started after him.
After about 400 yards I stopped and listened to try to pin point the direction from which the earlier gobbled was heard. Thankfully, a crow sounded off nearby and the gobbler couldn’t resist. So now I knew exactly where he was roosted and moved slowly and quietly just below the top of a low hill about another 300 yards weaving through the saplings and tall pines as I went. The sun was just starting to hit the top of the pines when I gave a few soft yelps and he gobbled again from the roost. He was sitting in a tree somewhere across the hollow from me about 2oo yards. I knew that if I moved to the top of the hill while the bird was still in the tree, he would see me for sure. Instead, I patiently waited for 15-20 minutes until he gobbled again, but this time I could tell that he had flown down into the hollow.
I slowly and quietly moved to the top of the hill and laid down amongst a blown down pine for maximum cover. I gave a few more excited yelps and he answered me right on que. Okay, he’s interested. I continued to call about every 10 -15 minutes without any response, but I could hear the rustling in the leaves and pine needles and could tell that the bird was slowly closing the distance. It had been about an hour since I first setup when I gave a few yelps and some cutting. He gobbled so close that I think my ears are still ringing. Immediately after I could hear him drumming and could tell he was close and getting closer and closer! He had to be right on top of me! Finally to my left, the big Tom steps from the brush and comes in to only 10 yards from the end of my nose. Had this been a week later and that bird would be on my grill.
The moral of the story is that with high pressure birds patience is an absolute must. This gobbler had most likely not heard anyone call to him for a whole year and yet in the 2 hours time from when I first heard him on the roost, to when he flew down and came in, he only gobbled five times. Three of which were while still in the tree. If I had gotten up or moved closer after not hearing any gobbles for so long, I would have spooked that bird for sure. Had I continued calling to him over and over, he would have wised up and headed the other direction. Instead I stayed put and called just often enough to keep him interested and even though it took him over an hour to slowly and quietly cover the ground, he eventually had to come in and investigate for himself. I just hope that I can maintain that level of patience throughout the rest of the season.
I am not the end all be all of turkey hunters. There are plenty of hunters out there with more experinece and additional tips. One of which is the guy who taught me, Adam. Any time I have a question, need a new idea, or help improving my turkey hunting, he is the first guy I call. If you are in need of some turkey hunting pointers, leave us a comment, e-mail, or message on Facebook and we would be happy to help.
strutting gobbler photo obtained via public domain