With turkey season in the home stretch and a tag still in your pocket, maybe you’re wondering how to become a better turkey hunter. Three things helped me — maybe they’ll help you too.
1. Stop obsessing over turkey hunting.
Hunters can be obsessive about spring gobbler hunting — and by “obsessive” we really mean “possessed.” Something about spring turkey hunting takes us over and causes a fever that’s cured only two ways — harvesting a gobbler, or time running out.
The fever sometimes lingers beyond the season. Gobblers can continue to taunt us. I once watched a big gobbler cross the road in front of me hours after the season ended. He fell down for no apparent reason, then got up and looked at me. If that isn’t taunting, I don’t know what is.
When I was obsessed (or possessed), the harder I tried to tag a gobbler, the less likely it would happen. I began having more success when filling a tag took second place to enjoying all that the springtime woods offers. It’s ironic that being less intense can bring more success, but it did.
I adopted a so-what attitude about failure. I wasn’t disappointed when working a gobbler didn’t end with my tag on his leg. The hunt became more important than the kill. What did I learn? Is there a story to tell, or a writing idea in today’s hunt? If you really want to kill a gobbler, decide that killing is secondary. Maybe it will work that way for you.
2. Know when to take chances.
That so-what attitude gave me the boldness to gamble. I now try to get very close to his roost tree. I’m willing to move if I need to and I don’t fear making a mistake in my calling. Taking those chances often pays off, but I don’t take chances I shouldn’t take.
I’d rather call a turkey off posted property than cross the line to hunt him. And I stay in touch with the landowners on whose land I hunt.
I don’t shoot at marginally long distances. The theme of The Little Engine That Could (“I-think-I-can”) is no mantra for taking shots at turkeys. I never shoot when I think I can kill the gobbler. I shoot only when I know I will kill him. I’d rather not shoot than shoot and wound, or miss.
I’m less impulsive and more cautious. I’m slower and more deliberate. I think twice about whatever I do in the woods. Where do I cross this ravine? I don’t risk getting hurt. I’m at the age where if I get hurt I might have a hard time getting out of the woods, or take longer to recover.
3. Make your own turkey call.
Ten years ago I met a South Carolina turkey hunter who gave me a homemade call. I used it successfully, and then I broke it. I decided to make my own and came up with a little wooden scratchbox call with two sound chambers inside.
As I field tested my call, I became more interested in calling turkeys than killing them. No longer did I rely only on yelps, clucks and purrs — still the bread and butter of calling turkeys — but I learned how to make a distinctive gobbler yelp and how to use the fighting purr to make a stubborn old boy shout out a gobble when nothing else triggers him.
I’ve made over 750 calls so far. Try making your own call. It will put your mind in turkey-calling mode all year long. Look for a wood or slate design you can improve on. Turkey call designs are limitless. Coming up with your own will make turkey hunting more satisfying.
Jeannine Kuhl Memorial Gamebird Industry Scholarship
If you’re a young person interested in gamebirds (pheasants, chukar, quail, Hungarian Partridge, and other upland gamebirds) you may be interested in a $2,500 scholarship opportunity for study in the gamebird industry: recreational upland gamebird hunting clubs, veterinary science, research programs for gamebirds and strongly related fields. For information online go to www.northamericangamebird.com. Check under the “News Room” tab. (Applications must be in by August 1, 2019.)
When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting , he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.