Public-land turkey hunting can be very difficult, particularly considering how society has changed. But here are some ways to make the experience safe and successful.
I’ve never had many problems hunting public-land turkeys. If I parked first, other hunters would back out and go somewhere else. Hunters who walked into my setup would either leave or discreetly apologize for the intrusion. It was respectful, and I had little to worry about, until I did.
A few seasons ago, I scouted two well-known public birds in a corn stubble with a few hens. I figured out where they roosted and their path to the strut zone. I just had to beat others to the spot.
By 3:30 a.m., I parked at the access point with a writer working on a public-land turkey story. By 4, six cars had pulled in, seen my truck and backed out. Just as the sky started to lighten, a truck with two hunters pulled behind my truck. I waved to let them know I was there. They backed out and drove to the other side of the cornfield 200 yards away. A lone hunter popped out, walked across from us and sat down. His buddy left. I figured he would watch in the hopes that the two gobblers got past us. I pegged him a rookie, as we were positioned perfectly.
I heated the gobblers on the roost, which hit the ground just on the other side of the thicket. We waited for them to come strutting around to the cornfield. I took one last look across the field at the other hunter and was shocked to see a gobbler fan, coming at me at about 150 yards. Taking a quick peek through my binoculars I saw the end of a shotgun barrel poking out. The hunter was belly-crawling into our setup with the gun pointed right at us!
The toms never stopped gobbling. I told my hunter to freeze as the reaper crawled past our position. When we were out of his zone of fire, I stood up, put my foot on his back, and whispered to him to put down his gun. The shocked youngster looked at me and stood up sheepishly. I told him he had pointed his gun at me and that he was lucky I was an experienced hunter, as he might have ended up with a face full of tungsten. He apologize for coming into our setup. I asked if he had seen me from the parking area. He said yes, but thought we had moved. He even had the nerve to ask if he could hunt our birds. I told him he was an unsafe hunter, and he would have to go back to his spot. He put his head down and walked back dejectedly across the field.
Crowded public turkey-hunting spots can shut down birds and make the chase difficult. This is especially true on weekends. You can improve chances when hunters are making gobblers go silent by waiting until others lose patience and leave.
“That’s the closest I’ve come to being shot in 25 years of turkey hunting,” I whispered to my hunter.
Just as the reaper crossed the corn stubble, the gobblers entered the field and moved in our direction. Despite all the trouble, we were going to finish these two gobblers. As I told my hunter to get ready, three shots rang out from across the field, pellets rained down on us and the gobblers raced for the woods. Our reaper was not done ruining our hunt. His buddy pulled into the access point, and they sped away. While we were not injured, I could not believe the lack of ethics and manners in this hunter.
WHAT HAPPENED TO MANNERS?
While I cannot pinpoint the exact time things started to switch, it was not that long ago that hunters would go out of their way not to interfere with another’s hunt. It was unsafe to be in the same area when another hunter was working a bird, and allowing them to hunt without interruption was a common courtesy. Hunting was defensive, and safety and courtesy were above the need to bag a gobbler.
Looking at turkey hunting today, offensive strategies seem to be increasing. Toms are no longer lured to the call; they are challenged into confrontations. Decoys are no longer just a lovelorn hen, but aggressive jakes or a strutting tom coming to usurp flock dynamics and battle alpha males. Hunters no longer wait out a gobbler; just pop open a fan, declare the intentions of bringing a shotgun to a turkey brawl, and belly-crawl into range. Turkey-hunting etiquette seems to have taken a back seat to a shoot-at-all-costs mentality.
Along with changes in tactics, there seems to have been a shift in courtesy, as hunters no longer patiently wait for an opportunity to hunt a gobbler; if others can’t get that bird, just sneak around and show them how it’s done!
While reaping is legal in most states, courtesy and safety should be part of a turkey hunter.
AT THE TRUCK
If hunting a popular spot, expect traffic at the access area. If there are multiple birds in the area, this is the best place to meet with other hunters to talk it over. Those who arrive first should let others know their plans and locations. A map of the area is always handy to mark where others will be concentrating efforts. Discuss planned duration of hunts, and possibly exchange cell numbers for texts about relocating setups or even heading home. Open communication via texts ensures that the hunts are safe and lessens the chances of bumping a fellow hunter’s gobbler.
Moving when turkey hunting is inevitable; a tom fades away, a hen swoops in, or birds give the silent treatment.
In public hunting, it is extremely important to distinguish between a live hen and hunters calling. Creeping toward a gobbling bird may mean a new quarry, or put hunters into range of others. Take time to listen to the exchange between hen and gobbler. In nature, males gobble and strut in zones, and hens come. If the hen appears to be calling from one location, it is likely a hunter.
As a seasoned hunter, one of the things I find far more satisfying than bagging a turkey is offering to team up. I especially do this for inexperienced hunters or youths. Cooperation makes things safer and can add a new hunting friend. Team hunting has advantages. An extra set of eyes and ears is always welcome. Also, having a shooter set ahead of the caller provides a better chance if a gobbler hangs up short. And two cars at an access area will better deter others from coming into the area.
WHEN TOO MUCH IS GOOD FOR YOU
Crowded public turkey-hunting spots can shut down birds and make the chase difficult. This is especially true on weekends. You can improve chances when hunters are making gobblers go silent by waiting until others lose patience and leave. Most hunters will not spend more than a few hours pursuing a gobbler. After engines fade in the distance, turkeys will go back to acting like breeding birds. If the weekend pressure is constant, shift to weekdays, when most hunters are at work.
While public-land hunting can be a pressure cooker for bad behavior, most hunters still show courtesy. Instead of bumping birds, bruising egos and eating tag soup, show some courtesy; it is far more rewarding.