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Art of the Ambush for Fall Turkeys

Stealth is a powerful and effective tool when hunting fall birds.  Here's what to do.

Art of the Ambush for Fall Turkeys

Turkey Traps: Employ these scouting tips and stealthy setup strategies to get close to fall turkeys. (Photo courtesy of ALPS Brands)

This article on fall turkey hunting was featured in West edition of September's Game & Fish Magazine. The October issue is currently on sale nationwide. Click to learn how to subscribe.

Fall turkeys are intensely focused on feeding heavily before the winter, and hunters with the skills to bag big-game animals can kill a turkey during the fall season using similar tactics. Simply find an area with turkeys, pattern their movements and use that knowledge to intercept the them. Do it right and you'll end up with an easy shot and a turkey dinner.

FIND 'EM FIRST

To get close enough for that shot, the first step is to find some turkeys on land you can hunt. There are two time-tested models for locating fall turkeys: Search like a bobcat or search like a coyote.

If you know birds are somewhere in the area you have permission to hunt, but don't yet have them patterned, do what bobcats do: Find habitat features that turkeys use and search very carefully and thoroughly until you find the birds before they have any idea you are around. Observe their feeding and roosting patterns, then figure out how to use terrain and cover options to set up on them.


On the other hand, if you have access to large blocks of land to hunt, such as national forest or BLM land, but are not exactly sure which areas the turkeys are using, you can do what coyotes do: Cover lots and lots of ground until you find them.


In this mode, don't overthink things. On large tracts of public land that have miles and miles of roads, you can often simply drive around until you see turkeys feeding in an opening. Turkeys typically segregate by sex in the fall, but hens as well as gobblers are legal in the vast majority of fall turkey hunting seasons. So, whether you find toms or hens you are in business. And you don't have to find all the turkeys on a block of land. You just have to find one group you can hunt.

GET SET UP

The next step is to figure out how to set up for a shot on the turkeys you find. Observe how the birds use their feeding openings and how close they get to cover on the edge of it. Ideally, you'll stay put until they leave the field at the end of the day. Undisturbed turkeys return to their roosts using the easiest travel route available, and chances are good that where they leave the feeding area is close to where they will enter the field the next morning.

Turkeys generally will roost in some of the largest trees around, with limbs that are easy to fly to and strong enough to hold them. The distance between roost trees and feeding areas often determines the daily range of a group of turkeys.

Where you set up on turkeys after you pattern them is dependent upon cover and terrain along their travel and feeding routes. Look for cover you can slip into unobserved that is within 40 yards of their daily routes.




Lucky hunters will find a group of turkeys that feeds along brush-covered edges of an opening. Set up a few yards inside the cover and wait for the turkeys to come to you. The exact spot for this setup is a compromise. A little brush or a few small trees between you and the edge of the field will break up your outline, though you want to be able to see the turkeys coming, have openings to shoot through and have the freedom to move the barrel of your shotgun to get on the turkeys when it’s time to shoot.

Of course, the older hens and gobblers that are leading the flock know that ambush predators make the brushy edges of openings dangerous places to be. They are maddeningly good at staying out of gun (or coyote) range for hours while feeding.

CLOSE THE DISTANCE

In some instances, the solution to this problem is to use other kinds of cover in the field. Dry ditches or riverbeds or brushy fence lines bisecting the field can often provide enough cover. Slash piles or haystacks in the field can do the same. These setups require that you arrive in the field long before the turkeys do. Often, you won’t be able to reposition after the birds arrive without spooking them, so you must have the patience to wait for them to get close.

Recommended


Typically, a higher-percentage option is to ambush turkeys as they enter or leave an open feeding area, selecting a setup position along the path the birds take from their roosting trees. Turkeys will cross dirt roads in favored spots (tracks often will reveal where). They’ll walk around heavy brush and obstructions. They’ll cross very small creeks and ditches in the shallowest spots they can find. Or, they will walk across culverts or stock-truck bridges rather than get their feet wet.

Essentially, look for places that funnel the birds and set up accordingly. The easiest way to ambush turkeys that are feeding at least part of the day in an open area is to hunt the late afternoon/early evening. At some point the turkeys will leave the opening to return to the roost. If the opening is surrounded by cover, you can use it to re-position yourself as the turkeys are making up their minds where exactly to exit the opening. Get there before they do and you’ll get your turkey.

Turkey Loads
Countless turkeys have fallen to Winchester Long Beard XR and other quality loads that predate pricey TSS offerings. Modern loads designed specifically for turkeys increase the odds of successful shots. (Photo by David Johnson)

SHELL GAME

Ambushing turkeys sometimes involves deciding to shoot (or not) at relatively long distances. Without a doubt, the premium options for long-range turkey loads are those packed with TSS (Tungsten Super Shot). They are heavier than previous generations of tungsten shot, allowing for both more pellets and higher down-range energy per pellet—the best of both worlds in turkey hunting. The drawback to these shells?

They can cost more than $12 per round. If a box of TSS shells is not in your budget, there are many affordable turkey-specific loads introduced in recent years that remain perfectly effective.

  • Federal 3rd Degree

A mix of No. 6 Flitestopper, No. 5 lead and some heavyweight TSS shot for 40-plus-yard damage, 3rd Degree and its proprietary Flitecontrol Flex wad provide good long-range killing power without producing such a tight pattern that you risk missing close birds. ($34.99–$40.99; federalpremium.com)

  • Winchester Longbeard XR

Winchester claims its Shot-Lok cup and pellet design makes this lead load effective even beyond the traditional 40-yard maximum for standard lead shot. Hunters who use it agree. ($24.99; winchester.com)

  • Remington Premier Magnum Turkey High Velocity

Lead's not dead yet and is available at reasonable prices in Remington's Premier Magnum loads. Copper-plated shot held together with an advanced Power Piston one-piece wad delivers tight patterns down range. Remington’s specially blended powder recipe ensures pellets get there quickly. ($8.99–$14.99; remington.com)

  • HEVI-Shot Magnum Blend

For a long time after Hevi-Shot was developed in 2001, it was the premier non-lead shotshell. Hevi-Shot is composed of tungsten, nickel and copper, and the magnum blend of 4, 5 and 6 shot in a 3- or 3 1/2-inch shell still delivers better performance than lead. Due to demand, some retailers have stopped selling Hevi-Shot online, so you might have to visit a store. ($39.99–$63.99; hevishot.com)

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