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Don't Get Busted by a Sharp-Eyed Turkey

Use the lay of the land to stay undetected while hunting wary gobblers.

Don't Get Busted by a Sharp-Eyed Turkey

Turkeys and terrain: The author’s wife shot this California longbeard after setting up above an oak-studded bowl and calling the bird into range. (Photo by Bob Robb)

We never actually saw the gobbler until he was right in our laps. Along the central California coast, my wife, Cheryl, and I had heard gobbling down in a little oak-studded hollow. We made a big circle, set up 40 yards back from the drop-off’s lip and started calling. When three big longbeards popped over the edge, they were already in range. One ended up riding in the truck.

Memo to prospective turkey hunters: If you think you can sneak along through open or semi-open country willy-nilly and not get busted by a turkey’s amazing eyesight, think again. That’s like trying to sneak the sunrise past a rooster. If you can see them, they can see you. And if they see you, it’s game over.

Simply stated, you have to use the available terrain features to keep yourself hidden at all times. This includes both when you’re hiking along, trying to locate turkeys to hunt, as well as when you set up to call one into your lap.


With eyes set in the sides of their heads, turkeys have a peripheral-vision radius of 270 degrees that can quickly become 360 degrees with a slight swivel of the head.

They can see color (they also can detect a broader spectrum of color than humans, including UV light, which means you should launder you turkey-hunting garb in a detergent without UV brighteners). They also have a naturally ingrained survival instinct that tells them that anything that moves in the woods is a predator. As such, it is imperative that you stay completely out of sight and sit extremely still when birds are in view.


No matter where you’re turkey hunting, using terrain features to stay hidden while trying to locate birds, then moving in and setting up, is everything.

Fortunately, in much of the West, there is plenty of natural cover. It’s also easy to take that cover for granted and think it hides you better than it does.

For example, a pine forest that seems thick from 6 feet above ground where your eyes are can be wide-open at kneecap level where a turkey’s eyes are. Walking to the high point on a ridge or the edge of a canyon or valley and sky-lining yourself as you call and glass is rarely a good idea. You get the picture, but here’s one example that caught a buddy and me totally unaware.

We were hunting in northern Arizona and had circled above some Merriam’s birds, hoping to call them uphill to our decoys. They covered some ground in our direction, but at 100 yards they panicked. What the heck? We re-created the scenario and, looking uphill, we were perfectly hidden—except our heads, which poked above the skyline just a little bit. And that was enough.


Like all animals, turkeys like to take the easiest path when traveling. They follow the natural contours of the land, walk along edges and keep away from really thick cover where their eyes have a hard time picking out a bobcat, coyote or you. If you follow the same contour lines, you’ll have natural ridges, cuts, gullies and whatnot to hide you, and you can use these to your advantage when setting up.

Sharp Eye Turkey
A turkey’s best defense against predators is its keen eyesight. Successful hunters do everything possible to avoid being seen by a tom. (Photo by Bob Robb)

In northeastern Wyoming one spring, Cheryl and I were hunting with Trophy Ridge Outfitters’ owner Ralph Dampman ( We struck a gobbler, and Ralph had us set up at the base of the hill against a big tree trunk on the edge of a shallow wash. He said the birds would come around the corner 30 yards away at the base of the hill on a wide deer trail that cut through the brush. Boom! They never had a chance to see us until they were in range, and by then it was too late.

It’s also good to remember a couple of basic turkey-hunting axioms. First, it is hard to call a turkey across a wide creek. Many times, I’ve seen birds come in hot only to stop at the creek’s edge and strut on the other side, but never fly across. It’s also best if you can get birds to come uphill to you. If you see turkeys on the side of a hill, they’ll often come along at the same level at which they began, so it’s best to get within shotgun range of that level before setting up.



The only movement in the woods that won’t instantly put a wild turkey on red alert is another turkey—or a lifelike turkey decoy. That’s why I go out of my way to employ decoys whenever I set up in a spot that’s visible to approaching turkeys from a long distance. On a run-and-gun hunt, a laydown hen and jake are a dynamite combination. A strutter with a real turkey fan and hen is even better.

Even a lone hen can draw the turkey’s eyes to it and away from you. If there’s a breeze, set the deke on a high point so it shines in the sun and the wind can give it a little motion. If you’re set up in the shade—and you always should be—the chances of getting busted go down exponentially.


Use your phone to expertly navigate the turkey woods. Technology can be a wonderful thing, and for hunters, a smartphone hunting app that can produce instantaneous satellite imagery and topographic maps can be a godsend when quickly trying to determine where to set up. If you’re in unfamiliar country and get a gobbler fired up, you can quickly check the app and see where there might be a pinch point, gully, creek or river course, standing timber and edge cover you could use to hide as you close the gap before setting up for a shot. HuntStand, onX Hunt and even Google Earth are worth a look.

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