If you’ve turkey hunted long enough, you’ve likely gotten settled in to a rut of sorts. You hunt the same spots, the same way, and you do it because it’s brought you success in the past. Far be it from me to ask anyone to fix what isn’t broken, but has your “honey-hole” ever dried up? Has it let you down on occasion? Even the best properties, loaded with birds, during the best times of the season can experience lulls in the action, for any number of reasons. Here’s an argument for getting out there and securing another spot or two before turkey seasons are upon us and it’s too late.
I’ve been fortunate enough to grow up hunting the same ground I did when I was younger, but therein lies part of the problem. Whether it’s land you own, or ground that you’ve had permission on for years, it’s too easy to get comfortable with the idea that there’ll be birds there in the spring. You always seem to pull it off, but sometimes it’s with a stroke of luck, and why leave it to chance? On numerous occasions, I’ve had prime spots of the past fail me when I seemed to need or rely on them the most. For youth hunts, or when trying to help someone get their first turkey, it’s nice to have an “old-reliable” that you can stroll into with little scouting, show up, and drop right in on the game. That said, no property or group of birds is a guarantee, and there’s a pile of reasons and scenarios which can change your turkey spot for the worse.
The first and most common culprit is usually just plain timing. While I do have properties that hunt better earlier, mid-season, or later, we’re hunting birds that can at times be quite nomadic. Especially in the early season when birds roam in larger groups, there’s simply a larger percent chance that the ground you’re on, is not the small area that most of the birds are frequenting. Even if your scouting has been filthy with sign and sightings, unless you can scout right up to the day you hunt, birds can be here one day, and simply gone the next. Don’t hold out hope that they may return, or keep trying to call them over from adjacent properties, have another spot or two in mind.
Another reason for reduced activity in your favorite spot is quite simply, change. Spring is dynamic. Food sources are changing daily as fields which once held waste grain, are plowed under the following day. Birds and the progression of their breeding season, male pecking order, and population demographics can affect how often birds roost together, visit strut zones, and generally interact with other birds and ultimately, your calling. Spring weather gives rise to even more variability in turkey behavior, with everything from wind and rain, to calm and sunny conditions driving them to frequent some places more than others. Put these scenarios together, along with a whole bunch more and you’ve got a virtual Rubik’s cube of combinations to sort through in order to solve the puzzle.
Lastly, pressure by other hunters can certainly change the game, and the unfortunate part is that the cause can be on neighboring property, and going on without your knowledge. It’s rare in many areas for turkeys to spend an entire day or especially an entire season, completely within the confines of the property you have permission to hunt, so you need to be mindful of other hunting activity going on in the area. When I see a truck parked at a field road or along a ditch, I assume it’s a turkey hunter, and adjust accordingly. More than anything turkeys don’t like the disruption caused by people on-foot, walking around out in the open and spooking them out of strut zones, feeding areas, or loafing spots throughout the day. They will naturally assume areas where this type of disruption is more rare.
Perhaps I’ve convinced you to start looking into other places to hunt? Well before you go and secure permission all over the county, keep in mind that this should be done within reason in order not to block your fellow hunter’s ability to get out and find some land as well. Still, it’s a major part of the philosophy I have as a turkey hunter, in that I’m not too proud to pull off of a group of birds, and try my luck in another area. What I look for is typically a few adjacent parcels, or a large individual one, totaling a hundred acres or more. If I’ve got 2 or 3 of those, spaced at least a few miles apart, I hunt much more aggressively and confidently. I know that if birds on Property A are henned up and uncooperative, the flock structure of birds on Property B is likely different, and toms might be more numerous and willing, while being less locked-down with their hens.
In the past, I would try to get permission on a large, contiguous group of parcels, but that strategy didn’t always serve me well. Now, rather than putting all my eggs in one flock’s basket and securing as much adjacent property as I can, I’m looking for clusters, separated by space, such that I can hunt different birds with different attitudes when the going gets tough. This way, I can much more effectively nullify the effects of timing and season, changes in food sources and breeding phase, as well as hunting pressure on that property and nearby ground. It’s a luxury to have that much ground to hunt, but especially if you’re part of a group with multiple tags and toms you’re after, it can really pay dividends. Keep it in mind as you prepare for your turkey season, as quality ground and multiple options is just as important as scouting and calling practice in my book.