It’s Powerfully Addictive Seeing Big Gobblers In Open Fields…
I credit a big whitetail buck for finding one of my best turkey hot spots. The buck was a wide racked Michigan 10-point I wanted to tag with bow. I was waiting for him on a ditch that bordered standing stubble corn and a small wood lot.
I’ve hunted southern Michigan enough to know good things can happen in small places. Everything about that morning seemed small. The wood lot was no more than 10 acres, the creek a trickle and my field of view was a sliver. I was feeling somewhat skeptical when movement caught my eye. It was a huge turkey slipping from the brush to the corn. He was a giant and behind him came three more big toms.
I chuckled at the group as they sauntered up the ditch to the corn. I counted at least two gobblers with 10-inch plus beards. Tall grass lined the ditch and large corn fields stretched a quarter mile. Had I found a new turkey honey hole for next spring’s turkey hunt?
After the hunt I could not get the sight of the biggest gobbler out of my mind. He was a farm country trophy and hunting him would not be easy. At bedtime I’d dream about the best hunting strategy. Should I park the vehicle a mile away to avoid spooking him and sneak in before daylight? Should I set up in the tall grass along the corn?
Like most southern Michigan farm plots, the sight of so many gobblers in a relatively small wooded area is a big draw, but I noticed something about the small farm gobbler was beckoning. It was the chance to hunt a new location that was alluring. The challenge of hunting turkey on a new farm was exciting.
There is something powerfully addictive about seeing big gobblers in open agricultural fields, feeding, struttin’ their stuff that is permanently burned into your memory. The massive birds seem somewhat precarious compared to the big woods birds up north. With Michigan’s booming southern Michigan population hunting farm country can be more productive than chasing gobblers up north where cold winters, deep snow and predators have sent the population into a tail spin. With the price of gas these days hunting close to home is a big advantage for many hunters who prefer to avoid costly trips.
So, on opening day I parked a long distance from the honey hole, slipped silently down the road, sneaked into the shallow creek and set up next to the woods. I did not use a headlamp and set up on the birds like I knew they were close enough to see or hear me. I figured this spot was an all or nothing deal. If the gobblers were there I’d have them kissin’ close. If not, well, I’d still enjoy a spring morning hunting.
At the first hint of dawn I heard some wake up clucks, soon followed by loud gobbling that interrupted the morning silence like an atom bomb. The loud gobbles sent chills down my spine and caused my heart to pound in my chest. Come flydown I heard six different birds and worked two into gun range with soft clucks and purrs. I hadn’t spooked any birds and felt confident they would come closer for a better look. That’s when I saw the big beard and my pulse kicked into overdrive as I clicked the safety off, put the True Glo bead on the biggest gobbler and touched the trigger. Soon I was walking down the country road with a big wild turkey draped over my shoulder.
That hunt was an eye-opener for me. In many seasons since I’ve managed to apply the lessons I’ve learned while hunting farm country. I guess I’d love to chase birds in the big woods up north but as southern populations steadily grow I’ve concentrated on farm country and small parcels of land. As rural Michigan becomes increasingly subdivided, hunting small parcels is fast becoming the norm for many Michigan turkey hunters.
Thanks to the adaptability of wild turkeys, many hunters are spending time on fragmented habitat where woodlots or brush are interspersed with farm fields or pasture. Regardless of the scenario, hunting farms or small tracts of land is something more of us face yearly. Taking birds from small spots, micro-covers require a different approach than the northern woods.
You will find that it is much easier to get hunting permission for turkeys than deer. Many landowners have deer hunters; some don’t mind hunters on their property using bird shot. Most dairy farmers dislike turkeys because they see them feeding on spread manure and raiding silage they feed to cattle. Believe me, there are plenty of farmers and landowners that view turkeys as “pests planted by the DNR.” This helps when asking permission to hunt.
Many savvy turkey hunters are sneaky about how they approach small plot turkey hunts. Their goal is to not spook birds. The trick is to enter, hunt and exit property without being detected. Hunters who parade across open fields during broad daylight with gun and decoy bag over their shoulder are ruining their own hunt. Farm turkeys feed in open agricultural fields. After breakfast they often retreat to the nearby shade found in wood lots or brush. However, they keep an eye on open fields and the sight of a hunter roaming across their dinner table sends them running for the next section. The trick is to set up without birds seeing you. There is a number of ways to achieve this goal. Try setting up in the predawn darkness. Some hunters wait until mid-day when birds are resting or hidden in the brush and make a move across open ground.
Over the years I’ve concealed my approach using ditches, creeks, low ravines, pine trees, anything to block birds from seeing me. On one occasion I walked along a jersey cow until I was in shooting distance of two big gobblers courting a hot hen. I love foggy mornings because I can zip across farm land and not worry about roosted birds spotting me.
Wild turkeys are ever alert and their eyesight is 10-times better than yours. I’m convinced that gobblers in farm country become extra paranoid come hunting season. I’m certain they feel vulnerable in sparsely wooded areas. Using the terrain to conceal your approach is an easy solution. Walk in a ditch or creek, duck-walk up a fence line to timber, belly crawl if you have to. Hunting farm turkeys takes creative maneuvering to slide into a small woodlot without alert wary gobblers. There is no alternative, sometimes muddy knees is the price you pay to harvest the bird of a lifetime.
Run And Gun
This strategy in the big woods means you move frequently to new calling positions. But I’ve developed a similar strategy in southern Michigan that is best described as spot and stalk. Rather than spending too much time on a single plot of land I use my vehicle to scout several farms. Once I’ve spotted the bird I want I make my move. Sometimes I sneak within calling distance and close the deal with soft purrs. I prefer to leave the calls and decoys in the vehicle and sneak kissin’ close. The goal is to creep into easy shotgun range, inside 20 yards. I find this brand of hunting the ultimate challenge that requires expert stalking skills, perfect camouflage and advanced hunting knowledge regarding when and how to move.
This strategy requires defensive thinking. You never move where birds can see you. Use terrain like grass, trees, brush, farm implements, ditches, rock piles to cover your approach. Get behind any object and use it to block the gobblers from detecting your movement. The closer you get the more you slow your stalk and the closer you get to the ground. Nine times out of ten you end up on your hands and knees and belly crawling.
Last spring I simply used trees to block my stealthy approach and I stood straight up and stalked within 15 yards of a monster tom.
Just like trophy deer, the best time to stalk a big gobbler is when he is henned up. I know this sounds strange to those hunters hooked on calling birds. But stalk hunters are moving to the target and if an adult turkey is preoccupied with mating, you can slip into range undetected.
Move when turkeys have their heads down or they are looking away from you. If their head is up, stand still; let your camo do its thing. Have confidence in your stalking skills, move when the turkeys head is blocked from your view by leaves, brush, trees. If a gobbler is fanning, allow him to turn away and make your move. If his tail feathers are at full fan he can not see you coming. The bird I harvested last spring was fanned during the entire stalk. When I got 15 yards away I had to make a loud noise to spook the hen before the love sick tom lowered his tail and stood tip-toed looking for danger when the Benelli boomed.
If the prospect of sitting does not appeal to you or if weather is nasty, raining or windy, try spot and stalk tactics. The key to pulling this off is not to beat one farm to death, but get permission on as many tracts as possible. Some of my hunting friends prefer to drive country roads looking for turkeys using binoculars. Once they spot a gobbler they knock on the farmer’s door, tell him about seeing turkeys and ask permission to hunt. They explain to the landowner that this is a one time hunt; they have no plans to return and camp out in his yard. Farmers that don’t appreciate hunters slamming doors and parking in the yard before dawn will give an interloper hunting permission.
One advantage of having several spots to hunt is you are dealing with several different landowners, which increases your chances someone will give you an opportunity to hunt.
If gobbler activity is bad in one place you simply can drive to another a few miles away and find action pronto. One deadly strategy is developing a list of parcels and visit them regularly to determine if gobblers are present. If they are not willing to play, move to the next spot. Veteran hunters who use this system keep hitting the same parcels several times throughout the day until they spot active birds. Some properties that are ice cold at daylight become spontaneously bustling with turkey activity a few hours later.
Although plenty of farms offer enough elbow room, small plots have major assets that some turkey hunters overlook. We all want to wander oak ridges or slip along a river bank for miles in search of gobblers. Tradition tells us birds are in the big woods but a growing army of Michigan hunters are taking toms in farm country. Check on open-country spots near your home and soon you will find locations with adult gobblers; which fast become high-odds hunting locations. Hunting farm land is deadly effective.