May 01, 2013

Perhaps the most important rule in turkey hunting success is getting into the proper position for the shot. No, I’m not talking about placing the shotgun on your shoulder. I’m talking about placing your setup where turkeys are headed and being at the right place at the right time when gobblers arrive. In many cases you need to be downright devious and deliberately move to a position that will intercept moving birds. Get behind a moving bird and you will get lost in the dust. But if you can move ahead, sort of cut them off, you are on the road to a happy ending to your hunt. Here’s why.

For some strange reason wild turkeys do not like to back up. If they walk into a page wire fence, they get confused and sometimes lack the common instinct to simply go in reverse. The same holds true for their movements, they seldom go back in the direction they came from. So, if you want to fill; your turkey tag you need to place yourself ahead of birds. You know, cut them off at the pass, circle the brush and beat them to the opposite side.

Be Ready To Move

It is not uncommon for gobbler chasers to move several times in order to get into position for a shot. Often birds take a look at your spread, eyeball the decoys, intensely listen to your calling and head in another direction. Savvy hunters pull stakes, grab camo weapon and circle the fort in an effort to get in front of moving birds. This requires the same skills needed to stalk wild turkeys. You need to move without being detected. You need to use terrain, obstacles, brush, ditch banks, tall grass, thick forest, or tall swamp grass to conceal your maneuver to outflank gobblers. The trick is to circle target birds without them seeing or hearing you.

Next, get setup in their path and try to coax them closer for a shot. Keep in mind if you didn’t succeed with your initial setup that repeating identical hunting tactics could be a recipe for disaster. You have to change your game plan. Try setting decoys differently or locate a position where you are better concealed. Perhaps the most important variable to the equation is you need to modify calling. The majority of the time gobblers refuse to come into range is because of bad calling. Many hunters are too loud, use the wrong tones and have no pause in their calling repeater. Wild birds are very shy about running up to turkey calls that do not mimic the language of wild birds.

Circle And Switch

If I have birds hang up and switch directions I’ll circle the fort. Come at them from another direction and set up where I’m certain they will not spot me. Next, I switch calls, call less frequently or more importantly completely shut up. You see, once a gobbler is headed in your direction a deadly strategy is to go silent. Hen crazed toms will eagerly seek the source of the call and often end up in your lap at lightning speed. The following anecdote best describes this strategy.

Tendrils of fog hung over the Kalamazoo River as I eased closer to the roosting location. The night before I put a huge gobbler to bed in tall oaks bordering the scenic river and now I was ready for a kill. I set decoys in a small opening in the woods, sat down and started with a few wake up calls. Immediately the old boy hammered back with a loud gobble that echoed off the silent forest. Minutes later the huge bird was standing with head erect, looking at my decoys but instead of moving closer he faded into the woods. A few minutes later I heard him gobble a couple hundred yards in the opposite direction. I picked up decoys, grabbed my Darton crossbow and used a deep ravine to circle the bird. I heard him gobble again, this time he was headed in my direction.

I set a lone hen decoy on a tiny knoll, gave a very soft love purr with the call and shut up. Minutes after I went silent I could see the huge bird coming in my direction. I eased the crossbow to my knee and sat motionless as the huge black form glided across the forest floor without making a sound. The big tom had his head outstretched, parallel to the ground with long beard dragging in the leaves as though he was sneaking in my direction. He stopped, stood erect, and looked in all directions as I remained silent. He looked directly at the decoy, lowered his head again and stalked within 10 yards of me without making a sound. I gave him a short alert pluck, put the cross hair on his chest and put the Spitfire Gobbler Getter through his back. Soon I was at the truck with bird in hand and a big grin on my face because I had outflanked the smartest critter in the woods.

The Trick Is to Get Ahead OF The Birds

Not all turkey hunts are a cake walk. Sometimes you move and the birds switch directions and you need to move again. Other times you get in front of them, set up, begin calling and they simply ignore you which requires you to move again to cut them off. It can be very difficult to get ahead of moving gobblers or easy as pie. The trick is to have birds coming at you, not wandering away.

Some gobblers are too call-shy to make hunting easy. Smart old birds having had human encounters can be difficult to fool. Sometimes you need to locate a funnel or natural travel route and wait for turkeys to walk into range. Run and gun tactics can provide plenty of healthy exercise, reduce boredom and give you a second chance at success.

New Decoys

Get in front of this long beard with trophy spurs and he might come running to a soft call that mimics a hot hen purr. Kenny Darwin photos

One game changer which can increase your luck is a new decoy that looks like a real bird. Gone are the days when cheap decoys are used by smart hunters. Far too many hunts have been ruined because big gobblers get a peek at fake-looking decoys and they vacate the area. Do yourself a favor and use decoys that have the life-like detail to bring birds running.

I like a submissive hen and fanned out gobbler set up. For some strange reason when I started using the fanned gobbler my success rate soared. There is something powerfully exciting about a fully fanned gobbler tail that gets the attention of satellite toms and brings them close for a look. No, they don’t come in and try to jump the hen decoy. Instead they square off with the gobbler decoy, jump on its back, spur the living hell out of it, hold its head down and give it a bashing. Sort of reminds me of a street fight when the bars close in East Lansing. Birds come in all fired up, pissed to the max, excited and their actions are extremely violent.


Want to up your odds at success this spring turkey hunting season? If you don’t slam a bird with your morning setup, get up, get moving and try another location. Don’t make the common mistake of staying in a cold location when a simple move could put you in gobbler heaven. Far too many rookie hunters make the mistake of listening to birds gobbling in the opposite direction until they are gone. The trick is to stay close to the birds, perhaps move with them and eventually end up in front of them.

This strategy is no cake walk. It requires advanced woodsmanship and stalking skills to cover turf without being spotted. Trial and error will give you confidence and knowledge needed to select new setup locations. Moving and grooving through the woods, sliding into position undetected is an adrenalin rush that makes the hunt much more fun, exciting and keeps you coming back for more. I know some turkey hunters who make several moves in a single morning, rather than sitting, waiting and getting totally bored.

I use a direct frontal approach to wild turkey hunting when carrying the telephoto lens and still camera. Sometimes I get in super close, have a productive photo outing but often my best strategy is to outflank moving birds, slip ahead of them and ambush unsuspecting gobblers. Ya know, sometimes a wildlife photographer has to be a bit devious, get downright dirty, even purposely cut them off for the money shot.

The same holds true in hunting. Sometimes those who fill their tag at lightning speed use trickery, advanced hunting tactics and they take the hunt to the bird. There nothing wrong with passive turkey hunting requiring endless patience for success. But sometimes sitting, calling and waiting are just a drag, downright boring. What about you? Are you ready to take the hunt one step further and cut ’em off for the fast kill?