Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Shooting a turkey: you don’t have to sit!

As long as you can walk quietly, or move quietly while slipping
along on your hands and knees, spring turkey hunting can be equal
parts offense and defense. You don’t need a tree wider than your
shoulders to sit against.

Turkey hunting is hard enough without any handicaps. If you
decide ahead of time to concede any ground lacking shoulder-width
trees, you make the hunt more difficult. You don’t have to sit down
to hunt turkeys, or even to shoot the bird when it approaches.

Last spring, armed with a surplus Minnesota turkey license, I
hunted an unfamiliar piece of ground by walking and calling. It was
a pleasant May day, and I was moving along slowly and quietly,
sending out strings of yelping and cutting.

About the time I got smack in the middle of a stand of young
poplars, the unmistakable sharp spit the beginning of the drumming
sound gobblers make when they’re displaying  hit my ears. You know
how sometimes you think you hear drumming and you freeze to listen
intently? This time, there was no doubt about it; the staccato
“chick” followed by the low-pitched, guttural “phoooom” drowned out
all other sounds in the still air. I had both hands on my gun, and
made myself into an extra little tree about the time the big turkey
showed.

Normally, hens move about and determine the travel plans of a
big gobbler. But in this case, he was leading a large group of
turkeys up the hill toward the calling. Behind him filtered maybe
six hens, and a couple sub-dominant toms that were not displaying.
At no time did any of the turkeys seem to notice me, or do anything
differently because I was there.

As long as you remain motionless, what can you be to a turkey
but a tree? I had to wait so I wouldn’t shoot three with one shot,
but when he cleared the group I raised up and took him. The tom was
down, and the other birds just moved off into the brush, because I
didn’t rush the fallen turkey. I’m a big believer in holding on the
shot bird in case his head comes up, but not hoopin’ and hollerin’
like you just made a 50-foot birdie putt.

All this happened without sitting down against a tree, or even
putting on a face mask.

Sometimes, you never do sit down. Get a bird gobbling, and move
toward him several times. Make sure you remain hidden as you make
your moves, but calling from several different positions can sell
him. Don’t worry that it’s going to “cause him to hang up if you
sound too eager.” That’s baloney.

If you find a good tree to sit against, take it. But remember
that you make noise as you’re sitting down and getting all
situated. (Think about it: lots of turkey vests have velcro that
has to be separated in order to bring down the seat cushion. The
sound of velcro ripping apart will send most turkeys running.)
Plus, when you sit down you bring all kinds of brush and other
obstacles between you and the bird, which can often compromise your
shooting options. If you take the hunt tight to the turkey, be
prepared to remain standing and just shoot him when he shows
up.

Back on your feet

Even if you do get seated, let’s say the turkey comes quite
close, but not quite close enough. You can hear him drumming out
there, just below the rise. He’s in gun range right now, but you
can’t bulldoze the top of the burm.

So stand up, walk over there, and shoot him! Rise quietly,
smoothly, and walk deliberately. You aren’t trying to storm the
beach. Some turkeys will flush when they see you, but most just
walk away nervously, alarm putting. You typically have plenty of
time to take careful aim.

If you do this, did you somehow violate the code of the turkey
council? No. We all have to get rid of this rigid set of rules we
impose on ourselves because we read them in articles and books.
It’s still a classic hunt. You called the bird in, and then you
just rose up to create a shooting lane.

It’s fair chase in my mind. You don’t have to do it, but it’s
safe as long as you don’t do it with a group of friends. You have
plenty of time to see the shot, positively identify the tom, decide
whether it’s a bird you want, and make sure no other living thing
is in the line of fire.

(If there is doubt about anything, don’t shoot. If you can’t
tell what’s beyond the turkey, don’t shoot. If you don’t feel
comfortable doing this, don’t do it. It’s just an option available
to you that a lot of turkey hunters don’t consider.)

What about open

fields and pastures?

Mark Kayser, a great turkey hunter from South Dakota, opened my
eyes to guerrilla moves you can make on birds that sit out in
fields and strut.

Especially in regions featuring plenty of prairie, wild turkeys
learn to forage and find girlfriends in places other than big
timber.

Unless the field is pasture-like to the point that it’s an
overgrown pool table, there’s more cover out there than you think.
You can often slink into the field when the tom is turned away from
you or strutting on the other end of the field out of sight, and
settle into a prone position in a natural low spot.

If possible, jab a decoy into the ground so the bird will have
something to see if he approaches. Then call from there in the
grass, and often that bird will feel comfortable approaching.

Prone is perhaps the most reliable shooting position. A set of
lightweight shooting sticks can easily stash in your vest for just
such an occasion.

So much of turkey hunting comes down to what the bird is willing
to do. If you get the right bird in the right mood, you can sit
against a big fat tree and wait for him to run you over. But if the
turkey is reluctant to show himself, or decides not to play fair by
staying out in the open, you have tactical choices.

Only sit down if you want to, and the opportunity presents
itself.

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