Going back to your turkey-hunting roots: longbeards in the big woods
Every turkey hunter dreams of a textbook spring gobbler hunt. And when they do occasionally happen (for some it’s more occasional than others) we’re on top of the world. When you pull one off on a woodland or a mountain gobbler, it’s even more rewarding.
I’ve heard all kinds of stories about hunting timberland gobblers, and the often-advised technique is run-and-gun. When I was a teenager in the early 1980s and turkey hunting in New York was still a relatively new thing, this was all I knew to do. My only hunting spot was the hilly terrain within walking distance of my home in the southern Adirondacks. The only call I had was a diaphragm mouth call and my camouflage was my dad’s old duck hunting wear. But I made due.
One May morning, on maybe my third or fourth go at it, I was walking the logging roads yelping as loud as I could, listening and then moving on. That first gobble I’d ever heard pretty much scared the daylights out of me. He actually answered my call, and he was close.
I quickly sat down against a huge rock on the side of the trail and began talking to my gobbler, which I expected to pop up over the hill at any second well within gun range. That didn’t happen, as the bird came in opposite my favored shooting direction and the lesson I learned that day was that you can’t beat a turkey to the draw.
It would be a few years before I’d get to hunt some farm country where turkeys seemed to be everywhere, and eventually have some success. I still love having quality agricultural lands to hunt, but just as it was when I was young, they can be hard to come by. And so, I go back to my roots.
Obviously, finding birds to hunt in the timber is the biggest challenge and turkeys sure can travel. Last spring we had a one-legged hen near our home that was spotted three miles away within the span of a week. Turkeys roam looking for food, so if you have that you’re off to a good start.
In recent years, two of my best mountain hunting spots have been areas that had been recently logged. There’s plenty of food for the turkeys and the hens seem to feel secure here in setting up nesting sites, especially near water.
But there is work involved. I often don’t have the luxury of roosting birds, so the first thing I’m trying to do in the morning is get a gobble. That finds me walking the trails, just like I did when I was 15 years old, making semi-loud yelps (now on a box call) and hoping to get an answer. Then, the game is on.
If I can, I close the distance on the tom once I get him talking. But my experience in the woods, where turkey numbers tend to be fewer, is that if they’re gobbling, they’re eventually coming. Therefore, I spend that precious time arranging a good set-up, which typically involves decoys. From there, it’s all turkey talk.
Just like anywhere else, turkey hunting in the timber doesn’t always work out. But when it does, the reward for the hard work is as sweet as can be.