Life is all about learning from your mistakes and turkey hunting is no different. I think I’ve learned much more not by analyzing what went right on successful hunts, but by studying what went wrong on unsuccessful ones. Any hunter capable of being humble can benefit from the lessons turkeys teach us.
One skill I have developed, and hope I can keep, is the ability to sit still, not just when turkeys are around, but when they could be. We’ve all been busted by turkeys that just showed up and perhaps let out a thunderous gobble that startled us so much that we were spotted by them. It’s happened so many times to me, and likely will again. But I have learned from it.
Both of my 2020 toms could’ve easily survived because of this. The first came clucking down a trail into a clearing a few feet from me, and just seconds after I had settled in to call. It was the last thing I had expected, but when I heard the first cluck, I sat as still as the stone I was leaning against and waited for the old boy to get 20 yards from me before I took him from behind.
These days I assume that any bird I hear clucking is close, even though sometimes they aren’t. It’s best to err on the side of caution.
Two weeks later, while working to keep a hen close that had came looking for her competition, a gobbler let loose directly behind me. I didn’t dare move. Within 10 minutes three of his buddies were about 35 yards out, and on my good shooting side. Patience and the willingness to sit still paid off.
Trusting your instinct is something I think is paramount no matter what species you are hunting, and failing to do so has cost me.
Once, on a run-and-gun hunt, I spotted two toms on a ridge 150 yards opposite me. When I called, they took off, but ran up to the end of the ridge they were on before dropping in the valley between us. I figured they were coming, but still, I scooted behind the top of the ridge I was on to meet them. They never showed.
When I went back to where I had first called from, there they were. I should’ve gone with my gut feeling and stayed put.
Three weeks ago, during the youth hunting weekend, my young mentee and I were getting quite a show from a flock of turkeys that included four jakes and three toms. None were interested in our decoy set-up, at least at first.
The young hunter was getting anxious and I thought of making a move or perhaps making some gobbler calls. But I resisted the urge, and told him we had all morning, that things happen fast, and as long as these birds were around that I liked our odds.
Eventually, the hens took notice of the decoys and suddenly were on a collision course with two toms just below our set-up. At 7:30, the 15-year-old bagged his first tom.
Turkey hunting doesn’t go your way every time, and when it does, it’s sweet. Pay attention, however, to those times when it doesn’t.