In a world filled with rumors and bad information, we’re going to give you truth on how to avoid the biggest mistakes new turkey hunters make. And this isn’t just about the top shotgun loads, pot calls, or the best turkey decoys. If you want to put your first fan up on the wall this spring with a paintbrush beard hanging underneath, keep reading and spare yourself some frustration.
Footsteps in the dry leaves of pressured public land gave way to a pounding heart, shaky
knees, and trembling hands. It had been twenty minutes since the last gobble boomed one ridge over at the yelps from a mouth call. Since then, there had been nothing but silence and I was now stuck in a waiting game filled with both anticipation and doubt.
Like a ghost, he suddenly materialized off my right shoulder. His brilliant red, white, and blue
head lit up the hardwood ridge at about 43 yards.
Of course, he picked the worst possible spot to show himself.
Should I swing on him? Should I sit tight and wait? Is he within range?
Those and a million other questions ran through my mind. For the next fifteen minutes, I swear
his feet barely moved as he happily strutted right on the edge of my effective range. My shotgun wasn’t even pointed his direction.
I was handcuffed.
Eventually I tried to get the gun on him but in the blink of an eye he took two steps and sailed
out of my life.
Spring turkey hunting is the ultimate chess match and the sad truth is that this story is not at all unique. In fact, it nearly perfectly illustrates how new turkey hunters often shoot themselves in the foot (pun intended). If you haven’t yet experienced this frustration, here’s the three most
common blunders you need to know about.
It happens all the time.
New hunters hear that gobble and immediately jump to the nearest tree and start digging in their turkey vest for a call. Or they scramble to stake a turkey decoy out nearby. But those might be the worst things you can do.
Remember this – when a longbeard responds to your calling with a gobble, you probably have at least a few minutes before he’ll be within sight. Chances are you’ve even got a lot longer.
So before get the seat on your turkey vest ready, think less about yourself and more about the
bird…what’s the safest, easiest path for him to take to get to where you’re at?
Hint: it needs to be somewhere he’s willing to go. No matter how bad he wants that hen, he’s
not coming if he’s not comfortable.
When you think you’ve got a spot he’ll want to come to, it’s time to think about getting him within range. Use the lay of the land and available cover to position yourself so he needs to be within range in order to know if a hen is really there. This is what trips up most new hunters…they position themselves so they can see a long way.
But if he can look right at you from 100 yards out, you’ve got another problem. And this leads to the second big challenge.
Hanging Up Birds
If it’s wide open timber or a field for a couple hundred yards, you can bet he’s going to hang up way out of range of even the best turkey gun. There’s no need for him to get closer…he can see everything he needs to, including the hen that was making all that racket.
Again, there’s a couple aspects to preventing hung up birds. As mentioned, your setup plays a
huge role in whether or not he comes into range, but there’s more to it than positioning.
Keep in mind that the hens typically come to the gobbler. If you’re overcalling, especially once
he’s close to being within sight, he’s probably going to stop and wait for the hen (you) to come to him. As much as we all love to hear a longbeard respond to that new slate or box call, don’t overdo it. He knows exactly where you’re at when he gobbles at you.
And when I say “exactly where you’re at” it means he can look right at the tree your sitting
against or the ground blind you’re in.
If he stops gobbling, get ready. Chances are he’s making a move towards you. Get your gun up, turn on the red dot, and be ready. Hold off on calling and let his anticipation build so he just has to go see where that hen is.
By the time he’s closing the distance, you’re really going to want to tune your ears into a sound that can make or break the hunt. It’s often not recognized by new hunters, but we’re going to uncover it here.
Not Listening for Drumming
If you don’t know what drumming is or what it sounds like, you absolutely need to learn how to tune your ears to listen for this low frequency sound.
Drumming is essentially a much quieter version of a gobble and it’s got just as much meaning.
From a common sense perspective, think of it this way – turkeys gobble to attract hens, which is helpful with bringing in hens from a distance thanks to the volume. But when a gobbler knows a hen is close by, he has no need to cast a loud gobble. Instead, he’s going to drum to impress the ladies.
Again, this is a very low frequency sound you have to train your ears to listen for. The easiest
way to learn this sound is by grabbing a set of headphones or earbuds and searching YouTube.
Drumming is such a low frequency noise, you really do need headphones or earbuds to hear it
on video. This only takes a couple minutes but pays huge dividends.
When that gobbler is coming in and nearly within sight or range, there’s a great chance he’s
going to drum. And he may do it several times. This is a huge giveaway in knowing a bird is
working his way in and possibly within range already without seeing him.
I can’t tell you how many times a drumming turkey has given hunters just enough time to make last second mental preparations in getting ready for a shot.
So if you’re taking your first trip to the spring woods, keep these three factors in mind at all
times. By all means, grab all the gear you need – calls, decoys, shells, and turkey vest – but
know that these tactics put more birds down no matter what part of the country you’re in.