Mess-ups like these save the lives of gobblers every spring
We've all been there. Hunt enough and you'll be there again. And again. Ten dumb things you do while turkey hunting follow.
1. Stand When You Should Sit
Patience kills turkeys, the old saying goes. Lack of it scares them off. Ever think the woods were dead just an hour after spring gobblers barked back responses to your yelping? That 60 minutes is nothing to an old turkey, but an eternity to you. Wait another five minutes. And maybe five minutes more. Listen for clucks, drumming and footsteps in the leaves. Don't have faith? Stand up. If you hear putt-putt, and the sounds of wings clawing through branches, you'll learn to listen to yourself better next time.
2. Sit When You Should Walk
There are times you think too much in the woods. Or get lazy. Or let that early rising get the best of you. There you are texting on your phone or playing a game. Are you turkey hunting or goofing off? Put that thing in your pocket. Now stand up, listen, make a crow call and cup your ears some more. Then start walking, looking way ahead as you do. There, in the distance, see it? A strutter. Now make your move. Get in good position and call. Did he answer? Now you can sit down.
3. Walk When You Should Leave
Sometimes turkeys truly are henned up, or too pressured to act right, or they're dead, tagged on their scaly long-spurred legs and gone from the place; not even there anymore, man. Walking and firing up locator calls in a burned-out area is about as foolish as standing when you should sit, or sitting when you should walk. Leave. Go do something else, especially if it means finding a new spot that isn't as cursed and quiet as the one you just left.
4. Leave When You Should Stay
I swear some guys have alarm clocks in their turkey vests that go off when the morning lull following fly-down settles in. They drive roads and eventually give up. Fine. All that means is a gobbler is likely with his hens. He doesn't have to talk; the girl turkeys are putting up with his strutting and drumming. He's a hopeful bird with breeding on his mind, and he's right where he wants to be. So take a nap. Call a little. Nap some more. Time it right and those hens may have drifted off to nest. And then you're right where you want to be: well-rested and watching that big boy strut up into range.
5. Call When You Should Shut Up
Yep, they call them calls for a reason. But sometimes you should shut up and let that turkey come to you. Put some doubt in his head. If he gobbled hard over and over, he knows where you are. Did he go quiet? He might be coming. Call now and he might pop right back into strut, hung up and waiting for you to walk his way. Don't. Don't do a thing until you click that safety off.
6. Shut Up When You Should Call
Some new hunters are flat-out afraid to call. Don't be. There are situations when fired-up male turkeys would come if you squealed on a mouth diaphragm like a fat hog in a chufa patch. The worst thing you can do while calling turkeys is to use the same number of yawp-yawp-yawp notes in an unrealistic and worn-out way. Think like the bird you're hunting. Call like a turkey, and put some emotion into it; this includes the soft stuff.
7. Shoot When You Should Wait
You've never been all that good at judging distance. Sometimes turkeys coming in at 60 yards look like they're inside 40 steps. Wait, and wait some more. I know, your heart is thrashing around like a flopping bluegill on a boat deck, but calm down just a little. Yeah, this is the exciting part you live for, but collect yourself just a little. And let that gobbler come to you. Cluck once, if your mouth isn't too dry. Head up? Kill him. It's okay if your hands tremble after. Mine always do.
8. Wait When the Turkey Is Leaving
Turkey fever. Waiting for a bird to take one more step. Both scenarios let birds walk into another day if you let it. My buddy Jody likes to call them "second birds." They give you a second to make up your mind to kill them in that moment of truth. Miss it and lose your chance.
9. Fish When You Should Turkey Hunt
Yep, it's real easy late in the season. It's warm. It's barbecue weather. They've stocked trout somewhere and everyone is catching them. The bass are moving onto their beds. The bream (as southern folks call 'em) seem willing to jump right into hot frying pan oil. Listen up: You can fish all summer. You can't turkey hunt then. Sure, it's easy to swap out a tough day of hunting for "the tug is the drug" stuff. Don't. Let's face it: fish are comparatively easy. They can wait. Unless there's a lull in the action and you want to eat well in turkey camp. Do it then: heck you might even hear a gobble nearby.
10. Sleep In When It Rains When You Should Get Wet
Turkeys seem to hate rain showers almost as much as spring gobbler hunters. They leave the dripping woods, often windy as well, and move to open fields, shaking off like wet black Labs. Areas you thought had no birds suddenly now have many. It's a shame you saw them out in the pasture as you drove to work a few hours after fly-down. Got a shotgun and shells in the truck? A change of camo clothes? It still might not be too late to pull something out of this. Heck, you're full of energy, right? Hatch a plan, slip in quitely and get close enough to call. This especially works if the gobbler is alone and primed to drift toward your calling at the woods edge. Heck, you've got at least one bald-faced lie in you, right? Your boss will understand . . . or not. It's turkey season!
Realtree turkey hunting editor Steve Hickoff has chased gobblers all over the United States and Mexico. He was born and raised in northcentral Pennsylvania, and now makes his home in Maine. Hickoff was named the NWTF Tom Kelly Communicator of the Year for 2019, a prestigious award reflecting his longtime work promoting hunting and conservation as a turkey hunting writer, editor and book author.