The 10 Commandments of Public Land Turkey Hunting

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Turkey Hunting Tips for Gobblers on Public Land

Some folks have private honey holes. Filling spring gobbler tags without too much outside hunting pressure is pretty much assured.

And then there's the rest of us. The guys who hunt public land turkeys with everyone else.

It’s busy. It’s crowded.

Some strategies are in order. So let's get to them.

1. Thou Shalt Chill on the Locator Call

Locator calls pull shock gobbles from shut-mouthed longbeards and jakes. Still, some hunters go too far.

You’ve heard that guy before, the jacked-up hunter hustling along on the next ridge, making like a caffeine-crazed barred owl or crow in an attempt to pull shock gobbles from male turkeys; or worse, sounding like a wailing Bigfoot covering ground. Yep, he’s getting noticed all right – but birds don’t like what they see or hear.

Locator calls work, sure. But use them sparingly. 

Tip: Let real owls and crows locate birds for you. Stop. Listen. Hunt that shock-gobbling turkey.

2. Thou Shalt Not Covet Another Guy’s Gobbler

turkey huntingYep, sometimes it’s hard to tell if another hunter is working a bird – especially in a big-woods situation and if the other guy is a good yelper. But if you can tell somebody is calling to a hot turkey, don’t try to cut the gobbler off by getting between the hunter and his bird. It’s poor sportsmanship and might even earn you a fistfight – or worse. You don’t like it when another guy slips in on you, right? Well then.

Tip: Walk away. Find another hot bird. Or come back later to try that turkey again. 

3 . Thou Shalt Not Hunt Posted Property

Got NO TRESPASSING posters surrounding your public land spot? Hear birds on the other side of the line? Don’t be tempted. Don’t break the law. Thou shalt not steal. Stay put.

Try to call a gobbler to you. It may be private land where he stands, but where you sit is public access. Once the bird crosses over the line, he’s yours to take. They’re everybody’s turkeys, but where they stand strutting legally matters. Hunt by the rules of the game.

Tip: Slip into an unpressured public area. Call softly – and yelp the hung-up tom to your side.

4. Thou Shalt Not Belly Crawl 

Use these tactics on private land? Sure, within reason. They sometimes work. Repositioning on hung-up spring strutters by slithering like a snake can sometimes put you in their comfort zone.

So does putting a full turkey fan in front of you and moving on birds, gun or bow ready for when the territorial strutter rushes your position ready to fight – but what if another hunter sees your fanned tail coming to his hidden setup position?

On public land it can be downright dangerous.

Tip: Getting down and dirty works, but timed right, aggressively calling turkeys to you does too.

5. Thou Shalt Not Dress Like a Turkey Head

This is an obvious safety measure we’ve been taught since our youth hunting days, right? Not always.

Every season on public land I’ll see guys wearing gobbler-faced red t-shirts poking out above camo, white sock patches creeping out under pant cuffs, blue jeans too, plus black shotguns the color of a gobbler’s body.

In a hunting situation, where patches of color might be seen as you hear gobbling and move toward it and anticipate seeing birds, this is bad news. It’s just plain dumb otherwise and pretty much unsafe on hard-hit public lands.

Being concealed is a tactical advantage to gaining the edge on turkeys and it's one that can keep you safe to boot. Identify your target. Don’t shoot at color, but don’t wear unsafe apparel either. Camouflage is your solution.

Tip: Point this tip out to young hunters you’re bringing along as you talk safety issues with them.

public land turkey hunting

6. Thou Shalt Not Be Lazy

Public land gets some steady pressure. Turkeys, watching and listening to guys approach their roosted positions, figure the deal out fast. They may not know what hunters hustling toward them might be (after cutting truck engines and closing doors), but they don’t like it.

They stay on the roost, gobbling like ringtone recordings. They wing off branches, hit the ground and walk – or run – the other way. Haven’t seen this? Then you don’t hunt enough public land.

Hatch a Plan B strategy. Get permission on an adjacent property; private land sitting next to public access. Call the bird to you there – or just wait for the gobbler to show up after the other guys run him off.

Tip: Mix it up. Choose different angles to approached roosted birds before setting up to call.

BROWNING BLIND

Browning Phantom Ground BlindA quality ground blind can come in handy during the spring turkey season.

This Browning Phantom blind offers plenty of space and is loaded with features that make it easy to use including oversized zippers, oversized ground stakes and integrated bow hangers.

7. Thou Shalt Not Keep a Bird Gobbling

Did a turkey answer your calling? Then shut up. He knows where you are, likely to the exact tree. If you keep calling just to hear the bird respond, pumped up by the interaction, you risk calling in something else too: other hunters.

Tip: A gobble is intoxicating, sure enough. But give it a rest when a tom’s hammering at you.

8. Thou Shalt Not Be Dumb With Gobbler Decoys

There’s no doubt about it: we’re in the golden age of turkey decoys. They’ve never been better. Hen dekes look so realistic many a live gobbler tries to breed them each season around turkey country.

Gobbler fakes, from scrawny jakes with cigar-stub beards to full-fan strutters, are widely available and fool the best of eyes. In a controlled, private situation or big public land spot with lots of room, they draw in birds.

But use care when/if staking them in a highly-pressured, public spot with lots of hunters though – you’ll chance at pulling other guys to you, spooking any nearby birds and messing with your hunt.

Worse yet, someone might think they see a puffed-up longbeard standing there. Not good.

Tip: Pitch a pop-up blind near your turkey fakes. It can let hunters know those birds are phony.

9 . Thou Shalt Not Give Up

Public land gobblers hear a lot of calling. Lots of it comes right before fly-down until around mid-morning. Hang around. The best is yet to come sometimes. Take a little nap. Let things settle down. As the morning grows late, call softly – unlike the calling racket you and the turkeys have been hearing. You might even pull in a silent gobbler looking for a sweet-talking hen.

Tip: Stay comfortable out there as you hold your ground. Chairs and seat cushions can help.

10. Thou Shalt Not Tell All

Nah, I’m not telling you to lie in the true sense – just fib.

Every veteran turkey hunter knows this secret, especially when hunting public land.

“Hear any birds?” blurts the newbie. “Nope, how about you, bud?” replies the veteran. You can pick out a rookie every time. They gush about the turkeys they heard on the roost and the big hung-up strutter they saw and where it went. They can’t tell you enough about it.

Fib again. Now keep this information for the next time; even for the late season when everybody else is bass fishing. The public-land birds might still be there.

Tip: Sometimes keep your mouth shut. Just nodding and smiling is the best response of all.

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[Editor's note: This article was first published March 4, 2015.]