Crash Course Gobblers: Hunting New Land

Tips and tactics for success when turkey hunting new land.

Donald Devereaux Jarrett | March 1, 2021

Donna Price with a bird she killed on new ground last spring. The big gobbler had spurs just a tad longer than 1 1/2 inches.

The alarm sounded at 2 a.m., and it was briefly a bit aggravating. Then I remembered the reason I had set it for such an early hour. We were going turkey hunting, but we needed to leave earlier than normal to drive the 2 1/2 hours to a place we had never hunted.

My good friend Jimmie Powell had invited me down a few weeks earlier to hunt on his property, and I had killed a bird the first morning I was there. Before I headed home, he gave me a tour of some other places he hunted and invited me to come back later for another bird. While we made a quick lap through the final piece of property he showed me, he suggested that I bring my girlfriend Donna down to hunt this particular piece of property before the season ended.

So, with only a quick glance at the property and a mention of the invitation for Donna, we nailed down the day and were headed south.

When we arrived at the property, I knew exactly where I wanted to be before daylight. We almost got there.

Hunting new ground is always exciting to me, and through trial and error, I have learned that the more I can know about a place before I hunt it, the better off I will be, especially if I don’t have the time or opportunity to hunt it much. There are several ways to accomplish this to increase your chances of bringing a bird home from foreign forests.

Study: We have all had tests in our lives. All the way back to elementary school, we have been tested. Sometimes, dependent on the amount of studying we did, we passed or failed the test. And so it is sometimes with turkey hunting.

When I was in school, studying wasn’t my top priority. I could have applied myself better and more often. When I discovered the subject of Turkey Hunting some years later, I became quite the scholar in terms of trying to learn as much as possible about the turkey itself. I am still studying today, and I still fail tests here and there. It is for that reason that I continue to work at getting better every season. I am constantly looking for ways to increase my success.

When I first started turkey hunting, new ground was a test every time I headed to the turkey woods. It stayed that way for a good while. I failed a lot of tests back then. That’s the case for a lot of us. Even if you own a piece of property you have hunted for years, if you have never turkey hunted it, it’s still different and new in terms of turkey woods. It’s not always just about knowing about the property when you hunt turkeys, but it sure helps. More helpful still is to know where birds like to be at certain times of the day on that property.

Of course, it’s not always possible to know those things when gaining access to new property. That’s why studying can be so beneficial. It can be even harder to study new property if you just don’t have time to scout it before you hunt it.

With the advancement of technology, we have more resources at our disposal than ever before. I would have to say with the introduction of tools such as Google Earth, onX Hunt and others, scouting has become more advanced than ever before. I still love beating the bushes before the season as much as ever, but when the season comes in, scouting while I hunt is also a favorite.

However, when I plan to hunt a new area now, I will do some “cyber scouting” in a heartbeat. There simply is not enough time to scout on foot all the places I plan to hunt each spring. Using aerial photos and satellite imagery will uncover a lot of info that you won’t ever see on foot unless you walk directly on top of it. I have looked at thousands of acres that I have hunted thousands of times since the arrival of apps that allow me to do so.

Sleeping, eating and breeding is all a gobbler cares about. Look for places that he might be during those scenarios. They are identifiable on a good satellite map. Look for cutovers, streams, hardwoods, fields or openings and potential roost areas. Look for travel routes from area to area that you will be able to utilize as you move about the property.

If it is National Forest or WMA land, you can purchase a good old-fashioned paper map. They still work and can shed light on important information, such as streams, marshes, boundaries and so forth before you ever hunt it. That’s all I had and all I ever used for years. I still use them today in addition to the new stuff.

Whatever you have at your disposal, I highly recommend taking advantage of it. Study that property like it’s a final exam. It can definitely make a difference.

Boots On The Ground: There is no better scouting than in person. Things constantly change in the turkey woods, and those changes can certainly affect the turkey’s living arrangements, all the way up to them vacating the property.

I’ve always been of the mindset that it’s better to know before I go. Longtime friend Cal Marsh and I rode all the way to Florida to hunt turkeys one year on a place that a friend of a friend knew.

“Turkeys all over the place,” he said.

On Day 1, when the man who hunted deer and hogs on the property began telling us about the turkeys he had seen in a particular spot several years prior, I realized that we were in a lot of trouble. We heard two turkeys over the next couple of days, and neither were in the same zip code. That is a scenario I have worked hard to avoid ever since.

If you are given permission to hunt new property, scout it before you go if you can. Furthermore, stay as long as you can when you go. Listen and watch. I have lost count of the times I have sat in the pre-season turkey woods before daylight waiting for a bird to sound off, only to have several stroll by, sometimes as close as 10 yards away once they flew down. They don’t always gobble.

I have also spent time scouting areas that were new to me when I didn’t hear a bird at daylight, but I would run up on birds in the same spot later in the day. Being there, just as an innocent bystander, can lend you valuable information that you might not get otherwise.

Get a good pair of binoculars and a locator call, and get there before you plan to hunt if you can. Pinpointing birds in person through roost identification, locating midday loafing areas and evening hangouts while identifying routes birds prefer to use to and from the roost can eventually pay huge dividends.

The Toolbox: Every time I head to the turkey woods on a hunt, I have my “toolbox” with me. My toolbox is basically everything I carry that doesn’t hang around my neck or off my shoulders. It’s the mental stuff. The list, the notes, the ideas. Things I’ve learned over the years while scouting and hunting. Things I’ve learned about the turkey itself and things that I use every time I’m in the woods. It took years to build up the supply. I’ll be in trouble if the bottom ever rusts out of that box.

Whatever you call it, you might need to get something out of it at any time over the course of a hunt. Those tools are especially handy when hunting new ground, especially since no two turkeys are alike. When hunting new ground, it is helpful to have something to pull from that happened on a similar hunt on another day. I have had birds whip me all the way up until I remembered something that had worked on a bird in a similar situation before. On new ground, that may very well be what it takes to pull it off.

One of the best tools you can add to the box is MRI—Most Recent Information. If you can, get on the phone or meet up with the landowner and quiz him about the property, bird sightings, property boundaries, access points, etc. He might very well supply you with an ace in the hole. He might tell you where he hears birds in the morning or sees them in a field during the day. He might provide options to get you to where you want to be.

Many landowners simply give you permission to hunt, but they don’t generally too much about turkeys. You may just need to press them a little bit for the information you’re after.

If you’re hunting a new piece of public ground, you might only have the option of asking people who have hunted there if there is anything they can tell you about the area, what the birds tend to do and where they tend to be at certain times of the day. If the person you ask is a diehard turkey hunter, well, good luck with that.

Donna and I pulled into the dirt road on the edge of the first of two fields on the property we were going to hunt, and we still had plenty of time to get to the setup spot I had in mind. I had only made one quick lap around the property when Jimmie had given me the tour a few weeks prior. While we were sweeping through the property that day, I was flooded with mental scenarios of setups and hunting situations that were strong possibilities. From the invitation to hunt the property to the moment Donna and I stepped out of the truck that morning, I had studied the layout of the property in as much detail as I could and had finally decided on a starting point.

The place I wanted us to get to was across the second field on the property and to the highest point on the property. The day Jimmie took me on the tour, he told me he had seen strut marks in the edge of the field near the hilltop a few days back when he rode in there. As he drove me toward the top to see if there was any fresh sign, we saw the freshest sign we could have asked for. A big gobbler broke from the tree line on our right and eased quickly across the field and into the far treeline. I intended for Donna and I to start from there.

We had made it about 300 yards from the truck along the edge of the first field when we heard a bird sound off. It was a good hour or so before daylight. We stopped to listen, and within a minute of his first gobble, he popped off again. We quickened the pace. I felt like he was on top of the hill but wasn’t completely sure. We reached the end of the first field and eased along the roadbed that led through the woods along the creek that separated the two fields. When we reached the edge of the second field, we stopped to listen again. A few seconds later, we heard another gobble. This time we were sure the gobble had come from the creek bottom below the far end of the field.

We headed down there in a hurry, and when we reached a pocket in the field, we started setting up. I decided to put a jake and a breeder hen decoy out. While I was doing so, the gobbler in the bottom was heating up. I knew he couldn’t see me due to the depth of the bottom he was roosted in, so I sent a few soft yelps toward him.

Once I got the decoys set up, I moved back over to Donna just as several hens erupted in fly-down cackles from the bottom below. Seconds later the gobbler fired off, this time from the ground. They were on the ground early. I reached for my box call and had planned to do a fly-down cackle of my own when I caught movement out of my peripheral vision to the right. I eased my head around to look and nearly jumped when I realized it was a huge gobbler followed by a hen headed straight for the decoys. He had come from the hilltop across the field where I had originally planned to set up. He had not gobbled unless the first gobble we had heard that morning in the darkness came from him. More importantly, he had not seen us as we eased along to our current location, nor while I was setting up the decoys.

I quickly whispered to Donna not to move and told her to cut her eyes toward the decoys. Within seconds, the gobbler was on top of them. He was more than aggravated, as was evident by the way he drop-kicked the jake decoy and knocked him over. We watched for less than a minute, and I told Donna to shoot him whenever she was ready. I didn’t have to tell her twice. She folded the big bird at 25 yards, and we both just sat still for a few minutes while the hen fed around as if nothing had happened. She was soon joined by a few more hens, and we waited until they eased over the rise 60 yards away and disappeared.

Donna got up to get her bird, and I finally exhaled. As she was walking back to me with the bird, I could easily see the 10-inch beard hanging from his breast.

“Let me see those hooks,” I said.

“You don’t want to see ’em,” she said giggling as she got closer.

When she laid him down in front of me, I told her she had just killed a Boone & Crockett turkey. He was wearing spurs a touch over 1 1/2 inches!  All this by 7:30 in the morning.

I couldn’t have been any prouder of her. She had hunted hard the entire season, but until that morning, she had not been able to put the bead on one. But, she kept after it, stayed the course and after an earlier-than-normal wake up, followed by a three-hour drive and a walk across some unfamiliar ground, it was finally her turn.

Stay persistent, take the crash course, and dive into new territory with all the confidence you can gain. Preparation is everything, especially on new ground.

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  1. ddboworno on March 2, 2021 at 1:27 pm

    Looking forward to this year, great article and wish everyone the best season.

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