A bird gobbling at 1,500 yards may hear better than you think.
It had been a long time since my oldest son Devereaux and I had been able to turkey hunt together. The last turkey hunt we had shared had been a few years back. His duty in the United States Army had taken him to a baron, turkeyless place called Afghanistan, and since his return we had hunted very little together.
“He just needs some time. He will get back after them when he gets ready,” I thought.
So, when he asked me about us going turkey hunting one day last season, I jumped at the chance. It was a day that was long overdue.
We would head to my lease in Taliaferro County the next day, and I had a plan to get us set up on some birds down below a field in a creek bottom that I had been hearing on previous mornings.
Unfortunately, the turkeys I had been hearing in this particular creek bottom had spent the night in an area they weren’t willing to reveal. In fact, the only birds we heard were more than a long ways off. We walked back up from the edge of the drop-off at the creek bottom, and as we stood at the fence near the truck, I really wasn’t concerned with how many turkeys we were or weren’t hearing. I was just content to be standing with my son again at sunrise in the spring turkey woods. As we talked and stared off into the glowing eastern treeline, we could hear a turkey gobbling from across the old county dirt road.
“We should go kill him,” I said.
“How far away is he?” asked Devereaux.
“Maybe 1,500 yards,” I answered without looking away from the direction of the gobble.
Devereaux seemed uncertain as to whether or not I was serious, and even more unsure of our chances if I was serious. I understood the puzzled look that occupied his face when I turned to look at him.
In the old days, I wouldn’t have given that bird a second thought and barely one at all. I would have written him off fairly quickly for a number of reasons. Maybe I would likely have believed he was too far, or that maybe there was another bird closer or I would have just gone on to try to find another bird altogether.
However, these days I have a different approach. I treat every bird as fair game. If I can hear him, there’s a good chance he can hear me, and sometimes that is good enough. I used to put restrictions on birds that were sounding off at a distance that I thought were too far away. I just assumed it was too far for them to travel.
All the years of guiding on the Prairie region of South Dakota helped me clear that hurdle as I repeatedly watched birds close in from great distances on open ground. I can honestly say that I have no idea how far a bird is willing to travel to get himself into gun range, but I can tell you that I have seen birds come from distances that still absolutely blow my mind. I have watched birds that were literally specs at first sight eventually show up and die. I’ve watched them gobble through optic lenses, just to see if the bird I was hearing was the same bird I was glassing. He’s usually out there pretty good if you see him stretch his neck out to gobble and return to full strut before you ever hear the gobble.
Regardless of why, we all have our reasons for ignoring far-away birds, but over the years, I have learned that those distant birds deserve greater attention because they can be had. How far is too far? That is a question I just don’t have the answer to, but I can tell you too far is a lot farther than you likely think.
I mentioned the distances birds have traveled in response to my calling in South Dakota. Hunting that open ground showed me that if a turkey wants to come, he will—no matter the distance. Wild turkeys walk around all day. I have watched turkeys spend entire days inside 25 acres, and I have seen them travel to parts unknown. They go where they want to, and traveling several miles a day is not abnormal. So, it just makes sense that a bird within hearing distance would have no problem walking a long way to get to you if he hears you and he wants to be where you are. I have seen them do it too often to believe otherwise.
Don’t underestimate a bird’s hearing and his ability to pinpoint your location from great distances. If he answers you, regardless of the distance, treat that response as if he is coming. It’s also a good idea to stay put more often than it is to constantly get up and move to different setups on birds you strike at a long distance. Sometimes moving might be necessary, but give your initial setup plenty of time.
Obviously, there are potential drawbacks to trying to work birds all the way in from a long distance. Lots can happen along the way that can derail the hunt. You could be intercepted by hens, predators, land barriers or other hunters just to name a few. The chances of some of those things tend to increase the more vocal the bird is and the more time he chooses to take as he makes his way to you.
How long is long enough? There is no telling how many turkeys I have gotten up and left over the years that were on the way. Not being able to see them, I likely gave up on them way before they had a chance to get to me. It is a common mistake; one we don’t even realize we are making most times. The trouble is that we set a timer on birds too often, and when the time is up, we count the bird out. This is true more often when a bird is quiet as he approaches. Start adding some time to your timer, and you will start seeing some different results.
Remember, it’s not as much about the distance as it is the amount of time it takes for him to cover it, and staying alert and focused can be a challenge at times as the wait drags along. Dozing off can get you in a lot of trouble, too, though it seems inevitable at times. It’s hard to sit for long periods when the bird goes quiet and your eyelids start getting heavy. The next thing you know you’re out, and the bird shows up. I know, I’ve fallen asleep.
Occasionally, a bird will cover that long distance in a hurry. You shouldn’t necessarily expect a bird to take forever to get into gun range just because he is a long way from you the first time he hits your call. While that’s more often the norm, it isn’t always the case. Just be ready when he’s ready.
The most profound statement concerning turkey hunting is “patience kills more turkeys than anything.” While that is true, we all have different levels of the stuff. Some can sit for what seems like forever. It can be tough, but I promise you, if you will work on building up your patience account, your harvest rate will increase. The thing to realize is that if you aren’t comfortable, you aren’t going to be nearly as patient as you could be, or should be.
I struggled with it for years. I just despised sitting and waiting on a turkey to show up that I wasn’t entirely sure was even coming in the first place. The older I got, the worse it seemed to get. I realized I needed to learn to be more patient, and I had no problem with the idea of taking a few extended breaks at a good setup, but I struggled with the comfort side of things. Aside from actually seeing some birds come in that took forever to do it, I think I began to realize I was never going to get any better at being patient if I couldn’t be comfortable while doing it. So, I started trying to improve my seating conditions.
Sitting long periods of time on nothing but the ground became completely out of the question. Every rock or root I sat on that I wasn’t aware of initially grew to the size of boulders the longer I sat on them. Soon, most of the cushions or seats I tried weren’t much better. Then one day I decided to try one of those seats that was new to the market at the time; the portable fold-up chair. Initially I wasn’t too excited about having something else to have to tote around, but after one hunt, I never left home without my Primos Wingman chair again. I have accidently walked three-quarters of a mile into the woods without it and have walked back to the truck to get it. I just don’t hunt without it. I will sit on the ground if I have to set up quickly, but if it becomes clear that it’s going to be a while before a bird might show up, I set up the chair. It is light, has a good carrying strap and can be set up very quickly. Getting comfortable, especially for long sits, is critical.
A long time in a single spot was likely going to be the recipe for the turkey Devereaux and I decided to go after on the hunt I mentioned earlier. We decided to move toward the end of the property and try to work the bird we were hearing across the road. In this particular case, he was the only bird in town. He was hammering, so we quickly moved along the edge of the field along the treeline and hurriedly covered the 1,000 yards to the far end. I had a spot in mind to set up, and I guessed that it would put us to within 500 yards or so of the gobbling bird across the road. It’s the best we could do because the bird was on property where we didn’t have permission to hunt.
Once we were set up, I called as loud as I could. I threw out some plain old hen talk just to let him know there were hens available if he was willing and able. He was gobbling so randomly that I wasn’t sure when or if he was answering me, but I treated it as if he was talking to me every time he opened his mouth. I answered him regularly until he finally went quiet 45 minutes into our sit.
Another half hour or so passed before the bird gobbled again, and we could tell that he had moved within 200 yards of us. It had also become apparent that there were two birds gobbling, and thoughts of a double vaguely started to creep in.
The final time I called I knew without a doubt that they responded to me. They were giving the impression they were possibly easing toward us. I dogged the calling off, and we waited.
Twenty minutes later Devereaux said, “I see turkeys in the corner.”
They had crossed the county dirt road, and they were just suddenly standing there. Instead of coming into the opening in the edge of the field where we hoped they would, the birds stayed along the edge where a few small trees and short saplings and high grass grew. We tried to get two lined up as they worked their way from our left to our right. The farther the birds got to our right, the more obvious it became that we were not very likely to pull off the double, and if we didn’t get something to go our way fast, we were in danger of not even getting a single.
Devereaux told me to make sure we at least got one, but he had no shot at that moment, so I dropped the lead gobbler. The other hung around a few seconds, but another shot never materialized, and he and a hen soon retreated back across the road into the woods of the property they had come from.
I’m a believer that a turkey will do what he wants to do when he wants to do it. You just can’t make him do anything he doesn’t want to do. All you can do is send an invitation and give him time.
We made a decision to go after this bird, even though he was farther than we would have liked him to be. We got comfortable and waited longer than we would have liked to. He likely knew where we were after the first time I called. He wanted to be there, so time and distance really never mattered to him, and in the end it sure didn’t matter to us.
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