When Turkey Hunters Should Stay Put
Lack of patience has left many a gobbler to see another day.
Donald Devereaux Jarrett | February 5, 2019
A common practice among turkey hunters is to cover as much ground as possible in order to kill a turkey. I used to be the world’s worst about using that technique too often.
We’ve all had those mornings where the trees are full of turkey music at the crack of dawn but then quickly turn to deflating silence the very instant the birds hit the ground. For me, that was always my key to get up and move. I had already made up my mind that the hushed birds were heading in another direction.
It was a worn-out state of mind some years ago that taught me a valuable lesson about this very subject. It has saved me some boot wear and provided some success many times since.
It was over a month into the season, and I was set up in an area I had hunted several times before. The birds were there, and based on the racket they were dishing out, things were looking pretty good. This was my client’s second morning in camp, but it was somewhere around day 35 or so for me, and I was getting a little ragged.
When the birds flew down, they scurried off into a small drainage in the opposite direction of our setup. Normally, this is when I would have grabbed my gear and my client and taken off to get in another position to work the birds.
“What are we gonna do now, DJ?” he asked.
“Nothing,” I said.
He looked at me sideways, so I told him we were going to sit tight a while and see what happened. Honestly, I was just tired and didn’t feel like moving at that second, so we stayed as I gave a few calls every now and then.
By 8:30, I had a bird answer from quite a ways off.
Ten minutes or so passed, and I called again. I didn’t get an answer, and I was beginning to wonder if the bird had given up on us. Several minutes later the unmistakable sound of a drum grabbed my attention, and I quickly told my client to get his gun up and pointed in the direction of the drum. Seconds later, the big white head and bright red wattles appeared as the bird stepped up from the creek bottom and into the opening in front of us just inside 20 yards. I didn’t have to tell my client what to do next, and he rolled the bird. He was heavy 3-year-old that had done the leg work for us.
I still take off running when I need to, but it’s just that I don’t really need to as much as I once thought I did.
The question now becomes, when does this method of staying put apply? Let’s look at a few occasions when I stay put and it works out for me more times than not.
Weather: We all know that different weather types can have an impact on a turkey’s behavior on any given day, but there’s not a set formula that works every time. For instance, it’s not fair to say that turkeys always head to fields and openings on rainy days. If that rain turns heavy, the birds might slink into the heavy cover as opposed to standing in a field in the middle of a monsoon. You have to go with your gut sometimes, and my final decision to take off after a bird or sit tight usually falls on my instinct, which is based on my past hunting experiences.
I love setting up in an area the birds like to roost in, but you don’t always have to work birds off the roost to kill them in the morning.
When I head to the woods on a rainy morning, I am more than likely going to an area I think the birds will be heading versus trying to work one off the roost. I have killed birds on rainy days by heading to a field and setting up before the birds showed up. Again, this could fail in heavy rains.
Hot afternoons can sometimes put birds in areas they might not be in during other times of the day. On a hot afternoon hunt, I’m looking in the coolest, shadiest creek bottom I can find. Sometimes getting to an afternoon spot like this and staying put is money in the bank.
When weather dictates where turkeys generally like to go, that’s where I want to be. Try these areas when the weather dictates, settle in, let them know you are there, and be patient.
The Food Factor: A turkey must eat. The problem is they have an extremely versatile diet and can find something to eat in a lot of places. That sometimes makes it kind of hard to hone in on any one area. This is often true on public ground, where the turkeys only have what is naturally available to them to eat.
Scouting hard really pays off in this case. I will sometimes come across areas where the turkey sign is still “steaming.” When I do, I will generally set up and spend some time there. It has paid off many times over.
Look in hardwood areas where some left-over acorns may still be around, bugging areas in fields and any area that has been burned. Anywhere you think food may be available is worth checking for fresh sign.
On private ground, especially where there are plots planted for turkeys, the areas to hunt and stay put are easier to identify. If you have access to private property and have the resources to plant something for turkeys, do it. I’m a firm believer in making my property as attractive as I can, not only to draw turkeys in, but to make them want to stay. The more property you have, the better this can be, but don’t dismiss the idea if you only have a few acres of private ground to hunt. Birds have an appetite and will travel. If there are birds on neighboring property and you put a turkey plot in place on your small piece of ground, they are likely to find it—and use it.
Find the areas your turkeys like to feed in, get comfortable, invite them over, and stay put.
Hangouts: Even though turkeys are one of the most unpredictable animals on the planet, I do firmly believe that turkeys have areas they prefer to spend a lot of time in. I believe they have preferred roosting sites, preferred places they would rather cross a creek, a river, a fence or whatever. I believe they have preferred feeding areas at certain times of the season and preferred strut zones.
If you know of a spot where birds seem to be hanging around on a regular basis throughout the day, spend some time in there. These are the types of places that produce consistently, and they are way up the list for me when it comes to a place to stay put awhile.
I know of a few spots like this, and I have killed quite a few birds in those areas over the years. One such spot had a combination of factors that made it a turkey magnet. It is an area consisting of mature pines, hardwood draws, roadbeds, a creek bottom and a couple of green clover fields.
It was there that I decided to open my season last year. I had planned to stay in the area all day if necessary. When I plan to stay put in an area for an extended period of time, I’m picking a place that I believe will hold turkeys and a place I believe they will frequent at various times of the day. I want to be in a place where I believe I have a good chance of grabbing a turkey’s attention at some point during the day. To avoid comments from critics in the Peanut Gallery, I’m not deer hunting for turkeys. I’m periodically calling, not just sitting there hoping one will stroll by.
So, it was here that I eased into the turkey woods on opening day last season. I had scouted the area and knew several gobblers and a pile of hens were in the area. At daylight, I was a little surprised to hear gobbling from a different direction than where I had been hearing them in the pre-season. It didn’t matter though. I knew I had birds in the area, which meant I was in the game.
I set up on the edge of one of the green fields I mentioned earlier, and even though they were roosted a few hundred yards away, I felt like they would be close by throughout the day.
The gobbling activity was short lived, and by 7:30, you would have thought they had left the county. I called occasionally, and around 8, I finally heard another gobble. It was obvious the birds hadn’t gone far since fly down, so I waited.
Twenty minutes later, I spotted movement across the field in the far right-hand corner, just inside the woodline. A lone hen was making her way into the field and was heading straight to me. I called softly to her, and within a few minutes, she was inside 10 yards of my setup. I watched her peck around and listened as she clucked and purred as she fed. When she started easing away, I called to her again, and she turned around and cutt sharply. A bird gobbled back down in the bottom, and 10 minutes later, I saw movement down in the corner again. I knew it was birds, and when they appeared, I realized the entire flock was coming my way.
A single file of hens started the parade, followed by a trio of jakes, then more hens and jakes and finally four fat strutters. I knocked the safety off and watched as they all headed my way. When the gobblers were in killing range, they were wadded up pretty tight, and I could have likely ended my season with a single shot on several occasions. I waited instead and wondered where the big boy was that I had seen just days before when scouting the area. He was a brute of a bird with a thick, swinging rope of a beard. Since he appeared to be a no-show, I decided to take one of the birds in range when they separated enough to do it without killing more than one.
The gobblers would fire off a gobble in unison occasionally, and I was soaking it all up when I cut my eyes to my right and saw the big gobbler just 75 yards away. He was in full strut, surveying the situation ahead. He finally strolled close enough for a shot, and I rolled the limb hanger just inside the 45-yard line.
For the next 15 minutes, I sat back and watched the four other longbeards and several of the jakes jump all over the gobbler I had shot. It was quite a show. The hunt hadn’t lasted as long as I had been prepared for it to, but the plan to stay put had been the right one.
Close friend and longtime hunting partner Cal Marsh and I went back the next morning to the same spot in the rain with the same plan of staying put as long as we could stand it. We called several birds in early but nothing close enough to shoot.
We decided to stick it out a while, and by 9:30, Cal shot a good bird yards away from where my bird had flopped his last the morning before.
Turkey hunting has many variations in everything from behavior to vocalizations to the techniques we use to hunt them. I believe that there should be a purpose to what you’re doing when hunting turkeys. Doing something just to do it can often turn into a waste of time. Try to tailor your hunts in accordance with what you believe is best for a certain bird you may know, a certain situation or a certain area.
Running and gunning, slipping along and broadcasting or staying put will all produce good results at times.
Do what works best for you, but try to stay flexible. However, it’s always good to take your foot off the gas every now and then, and just stay put somewhere, given the right situation.
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