April 28, 2015
The first faint sliver of light cut the eastern horizon. Minutes passed, and the slight pink tinge of a brilliant spring sky began to show. With every second I strained, listening for that first gobble. When a tom finally did sound off, it set in motion a series of gobbling where one turkey seemed as if he was trying to outdo the other.
This crescendo of challenges carried on for nearly 45 minutes before the first bird launched to the ground. By now it was light enough to clearly see my decoys, strategically placed six yards in front of the blind I'd positioned on an open grassy flat between two roosting areas.
Since I'd let out a few soft yelps on my pot call moments before the gobbler left the tree, I got ready and waited.
A short while later, a bright-red head appeared behind and to the right of my decoys. It was soon followed by the brilliantly lit plumage of a tom in full strut. He steadily drummed his way to within eight yards of the blind.
Satisfied this was close enough, I settled the pin and dumped the string. All the commotion from the first bird flopping brought the immediate attention of a second longbeard. While he quickly closed in on the decoys and the lifeless form of the first bird, I readied for my second pointblank encounter.
When it was all said and done, I'd doubled in the first half-hour of opening day.
I certainly wish I could write that this was the way it had happened the last two seasons for me on this ranch, but the truth is, I had spent the two prior springs climbing a steep learning curve.
Turkeys have a definitive home range in which they spend the majority of their time, and within their home range there will be habitat that will fit into one of three categories — optimal, marginal, and unfitting.
And while their meanderings may appear random in nature, they have favored areas within this home range depending on the season and habitat available. Figuring out this pattern of movement on the property you hunt is key to arrowing a bird.
Determine a Pattern
My first trip to the property brought unbelievably short-lived promise. I arrived on opening day with enough time off work to make a long weekend out of the hunt. After talking with the landowner and getting all of his knowledge about the birds, I set out with decoys, blind, bow, and confidence.
By the end of the first day, a couple of things were apparent: There were plenty of turkeys on the property, and I was no closer to putting an arrow into one than if I'd stayed at home.
Early the next morning, I went out with two goals: to learn where the birds roosted, and why they traveled the particular pattern they traveled. Locating their roosting area proved to be easy. There were nearly 60 birds in the flock, and the racket they created just after first light carried quite a ways.
The tougher part was determining why they did what they did once they were on the ground. As it turns out, there was a cow pasture and calving lot to the west of their roosting area that seemed to be their prime objective, due in part to all of the available food left by the cows.
Once done there (usually by about mid to late-morning), they broke up into smaller groups and headed this way and that€¦with no apparent method or reason.
However, as I would later learn, they were heading for timbered areas, which allowed them to rest for part of the day. An hour and a half before they went to roost, I got a break which aided in forming the big picture. The smaller flocks that had been meandering around throughout the day gathered back into one big flock on an open, grassy bench just above the roosting area.
This last piece helped me to realize that generally all of the birds roamed approximately a mile to a mile and a half from their roosting site (giving them a core area of 800 to 1,000 acres), and they seemed to do this in a circular pattern. While not always concentric, there was far less randomness to the movement of the flock than had first appeared.
The third morning, armed with my newfound knowledge, I positioned my setup between the calving/feeding lot and their roosting area. A series of soft yelps had a big tom hooked. Once he closed on the decoys and I'd released my arrow, I realized the pattern of their movements was critical to my success.
Find the Right Habitat
The second year's results built off my initial spring's mistakes. I began to see there were some general requirements for optimal turkey habitat. These criteria are explained in detail in a book titled, "The Wild Turkey Biology & Management," by James G. Dickson.
In summary, adequate moisture has to be available for the survival of a wild turkey. In addition, two other criteria exist, notwithstanding the environment or the subspecies — turkeys must have a combination of trees and grasses. Trees provide food, daytime resting, escape cover, and a roosting site.
Grasses provide insects for adults and new poults. Finding where these three requirements overlap or touch each other in an area helps narrow the options for where turkeys will be spending a significant amount of their time.
Remembering the open grassy flat near the roosting area from the prior year, I decided this would be the ideal location to set up (water, food, and roosting were all connecting at this flat area). While the birds didn't seem to spend every moment of their day there, it was certainly a pivotal location where they felt comfortable and spent a significant portion of the day.
Make a Plan
Even though there was a lot of action near me once the birds flew down, none came to my decoy set on the eastern side of the grassy flat. The edge of doubt and reason started to creep into my mind, but I fought it back by reminding myself this had to be the spot based off of the available habitat within their home range.
Midmorning, as I was giving a few yelps out to nothing in particular, a lone tom answered€¦close. I got ready, and he strutted into 14 yards. A well-placed arrow had my confidence soaring. An hour later, two more toms found themselves in the area and closed in. The first one to give me the shot finished out my opening day double.
While it took me three years to fully understand how and why birds move on this property, the knowledge gained has supplied me with tag-filling confidence. I recognize what may be the optimal wooded and grassy habitat for one area may produce few to no birds in another.
Different subspecies will vary how they adapt to their specific environments from region to region. The key for an arrow-toting turkey hunter is to get out there and analyze the habitat on their property to determine where these "optimal" areas are.
Ultimately, this will lead you to patterning your turkey for success.