By Tony J. Peterson
The world of turkeys, especially for eastern turkey hunters, is increasingly growing smaller. Just like when it comes to bowhunting whitetails, the turkey hunter is often forced to hunt smaller and smaller chunks of ground. This might mean you’ve got one spot where setting a blind is worth it.
That should theoretically result in a pretty simple choice where to plant your butt during the season, but it’s oftentimes not such an easy choice. On even 15 acres, you might have a few places worth putting a blind or one super spot for season-long action. Just where that is located will often depend on what’s going on across the fence on land you can’t hunt.
Aerial Sleuthing & Glassing
A couple years ago, I only had one property to hunt near my house in the Twin Cities. No one would call it big at 29 acres. Half of that acreage, however, was wetland bringing down the huntable timber to about 14 acres. The spot I picked for my blind wasn’t anything special, other than I knew it was the easiest spot for gobblers cruising the neighbor’s field to hear me.
They wouldn’t be able to see my decoys until they committed, but they’d certainly know I was trying to have a conversation with them. The first time I slipped in to hunt the blind, it was already 2pm, but I didn’t have choice. Within an hour I’d struck up a lively back-and-forth, and soon enough he strutted through the woods into my spread. At a shade over 26 pounds, the longbeard is the heaviest I’ve put down in a lifetime of turkey hunting.
He fell victim to my arrow on a small property, partially because I’d spent a fair amount of time scouting via aerial photography. I knew there was a long, skinny hayfield within maybe 150 yards that wasn’t visible to any part of the property I had permission on. It was an obvious spot for cruising strutters, and I knew the best bet was to call into the airspace around that field and cross my fingers.
Occasionally when you’re dealing with small-property birds, you can glass neighboring fields to see what is happening. In that case, the visuals will give you a good sense of where the birds are traveling and how close they might be to where you can hunt.
Trail cameras vary in their importance to me as a deer hunter. For turkey hunting, I use them a lot when I’m relegated to a small property. This is because hens and toms often feed and travel throughout the day in a circuit, and they might only dip through your woodlot every other afternoon.
I want to be in my blind then, versus riding out every sunrise listening to distant gobbles. Now, trail cameras can only provide a blueprint, but if you’re getting lots of seemingly random activity at lunchtime, you probably know when you should risk slipping in and hunting. You’ll also know where to set your blinds to have the best chance of being where the turkeys want to be.
A lot of turkey bowhunters feel it’s simply a matter of getting on a field edge or a food plot and putting in the hours until a bird shows up. Sure, this strategy can work because turkeys are pretty dumb and awfully predictable. But you also aren’t going to have as much in-your-face action with this strategy versus scouting and setting up where the birds want to be.
I volunteered a few years ago to be a mentor in a youth hunt and the property we got to set up on was a turkey haven. Unfortunately, we were met with a blizzard that suppressed a lot of the cheer in the hunters and the gobblers. The spot I was on with my youth hunter was too good though, and even in dismal conditions he dumped one early in the morning.
The secret to the spot? It was along a 100-acre cornfield that had one tiny area where a pile of birds had been dusting. You could find turkey sign the whole length of the field, but it was at maximum levels in that one area. This applies to small acreages as well and even if you think it doesn’t matter which end of the 20-acre woodlot you set up on, it does.
Not only does the neighbor’s land affect the birds you might run into, but there is bound to be a certain spot on any given property that the birds like to scratch, travel, roost, or whatever. Figure that out and use it to inform your decision on where exactly to place your blind.
It’s more fun to have a couple of sections to roam so that you can set up multiple blinds and have plenty of options. Unfortunately, that’s not reality for most of us in the midwest and especially the east. That doesn’t mean the limited-acreage turkey hunter can’t find a spot to go, though. You can – you just need to do a little sleuthing to figure out exactly how to set up to maximize your limited blind setups.