Stop Guessing: Use Trail Cameras for Turkeys
May 04, 2016
A quick count concerning the number of blind setups I've sat in this spring brings me into double digits - and that's only counting those in my home state of Minnesota. Arrowing a Gopher-state bird is something that I look forward to each year, and while I spend plenty of time scouting and trying to find new spots to hunt, I sometimes get my butt kicked by the birds.
Rare is the day where I can go out and call in a suicidal bird that works the decoys like a bowhunter's dream. Instead, it's usually a game of several setups and oh-so-close drivebys before a bird finally messes up and sticks around inside my effective range.
I do usually run into one or two gimme birds right at the beginning of the season, but I'm almost always with someone else during those hunts. This year was no different, and I was happy to see a bird die the first two hours I sat in a blind this year, even if it wasn't my arrow that brought him down.
After that hunt, things got tougher for me. I sat some dark-to-dark sits the first few days and never laid eyes on a turkey. If there is a bigger test of bowhunting will, I'm not sure I've run into it yet. By the end of the first week I nearly needed to staple myself to the ground in the blind just to stay put.
I hunted the southern part of the state and then came home to the Twin Cities to try my luck. Nearly every time I sat I called birds into shotgun range, but that doesn't do a bowhunter much good. It started to get frustrating and I decided that I should probably take a day off just to shake away the bad juju of too many unproductive blind sits.
Worth 1000 Words
On the day I decided to not turkey hunt at all I happened to check a trail camera. With my black Lab leading the way, I walked through a swamp and into a section of high woods where I've got a small kill plot for deer. On the off-chance a turkey would wander through, I had planted it as early as possible with oats and clover.
Just for the heck of it, I hung an extra camera on the plot and programmed it to take videos. After swapping out the memory cards on the original camera I followed the Dark Barker back the way we came. When I got home and checked the images I realized that the turkey activity on the property was heavy up until the last few days.
A particularly impressive gobbler looked to have made the plot his home, which was pretty cool considering it's a rare day to even see a turkey on that particular property. I filed through the images a couple of times and realized that not only was that bird consistent, he was also showing up morning, evening, and the hours in between. He also had a few jakes hanging around him, and there were a couple of hens that seemed to have taken a liking to the plot.
This put me in a quandary because I had quite a bit of work to do and had promised my wife I'd clean our garage. The springtime task is a necessity after filling it all winter with random hunting gear and life's overall detritus. So I did what any good husband would do and cleaned the garage as fast as possible. It was a shallow job, which would be exposed for all of its corner-cutting glory if she dug too deep.
It didn't matter, first appearances showed a good-enough effort and I loaded my truck up with a blind, decoys, chair, pack and the rest of the gear I'd need to sit the last six hours of the day.
A Star Is Born
It was overcast, windy and not overly warm when I stepped foot into the plot. I'm a firm believer of brushing in turkey blinds where they get hunted hard, so I spent several minutes disguising my blind as nothing more than a leafy cube of naturalness and certainly not a black hole of potential gobbler death.
As soon as I settled down I popped a mouth call in and let out some loud yelps. With the wind and the nearby rush-hour traffic, I knew I needed some volume. Nothing responded, so ten minutes later I repeated my calls. Still nothing.
Twenty minutes after settling in, a bird gobbled. When it's 2:30 in the afternoon and you get a bird to gobble in the woods, it's best to get ready because he is coming. I slid my facemask down, clipped my release on and got ready to draw. Half of a minute later a white head bobbed through the buckthorn and appeared to be heading in the wrong direction.
I gave him some encouragement and he responded immediately, but it sounded like was staying put. I almost set my bow down when I realized that not 30 yards away, a full-strut tom was coming into the edge of the food plot. I didn't realize it at the time, but he was about to walk right in front of my camera.
As he two-stepped his way closer I waited until his head was behind an oak tree and drew. He stopped and seemed to be pondering the decoys. When he finally stepped out I was sure he'd walk right in, but he didn't. His snood retracted, he went from full strut to alarmed and it was all I needed to know that it was time to shoot. I don't know what he saw, but it doesn't matter.
When I picked him up I thought he felt awful heavy and I was awful happy. I couldn't believe how quickly he had got to me and while I had been struggling to fill my tag, it almost felt too good to be true. It wasn't until after I weighed him and had him pieced out and in the freezer that I checked the videos on my SD card.
Not 20 minutes before I got there to set up my blind that very bird was in the plot strutting and running a jake around. They must have walked off just before I got there and hung around within earshot while I set up. I also had a video of the tom coming out of full strut just before I shot him, with the video cutting short of the shot by maybe two seconds.
I can't remember ever killing a turkey and thinking that it happened largely because of trail cameras, but now I can say that at least one 26-pounder with a nearly 11-inch beard and true limb-hanging spurs has been my first in that category. I suspect next spring I'll probably have a few more cameras out in the turkey woods.