April 01, 2018
The turkey world is full of rules about what a gobbler will or won't do. It's not quite as rigid as when I started hunting longbeards as a clueless middle schooler, but there are still things that many of us steadfastly believe about turkey behavior.
For example, it is often said they won't cross a fence. They will, of course, but it's generally not the best idea to to try to call a bird across a fence if there is a better way. It's also often stated that you can't call a bird downhill, and that you should always set up above them if possible. I don't know who ever came up with this rule, but I think it was someone who simply didn't want to hike down any hills because then they'd have to hike back up. Who knows?
I've also heard that toms won't cross a stream or river. Or a ditch. And that you should never call too much, but that sometimes you should call a lot. And... when it comes to turkey myths, they number in the thousands. Hidden inside those never and always statements are grains of truth but you have to parse them out if you want to be a successful turkey bowhunter.
Easy Is Good
The rules about what a longbeard will do travel-wise almost always involve some sort of impediment to easy travel. Will a tom fly across a creek? Of course. Is it a good idea to always set up with a river between you and the birds? Nope. If you can figure out a way to set your blind in a spot where he can get to easily, you'll be much better off.
Naturally, this doesn't matter as much if you know you're going to be dealing with a lovestruck two-year old that will sprint across 12 lanes of rush hour traffic at the merest hint of a yelp. But you don't know what kind of bird you'll be chatting with, and you might find yourself dealing with a cautious three-year old that has learned from his lusty, younger-life mistakes.
That bird isn't going to be gung-ho about going full Ninja Warrior just to get into your lap, but he might swing by if all he has to do is creep along a two-track that joins a pair of ag fields.
Not only is it important to make it easy for a longbeard to waltz into your decoys, but it's imperative to make it as seamless as possible for hens to drift through. Hens are pretty easy to call in if you're in an area they feel comfortable in already, and there isn't a turkey hunter out there who doesn't relish in chatting up a real lady while the nearby toms listen in.
The Kill Spot
When we're talking easy spots to hunt, we usually think about field edges and wide-open clearings. After all, what's easier for a bird to walk across than that? Nothing. But the problem is that a spot that is too open can be a hindrance. For instance, it gives wary toms way too much time to eyeball your blind and decoys. If your setup is tight, that might not matter. If the rising sun catches your blind just right or flares off of your decoys, it might be game over.
You want to find an easy access spot where the birds have to get fairly close to really take in what you're offering. I firmly believe it's easier to get a gobbler to try to fight your jake decoy if he sees him first at only 40 yards versus 400. If he struts into your calls for a good look while suddenly realizing that junior is schmoozing with a bunch of good-looking ladies and he's already nearly within spurring distance, he'll commit.
Now, to totally muddy the waters consider what type of food your potential spots offer up. The early-season birds are usually pretty consistent on a food source, but as soon as the green-up happens or a few bugs start crawling around, the once-reliable chopped cornfield can become much less of a tom magnet.
You want to be in a place that offers a variety of foods, or a food source so good they'll swing through randomly all day long. If you can spend some time watching to identify a strutting zone, scrap the food plan and go there and prepare for a long sit. Otherwise, spend some time listening in the mornings to see where the gobbles emanate from. Oftentimes, you can track small flocks' progress just by listening to where the toms are sounding off from, but this works best in the first part of the season. When more gobblers go solo and devote their days to covering ground as the season progresses, this is a less reliable indicator of where the hens are filling their bellies while avoiding the advances of their annoying male suitors.
Bowhunting turkeys depends on being able to call well, of course, but is also heavily dependent on being in the exact right spot. The kind of place that the hens want to be, the toms will willingly strut into, and where you can trick them into committing before they have time to think too hard about whether there's anything wrong. Find that spot, and you'll be a happy bowhunter.