March 13, 2023
I can't dive headfirst into debunking five turkey myths and expect you to believe me without telling you a little about my turkey tenure. Over the past 25 years, I've hunted turkeys nationwide, primarily on open-to-anyone dirt with archery tackle and my trusty boom stick. During that time, I harvested the Grand Slam and hunted with some of the best turkey hunters in the world. I've chased birds in every terrain imaginable, from Merriam gobblers at 9,000 feet in the heart of the Rockies to swamp-dwelling Oscelolas.
Here's what I know about these five turkey tales and why you shouldn't buy into them.
Turkeys Hate The Rain
This is pure bullbutter, and you shouldn't believe it. While I don't know how much turkeys like or dislike the rain, I do know that turkeys rely on their eyesight, hearing, and ability to fly to avoid danger. When rain falls, sheets of water reduce a turkey's visibility, especially in a timbered environment. Birds in the woods know their eyesight is reduced due to the rain and weather, and they know they are an easier target for bobcats and other predators. Rain also creates a ruckus in the woods, dampening a turkey's hearing ability. Another sensory system goes down when water splatters on leaves, sticks, and other vegetation. Lastly, turkeys are big birds and need a runway to take flight. Dense woods aren't the best place to get a running start, spring into the air, and glide effortlessly away from danger.
Turkeys often move to open areas during periods of rain so as not to be such an easy target for a toothy predator, making field edges, open pastures, small meadows, and open logging roads along ridges great locations to kill a tom at any time during the day. Plus, when hunting public ground, I've found most turkey goers to be fair-weather hunters, and on rainy, windy days, I often find solitude and birds willing to work.
Roosted Gobblers Are Roasted Gobblers
Nothing is certain in hunting, ever, especially not a roosted boy bird. Turkeys will swap trees during the night, and may be a couple of hardwoods over from where you left them, which isn't a big deal, but I've also come back to hunt roosted birds and found them gone.
There's no telling what explodes a roost during the night — predators or other hunters walking back from another location during the dark — but it does happen. Don't bank your entire day on a roosted hunt. Don't wave the white towel if you show up to hunt perched birds and they have flown the coop. The day is young, and it's time to adjust your tactics.
Also, boy birds will tail a passel of hens in the morning, especially during the early part of the season when birds are still flocked up and the girls aren't sitting on nests. If you're not right on the X, meaning within 150 yards of where birds have been entering or exiting an established morning locale, even the most lifelike decoys, and sexy hen talk won't break a gobbler off.
You Can't Kill A Turkey With A Bow Outside A Blind
Not only is this statement not true, but I also find it funny. I rarely use a ground blind to bowhunt birds anymore, and I don't cloak myself in a ghillie suit and lay in wait in the woods like a sniper hoping a longbeard will wander bowhunting close.
These days, I take the fight to the turkeys and become the decoy by lashing a bow-mounted fake to my riser. My favorite is Ultimate Predator Gear's MerRio Turkey Stalker. With this full-strut decoy mounted to your bow, you can use your optics and calls to locate birds and then move toward them. I like to find a dominant tom with hens or a couple of toms roaming together. A single two-year-old bird can be passive, but find a pair running together, and you get a dynamic bully duo that usually won't hesitate to come to a full-strut decoy. As for a longbeard with hens, if the bird is hot and he catches a glimpse of a fan moving about in the brush, it's not unlikely for the tom to come looking for a fight.
Be a flexible turkey hunter. While I don't recommend a bow-mounted decoy on public ground when shotgun seasons are in, I love them on private land, and even if your plan is a ground blind hunt, a folded-up cloth turkey decoy that mounts to your bow in seconds gives you options.
Box Calls Don't Work On Public Ground
I will own it; I wrote these words in a turkey book I penned a few years back. I have also been negative about box calls in seminars. Eating crow is never fun, but if it helps you be more successful in the spring woods, I'm happy to do it.
The problem with a box call is that it's the most common type of call, and one of the easiest to use, so birds living in public areas often hear them. What I have discovered, though, is that if you learn to control the call's volume and pitch, it can lure in a wanting-to-breed tom as good as any slate or diaphragm. If you master the call and understand how to create soft yelps, clucks, purrs, and louder cutting yelps, you can run a box call all spring anywhere in the country and kill many birds.
World Champion turkey caller Billy Yargus is not only the best caller I've ever heard but also the savviest turkey hunter I've had the pleasure of sharing the woods with. Yargus told me once, "Master soft single yelps, and you will call a lot of birds in." His advice has proven true. In the turkey woods, the more natural and simple you keep the calling, the better, and if you can master a single soft and subtle yelp on a box call, you'll appeal to the ears of the wariest tom in the woods.
Public Ground Isn't Worth Hunting In Late Spring
False! I have had some of my best hunting on public dirt during May. Why? Most turkey hunters have tagged out or called it quits late in the season. I have found public areas crawling with hunters during April to be ghost towns come May, especially during the last two weeks of the month.
Birds that were once call-shy and timid can heat up quickly if left alone, and with most hens sitting on nests, toms will be roaming, so even if the parcel you're hunting doesn't have a lot of fresh sign, give it a chance to produce if birds were using it earlier in the season.
My go-to tip on public ground late in the season is to get off the beaten path on more significant properties and pay attention to small acreage chunks. Often, small-acre turkey properties get ignored altogether and will have a few birds calling them home late in the season. If you're hunting a larger property and that property borders private land, move toward the boundary. Don't be a fence sitter, but know that many birds in the area are likely staying on the private dirt. Turkeys have nothing to do during the day but walk, eat, dust, and breed. Get a hundred yards from the boundary and tease a bird in.
Don't fall for myths; they will lead you down the wrong spring path. The trick to consistently killing turkeys is staying flexible and being willing to do things other hunters aren't doing. Often, those who step outside of established norms have repeat success.