Department of Fish and Wildlife
Kentucky Afield Outdoors: Heavily Pressured Turkeys Require Different Hunting Tactics
Most turkey hunters won’t enjoy a totally secluded spot when the season opens April 17. The small size of Kentucky’s average farm and an estimated 90,000 turkey hunters means many of us must hunt in places where a competing hunter may be just a ridge or two away.
If you find yourself in a heavily pressured spot this season, try some of the tactics used by hunters on public lands.
Taylorsville Lake Wildlife Management Foreman Bill Mitchell has been turkey hunting for nearly 40 years and estimates he’s taken 80 to 100 birds in that time. A frequent public land hunter himself, he knows how challenging crowded conditions can be.
“The hard part is finding a turkey that’s not being called to by someone else,” Mitchell said. “That can happen on heavily pressured areas. You’re calling to a turkey, and an equal distance in the other direction someone else is calling the same bird.”
Birds in high-pressure areas can be educated into wariness when pursued by multiple hunters. This is particularly true on public land.
“Often on public ground, hunters over-call to the birds,” said Mitchell. “The birds have heard every call out there. So sometimes it may take an extreme change in tactics to call that bird in.”
Traditional techniques include setting up a concealment blind over turkey decoys, or “running and gunning,” a popular practice where hunters follow the birds on foot or try to cut them off by intercepting their travel paths. Hunters then use calls to lure in a turkey.
Mitchell throws this conventional turkey hunting wisdom out when high pressure is an issue, however. He tries some totally different techniques instead.
“One change is calling the turkey while not calling the turkey,” Mitchell said. “Turkeys don’t just yelp and cluck. There are other sounds they make.”
First, Mitchell moves in much closer to the turkey than he normally would. Then, instead of using calls to make the sounds of a turkey’s yelps and clucks, he mimics other sounds that turkeys make instead.
“I walk in the leaves,” he explained. “Turkeys are bipeds and so are we. Often when they hear us walking, they think it’s another turkey. You can also rake in the leaves with your hands, to sound like a turkey feeding.”
Sometimes Mitchell carries turkey wing feathers in his vest, pulling them out to make wing beat sounds. “You’re making sounds a turkey would expect from another turkey,” he said.
If you do pull out your calls, make only quiet, subtle sounds. Most of the sounds hens make in the wild aren’t loud yelps. “A sound you don’t think the bird can hear at all, he can hear just fine,” Mitchell said.
Another technique Mitchell employs in high-pressure areas is hunting in the evening. Most people associate turkey hunting with early mornings and lots of interaction with the birds. But to beat the crowds in pressured areas, Mitchell sometimes tries just the opposite.
“It’s an entirely different tactic,” he said. “Go to an area where you suspect birds are frequenting, somewhere at the end of a secluded field or a power line right-of-way. From your scouting, you should know where birds are likely to be.”
Mitchell advises hunters to set up their decoys and blind, or with their back against a tree, right where they think the birds will come through. Don’t expect a lot of gobbling, and don’t expect to see a bird in full strut. In the evening, birds are coming in to roost with other turkeys.
“Maybe you won’t kill a bird, maybe you’ll just see him,” Mitchell said. “But you’ll know exactly where he’ll be for the next morning’s hunt. This is a stay until dark tactic. And I mean stay until the turkey is hanging on a limb and it’s totally dark.”
Mitchell will approach the bird until he can see it in the tree with his binoculars. Then he’ll come out the next morning an hour before daylight, early enough that he is set up before it even begins to get light outside. He wants to disturb the turkey as little as possible.
“Get right where you think he’s coming down,” Mitchell said. “He should be coming down within gun range of your decoy. You want him to fly down right into your lap. It works.”
If you’re hunting heavily pressured land this spring, learn from a veteran hunter and try something else. Loud calls, morning hunts and getting the birds to come to you are conventional hunting techniques – but sometimes you have to make a change to bring home a bird from heavily pressured land.