Constrained to small properties with wild turkeys? The situation isn’t unique. From Maine to Minnesota, small woodlots, pastures, fisheries areas and agricultural fields attract wild turkeys and can produce outstanding hunting.
Here’s a quick primer on hunting these often-overlooked, under-hunted hotspots.
Choosing Small Properties with Wild Turkeys
Many smaller properties hold wild turkeys consistently but not continually. Sure, some might have everything turkeys need: roosting trees, food, water, nesting cover and loafing areas. If you find these, hold onto them like grim death because birds will rarely leave them.
Other small properties with wild turkeys, however, might only hold one attractive element. Maybe a 40-acre chunk has some big pines where turkeys roost but do little else. Perhaps a farmer’s 30-acre field often pulls hungry birds from neighboring timber. Or maybe a tiny, wooded ridge offers an ideal travel corridor from a neighboring roost site and a distant feeding area.
Are these properties perfect? No, but don’t dismiss them. Remember, turkeys have relatively small home ranges so, even if they’re not on the small properties you can hunt at a specific time, they’re likely not far away. In fact, they’re probably within reasonable calling distance.
Scouting Small Properties With Wild Turkeys
Scouting small properties is critical for determining where and when wild turkeys use the land, but your margin of error is tiny. It doesn’t take much to bump the only gobbler on a 40 over to the neighbor’s land. Likewise, it doesn’t take a lot for that gobbler to wander on his own across the fence.
Before you hunt a small chunk, learn everything you can about it. Memorize the property lines, and study topographic maps and aerial photos to learn the area’s terrain and nuances. Identify roost trees, feeding spots, loafing areas, dusting bowls, open fields, timbered flats, cool creek bottoms, potential strutting areas and other attractive elements. Then try to figure out when turkeys frequent those spots. Likewise, find creeks, ditches, fences, brushy areas and other possible obstructions or noisy areas to avoid.
Scouting and Set-Up Quick Tips
Walk the property to familiarize yourself with it.
Learn how to slip quietly and undetected into roosting spots or open timber.
Find cover or terrain that will let you reposition on turkeys.
Seek ideal setups where you can call to turkeys and shoot them the instant they pop into view.
Look for sign, such as scratching in wooded flats, tracks and strut marks on logging roads, and scat (poop) and wing feathers near roosting spots.
Slip into the woods a few mornings and listen for gobbling — not just on the roost but after flydown. Likewise, sneak in a few evenings and watch and listen for turkeys to fly up to roost.
Above all, use a cautious, low-impact scouting approach. Don’t call to birds, and do your best not to spook them. Sure, they’ll probably return if you bump them, but it doesn’t take too many human encounters to make turkeys change their mood or shift their patterns for a few days.
Hunting Small Properties With Wild Turkeys
As during scouting, I want to avoid bumping turkeys or alerting them to my presence. You can’t kill a gobbler on a small property if he’s not there.
Fly-Down. For fly-down hunts, I arrive well before daylight, take my time following the sneakiest route to a good spot and try to get as close as possible to roosted turkeys.
Calling. My calling strategy doesn’t change much. I usually go soft and subtle, especially if I’m really tight to roosted birds. After flydown, I gauge a gobbler’s response and base my yelping off that. If he’s fired up, I’ll get aggressive. If he’s tentative or hush-mouthed, I back off.
Patient Hunting. I am far more patient on smaller properties than when I hunt bigger ground. Often that’s because I might not be able to move to another calling location without spooking a bird. Further, I know that patience kills turkeys and — as long as a bird is responding to calling and on property I can hunt — I’m better off sitting at a good setup than traipsing around the countryside (even though I might desperately want to do so).
Leaving One Area for Another. If my fly-down hunt goes sour, I’ll spend some time trying to locate other birds. But if I’m not successful, I’ll leave the area and hit other small properties with wild turkeys. In these situations, I’m very cautious when approaching and entering the woods because I’m visible and do not want to bump wild turkeys. Glass open areas from the road or listen for a bird gobbling on his own. If I don’t see or hear anything, I’ll take one of two approaches: I slip into an area turkeys frequent and cold-call or I’ll sneak through the property while attempting to strike a gobbler.
Cold-Calling Is Often a Good Approach. If I can reach a likely spot without spooking birds, there’s a good chance nearby turkeys might come to my calling. I like to set up at mast-rich flats or ridges or dark, cool midday loafing areas. Or, I’ll simply find a spot where turkeys can hear me for long distances. Either way, I get comfortable, take out several calls, listen for a few minutes and then begin calling. I’ll start with soft, subtle stuff and then wait a few minutes before calling again. As time passes, I’ll ratchet up the frequency and intensity of my calling. And I’m patient. Often, a bird won’t respond until I’m on my second or third round of calling. When I have a gobbler going, I’ll try to yelp him to my setup or determine if I need to move. That’s pretty much Turkey 101.
Walking Through the Woods Is OK, But — If I don’t feel like sitting, walking through the woods is a good option, but I’m very careful when doing so. Trying this in open early-season woodlots is a recipe for disaster. I only do it in areas with enough terrain or late-spring foliage to hide my movements. Even then, I don’t tromp down a logging road and blare cutting sequences every 50 steps. Instead, I approach it like still-hunting deer. I’ll slip quietly and cautiously from spot to spot. Then I listen for a bit, run two or three series or calls, and listen for a response. If nothing responds, I sneak to another likely spot and repeat the process. If I take my time, it might take an hour or two to slip through a 40.
When Impatience Wins You Over. If I’m really impatient, I might make a milk run to several small properties and try to visually locate turkeys or strike one by calling from the road or parking area. This is ideal if you’re pressed for time or in desperation mode. It can work, but I find that it doesn’t work as well as a patient, measured approach.
This season, don’t be dissuaded by those tiny, inconspicuous properties. They hold gobblers and shouldn’t be ignored. If you need to burn some boot leather, find a big chunk of public or national forest land to hunt. But when you’re ready to kill turkeys, think back to those cozy little 40- and 80-acre patches that produce big results year after year.
Featured Photo: John Hafner