How To Hunt Turkeys on Public Land

Public-land turkey hunting can be just as successful as private-land turkey hunting. Learn how the pros handle turkey hunting on public land.

How To Hunt Turkeys on Public Land

Photo: Kody Van Pelt, OnX Hunt (Facebook)

Every turkey hunter wants exclusive access to great property. However, most of us join the crowds and hunt public land at least some of the time.

That can be challenging. You face competition from other hunters and yelp to gobblers that seem to have heard everything. At times, you might be tempted to give up. Don't.

You can achieve success on public ground. Just ask America’s top turkey hunters, many of whom cut their teeth on national forests or state wildlife areas. All you need is knowledge and a positive attitude.

“Personally, I don’t see that much difference,” said Tad Brown of Flambeau/M.A.D. Calls. “There is always a different sense of accomplishment when you kill a public-ground bird, but I don’t think birds have the ability to realize they are being hunted. I feel if a turkey is right and you can get on him without another hunter in between, you can kill him as easily as a private-ground bird.”

One favored tactic of a turkey-hunting expert: Find those small tracts of public land — 20 acres, 30 acres — that no one assumes has any turkeys. Usually, those spots do. Photo: Trevor Olson, OnX Hunt (Facebook)
One favored tactic of a turkey-hunting expert: Find those small tracts of public land — 20 acres, 30 acres — that no one assumes has any turkeys. Usually, those spots do. Photo: Trevor Olson, OnX Hunt (Facebook)

The key words there are “another” and “hunter.” This could be an interloper on crowded public ground who might bump a turkey you’re working. Or, worse, they could cut you off and kill the turkey. To state the obvious, it’s always best to avoid popular spots and heavily hunted areas.

“If possible, I will go on public land and hunt as far away from any access I can,” said Chris Parrish of Knight & Hale. “This, for the most part, ensures you have gotten away from most every other hunter and if you plan a mid-week hunt, it can ensure that you are most likely hunting turkeys that are calmed down and much easier to deal with.”

Hunt Like the Pros

Shane Simpson of, takes a sneakier approach.

“One of my favorite tactics is to find those small tracts of public land — 20 acres, 30 acres — that no one assumes has any turkeys,” he said. “More often than not, I can set up and call and a bird hammer comes right in. They haven’t been pressured at all.”

Most pros said they don’t change their calling approach with public-land turkeys. However, Scott Ellis, two-time Grand Nationals Head-to-Head champion, said realistic calling is especially important with any turkey that has experienced hunting pressure.

“Once pressured on private or public, I feel that any turkeys have the ability to deduce that every call they hear is not coming from turkeys,” he said. “Practicing and becoming ‘real’ can make the difference in filling or eating a tag.

“I always start off with the subtle basics; clucking and plain yelping to check his mood. If he starts making his way toward me, I continue the basic stuff. Hopefully he slows his forward progress, then I will shut up and play cat-and-mouse. If playing hard-to-get doesn’t make it happen, I’ll then step up the excitement level. I’ll throw in some light cutting to get his excitement level heightened. If I’m in an area I know holds turkeys but they’re not being vocal, I love to set up and simulate a feeding hen. Clucks, purrs, whining, soft yelping and scratching in leaves are a great way to convince a gobbler he’s hearing the real deal.”

Don't Just Call, Also Listen

It’s also important to listen for the real thing. Some public-ground turkeys won’t gobble as much as their private-land cousins, but that doesn’t mean they’re not in breeding mode. Pay attention to any clues gobblers provide.

“A gobbler can attract hens with just the spit and drum. That's is virtually silent to the human ear beyond about 75 yards,” said Steve Stoltz, World calling champion. “Since it’s a low-frequency sound, it travels omni-directionally. This makes it hard for humans to course. Become better at listening for and identifying the spit-and-drum sound and you will kill more public-land birds.”

Above all, act appropriately when hunting public ground. Don’t forsake ethics or cut corners to kill a bird.

“The problems on public ground occur when you or other hunters do not play by the unwritten code,” said Ernie Calandrelli, public relations director for Quaker Boy. “If somebody is working a bird, leave him alone and hope someday he might do the same for you. If there is a vehicle parked where you planned on parking, leave him alone and get there earlier the next morning. Ethics is the major factor when hunting public land. If it’s hunted the right way, everybody should be able to get along.”


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