Turkey Hunting: A Beautiful Dilemma

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The great R&B singer Barry White said something along the lines of “Too much of a good thing is never a bad thing.”  While I somewhat understand Barry’s sentiment in certain aspects of life, it took one recent spring morning to wonder if what he mumbled in “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” applied to turkey hunting.

With wild turkey populations sky-rocketing around the country, thanks to the NWTF and various other conversation groups, governmental agencies and dedicated individuals, the average turkey hunter breaks daylight with a number of gobbling turkeys at his disposal.  The majority of the time, the hunter will be able to quickly discern which gobbling turkey is his best option.  One will likely be closer than the others, or one will be gobbling too much to head elsewhere.  However, take for example a hunter that has eight gobbling turkeys encircling him, each at a quarter-mile away, and the problem becomes “a beautiful dilemma,” as one local poet of the spring told me once.  How do you go about picking the right one to pursue?

Don’t kneejerk

One mistake many turkey hunters make in the spring woods, myself included, is going to the first turkey they hear gobbling with reckless abandon and speed.  The first turkey you hear gobbling is not always the best option.  There are factors of far greater importance relative to killing the turkey than the time in which he starts gobbling.  Granted, if you have been listening for quite some time, and the turkey you hear is the only option you have, you need to get to him as quickly as possible.

It’s important when faced with a number of options in the spring woods to take every turkey’s situation into account.  Is he on my property?  What type of terrain lies between me and him?  Are there any natural barriers such as creeks or thickets that will hinder my ability to kill him? Is he “hot” enough to justify going after? Is he an older turkey that is going to just waste my time?  By carefully, yet efficiently, thinking out the situation at hand, you can get a pretty good idea of which turkey warrants your attention. 

Gauging His Temperature

Some turkeys simply wake up in the morning destined for stardom.  They want to be actors.  They want to strut until their wings contract Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, gobble until Laryngitis sets in, and are willing to sprint in full gallop mode through a myriad of snags, bushes, and swamps to be shot at point blank range.  It’s as if they make their peace with the Creator, and say to themselves “This is the day I get to go on a truck ride.”

Obviously, finding turkeys such as these is what gets us up at 4:30 AM.  However, they are few and far between, and most are gone by the second week of the season.  For the sake of this argument, though, we will say that a red-hot two year old turkey is one of the turkeys in our example.  He is gobbling at the rate of five gobbles per minute in the tree; I call these turkeys “ear-candy.” Regardless of whether he is hot or not, you still need to consider all other factors before jaunting towards him. 
 
Two (Or More) Are Better Than One

The more are truly the merrier in terms of gobbling turkeys roosted together.  I really like my chances when I can distinctively hear two or more turkeys clustered together.  It seems as if the jealous nature of the wild turkey gobbler really comes out at daybreak.  They do not want to share those hens with anybody else, and are prone to running you over in an attempt to outrun the others.  Take for example this past spring.  A good friend and I had worked a solo bird into seventy yards, to no avail.  He would not come closer, but why did he feel the need to?  The day was long, and he thought that his hens were not going anywhere.  We had been hearing a pair of turkeys gobbling all morning, and decided to give them a try on the way out.  Five minutes after setting up, they came down a hill and through a thicket so fast that my buddy simply could not get a shot off. 

Terrain Considerations

I am a firm believer in location, location, location.  It’s a principle that was engrained in me early in my real estate finance classes in college.  In the spring woods, it may be the most important determinant in success or failure.

There is simply no substitute to knowing the turf you are hunting.  If you are a superb caller, you are still just another hen.  If you are an average caller in an area a gobbler trusts and can easily access, then you are miles ahead of the champ.  Where a turkey is located, where I believe he is going to go, and what lies between me and him all factor into deciding which turkey to go to.  I am probably a little particular in this respect, but I really like to be in an area where the morning sun is at my back.    I’ve even been known to loop around a turkey just to have this advantage. Plus, a turkey in the sunlight makes for a far better show than being blinded by the sun.  This is just one small example of what goes into my decision making process.

Back to terrain: it’s simply not enough to say “yeah, he’s roosted over that small logging deck.”  What lies between where I feel I can kill him and that logging deck?  Can I use the terrain to get even closer to this turkey than the others I am hearing?  You have to know every detail of the land you hunt to be successful; there’s never a substitute for that.

The Process of Elimination

Let’s look at the turkeys at our disposal while facing north and each turkey occupying a major compass bearing.  The turkey to our north is gobbling sparingly.  At the northeast is a turkey gobbling fairly well, but he may be across a creek featuring a thick embankment.  The same applies to the turkey to our immediate east.  The turkey at our southeast might as well have lockjaw.  He is a killjoy to listen to.  The turkey to the direct south is gobbling great.  He is in an open spot; there are no potential hang-ups that we can think of.  Put him on the short list and look at the turkey to the southwest.  From the sun standpoint, it’s perfect; the morning sun will directly at our backs.  However, he is a classical field turkey, taking refuge in a large cow pasture.  We may want to save him for an afternoon hunt.  The turkey back to the west is hot as well, and he is in a perfect spot.  To add to the riches, he has two other turkeys with him.  We can easily get to him from our listening spot.  This is the group of turkeys we want.  Forget about the turkey to the northwest that has whipped us the past five mornings.  We are going west!

What We Have Learned

We can only be so lucky to face a beautiful dilemma in the spring woods.  If we are that blessed, we need to keep our cool, think it out, and efficiently decide which turkey to head towards.  I say “efficiently” with a whisk of urgency, because I have seen people on the opposite end of the spectrum from the “knee-jerk” mentality that waste the good part of a morning deciding which direction to go.  There is no mathematical or scientific methodology that can determine the best course of action.  It is simple: know the land, know the turkeys, and know your abilities.  By doing that, you can turn a beautiful dilemma into a beautiful truck ride home!
Author:
Wild Turkey Report Staff
Wild Turkey Report is the internet's new destination for information on the sport of turkey hunting. Follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wildturkeyreport and on Twitter @wildturkeyreprt!
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