Turkey Hunting: Playing Through the Putt

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Each spring, turkey hunters are faced with numerous decisions that will impact their success, such as where to start their hunt or how much to call. The beauty of the sport is that it is cerebral in nature, and turkey hunters can create success and force the issue more so than the average deer hunter can.

No decision, or series of decisions, can be more important than those that happen when the turkey enters the kill zone.  This is where the amateurs are separated from the veterans, as each move is critical.  A hunter must be able to close the deal, or all of the great decisions that one has made up to that point in the hunt will go for naught if the bird is not harvested.

Every turkey hunter has experienced the moment in which the turkey "smells a rat" and decides he is not going to stick around much longer.  While each scenario is slightly different, in general the turkey hunter has three primary routes he can choose: 1) attempt to take the shot 2) call to the bird to settle him down and bring him in closer or into a shooting lane or 3) let the bird drift off and cut the potential losses that come from missing, crippling, or further educating that bird.

Why birds spook

Turkeys are wild animals, and have a keen sense of survivability.  They also have an innate ability to know exactly where the hen is supposed to be, and when they arrive to that spot and the hen is not present, their survival instinct goes into overdrive.  As we all know, turkeys also have exceptional eyesight, which allows them to pick out anything that seems out of the ordinary, such as a poorly hidden or carelessly moving hunter.

Option 1: Take the shot

In an era in which after-market choke tubes and specialized loads have increased the maximum range of a shotgun, the hunter has more of an advantage against spooked turkeys than his predecessors.  Regardless, the hunter still must keep ethics in mind when deciding whether to take the shot or not.  Nothing can make a turkey hunter nauseous like crippling a big longbeard can, and every turkey hunter owes it to the bird to make sure they are confident they can kill the bird.  Proper patterning at the shooting range before the season can enhance this confidence level, and the hunter must have absolute conviction that the bird will be cleanly taken before he walks out of range.

Option 2: Call Him In Closer

If a turkey becomes uneasy because he does not see a hen, calling to him may settle him down and draw him closer.  The issue is that unless you are a turkey psychic, you do not know the true reason he spooks in this situation.  Calling to him when the issue is at doubt could risk educating him and making him a tougher customer the next time around.  If you truly have nothing to lose, or its your last day in field, then trying to calm the bird down may be your only option.
Option 3: Play For the Next Down

If there is one thing that keeps football coaches up at night, its their quarterbacks making poor decisions when the play breaks down.  The best advice in those situations is to chunk the ball out of bounds and play for another down.

The same logic applies in the turkey woods.  When the turkey is just out of range or is in thick cover and is heading away, the best option may be to let him drift away and hope he calms down 15 to 30 minutes later.  You stand a better chance of repositioning and calling him up again if you cut your losses and let him ease out.

The bottom line is spooking or bumping turkeys is a part of the game.  If you hunt long enough, you will have as many or more mishaps than triumphs, and the key is learning from each experience and how to avoid, or capitalize, when the next snafu happens.

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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