Turkey Setups Made Easy
Avoid these common mistakes for a shot-perfect setup every time.
April 20, 2012
Rushed shots and poor aim result in many missed turkeys during the spring, but mistakes when setting up account for many hunters never even getting an opportunity to shoot. Learning to read the terrain, properly observing both tom and hen behavior by sound and sight and applying solid woodsmanship and decision-making skills when setting up will result in more productive hunts and fewer blown opportunities. Too often, hunters hear a gobble and simply plop down by the nearest tree and begin calling, never giving a thought to exactly how far off the tom may still be and what obstacles lie between hunter and hunted. Remember the following tips the next time a gobble suddenly thunders through the woods, signifying that it’s “game on.”
Pinpointing the Roost
The forest is leafing out more every day as the first weeks of turkey season progress, which means turkeys will begin sounding farther away when gobbling from the roost (or even on the ground) than they actually are. This can cause a hunter, who may not have hunted in a week or two, to rush in too quickly or closely to set up on a bird that he believes is much farther away based on how sound carried when the woods were more barren. Even if you're running a little late in the morning, stop to listen carefully before approaching a roosted tom. Pinpointing its precise location is critical to establishing the optimum setup. A gobbler strutting and turning on the limb can also sound closer or farther depending on which way he is facing. Make him gobble at least twice with a locator call to be sure of where it is roosted.
Approaching the Roost
A common dilemma many hunters wrestle with is “how close should I setup to the roost.” Legendary turkey chaser Ray Eye’s recommendation is simple: “Get as close as you can without bumping the bird.” By doing so, you reduce the amount of distance the gobbler must cover to get from roost to your gun. You also reduce the chance of it being intercepted by hens. Ideally, this distance is usually around 100 yards. Factors that will affect how close you can get to the roost include how light it is, how much cover is between you and the turkey and how quietly can you slip in and set up.
If it’s still early dawn and there are plenty of leaves on the trees, you can usually slip in close, providing you’re not cracking limbs and crunching a bunch of leaves. Field edge and open pine setups allow a hunter to walk in and move more quietly. Hardwood and small growth pine forests littered with leaves and limbs might mean you will need to hang back a little more, as it’s difficult to move quietly through that stuff. If hunting with a partner, take that into consideration as well. The more people, the more noise and movement there is. If using a decoy, have it out and ready to plunk into the ground to limit any disturbance you might cause in setting up.
Know the Land
Understanding where creeks run, large blown down trees lie, thickets clog the woods and the location of obstacles that could hinder a gobbler’s approach to your calls is key. Just as importantly, knowing where lanes run, food plots and fields are situated and open woods are will help you predict where a turkey is most likely to travel. Always set up with these considerations in mind. It does no good—even if the gobbles sound close—to set up if there is a creek or tangle of blown down trees that will prevent the bird from easily strutting in to your calls. This may even mean you have to move back and away from a turkey before calling to it. I’ll take a clean, easy approach over proximity every time within reason. Avoid sitting in depressions or bottoms as well, and always attempt to get the high ground on an approaching gobbler. The last thing you want is a setup where you can’t see the tom until it is only 10 or 20 yards away.
Trust Your Camo
Concealment is critical to evade a turkey’s keen eyesight, but do so with a good set of camouflage clothing—including facemask, gloves and even boots—and sitting against a tree wider than your shoulders to properly break up your outline. Setting up in a bunch of brush can make it impossible to adjust your aim if needed without making excessive noise and movement. Turkeys seldom just march straight in the way you hope they will.
Take a Second
Don’t panic when you hear a gobble provided the tom is still out of eyesight from your position. Even if the bird is within 200 yards, take a second to consider a spot that will break up your outline, provide a good line of sight, allow you to sit comfortably (which translates into sitting more still) and allows a tom an unobstructed approach. Then quickly, and with as little disturbance as possible, settle into that spot. If you need to double check how quickly a bird might be approaching the calls you just made, switch to a locator call so as to not speed up his approach. You want to be sure you are ready to shoot before you begin making those next calls.
In some instances, a gobble will shatter the silence from a bird that is already virtually within eyesight or even shooting range. In these rare instances, a quick scan and drop down to the nearest spot within a body length must be done. If a bird is that close, don’t waste time putting on gloves and mask and pulling out calls. Just get your gun up and be ready. Then, if the bird stalls or slips back some, you can pull that together. I’ve seen hunters blow their opportunity by putting gloves on when all they had to do is be ready to shoot as soon as the bird stepped into sight.
When using decoys, set them close. And remember, the best spot to set them may not always be in front of you. Tom Wiley, founder of Flextone Game Calls, which makes the Thunder Chicken 1/4-sized strutting jake/tom decoy, suggests when working a longbeard down a logging road or open field edge, to actually position the decoy at least 10 to 15 yards behind you, as it is not uncommon for a gobbler to approach a decoy and then hang up 20 or 30 yards away from it waiting for it to make a move. When it doesn’t, sometimes, the tom will simply turn and walk away. With the decoy behind your position, even if the gobbler does hang up instead of rushing in, it will still be in range for a shot.