Last season when I was hunting turkeys at Miller Creek Ranch in central Texas, I found that gobblers were henned up beyond belief, gobbling on the roost, then clamming up like Mafia members on the witness stand as soon as they hit the ground. In six days of hunting, I managed to call one big bird up for a friend who had never been turkey hunting before, and he thankfully hammered him. (He had hunted a total of two hours and went home thinking, hey, what's so tough about this?)
Oh, don't worry. I got my licks in, too, but it was only because I have a bowhunter's mentality and started turkey hunting as if I were bowhunting mature whitetails. That is to say, I found places where the birds were crossing fence lines heading back to their roost, built some ground blinds and waited them patiently out. And I also put the sneak on a big gobbler strutting in a wheat field next to the edge of a wooded creek channel. I killed that 4 year old at eight steps. But none of it was classic turkey hunting like you see on the cable hunting TV shows. No gadgets, specialty items or high-tech devices we've used to chase down my birds.
Like me, outfitter Stony Trainham of Miller Creek Ranch has evolved from a hunter with no money who took afield nothing more than a gun, binoculars and a sharp knife, to one who brought so much gear that he ran out of pockets and daypack space. Now, both of us are back to the basics, believing that the less you haul around the better you'll know how to use what you have, and thus be more efficient in the woods. The key is to bring the right stuff.
The famous conservationist, writer and sportsman Aldo Leopold once wrote that the nimrods of his era were becoming a gang of "gadgeteers," more enamored with their toys than becoming skilled woodsmen. I am pretty much the anti-gadgeteer, unless a new high-tech whatchamacallit proves its worth to me. One of those gadgets is the modern GPS unit. I have not found a more useful tool in many a year.
The GPS can help you get found if you become lost. It can also mark downed big-game animals that have to be packed out later without worrying about leaving a trail of bright flagging. It has a 101 uses, and the newest units are simple to use.
We used them turkey hunting for several things. The most important was the ability to roost a gobbler and mark both his exact tree and, even better, the exact spot where I wanted to set up in the dark to try and catch him as he flew down off the roost at first light. No need to alert him with a flashlight, no need to make a lot of noise getting settled in, just read the unit and follow the trail and you're ready. Other times, we'd get into a new area in the early afternoon, mark the truck on the GPS and head off. When we saw or heard turkeys, we chased them wherever, with no fear of not being to find the truck again in the flat, brush-choked terrain. I doubt I'll be hunting much without one anymore.
Trainham made a great point about gadgets. "There is no substitution for woodsmanship when hunting," he observed. "Too many folks believe they can buy all this fancy stuff and become Daniel Boone overnight, but that isn't the way it is." A GPS can simplify things and be helpful, he said, but hunters still need to know how to locate birds and know what to do once they find them. "You cannot buy that knowledge at any price."
Truer words were never spoken.
Tips to Lay Out Ol' Tom
Fly-down time at dawn
is, quite naturally, assumed by many hunters to be the best time all day to bag a tom. Trouble is, the hen or hens that old fella is visiting at that time of day may not let him off the hook long enough to pay attention to your calls and come anywhere near your setup. But during the peak of the breeding season, those hens are apt to visit their nests by noon. Your best shot at calling him close may come then, when old tom is lonely for attention.
Many times a tom hangs up
not because of an obstacle, but because he's walked far enough toward your call and, having not seen a hen, walks away. Your mistake: setting up too far outside that all-important range and never seeing him. When you call, be sure of a good line of sight through terrain and vegetation, and depending on cover, try to get within 100 yards of him before plopping down.
If you hear a gobbler moving away from you,
don't waste more time and breath trying to call him back. Instead, get up and hustle in a wide circle around him. If you need to hear him for reference, use a locator call. When you feel you are ahead of him, quickly set up and give a series of aggressive yelps with a call you haven't used yet. Many times this "fresh hen" tactic will prove successful.
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