The leaves are changing, the crisp snap of the cold autumn air sounds the siren many of us have waited months for hunting season. Whether your season begins in September with Dove and early Teal, or you wait until Halloween to break out the bow, the time for early mornings and bag limits is upon us.
Yet every year we are reminded all too often that if it were easy, it wouldn’t be called hunting. Being a turkey hunter reminded me of that. However, success is closer than you think. I’m here to tell you that the problem isn’t your site, the wind, lack of scouting or the weather. It’s you.
Goose Eggs For Turkey
I pride myself on not being a single season hunter. If I can cook it, I want to kill it. So after a successful dove season, early Teal and promising signs for upcoming deer and Fall turkey, I was ready to ride my success right into the freezer. But turkey and I have a rocky relationship. When I first arrived in Kansas in the late winter of 2017, my first hunting opportunity was Spring Turkey. I had the decoys, I had the camo, I had the calls, and I had done the scouting. I even located a Tom no more than 50 meters from my car when he gobbled from the roost; all great signs for an early punch on my tag.
That morning was wet as thunderstorms moved through in the morning. I knew the birds would do one of two things: stay in the roost until things cleared up or move to the fields where their excellent hearing and superb eyesight wouldn’t be obstructed by rain and swaying tree limbs. Since that Gobbler was still roosted, I set up across a soybean field, soaked my bones and waited. And waited. And waited. Three hours went by, and it’s now 11 am. The Tom stopped talking, and nothing was moving on my decoys or responding to my slate call.
I decided to explore my surroundings a little more and move to crest a hill behind me. As I come around the spur of this small hill, I catch the sight of a tail fan. About 30 meters ahead of me was a Tom in full strut. He was moving away from me and too far to take a reasonable shot. So I try to swing around this corn plot and intercept him. I moved quickly and quietly. I get around the food plot and look in the direction the bird should be coming from. Nothing. Just like that, I lost a large bird in a completely open field.
Fool Me Once
Anyone else have visions of G.W. Bush when they hear that? No? Just me? Fine. Anyway. Demoralized, I left my sit and went for lunch with the plan of coming back for an afternoon sit. That Tom was not getting away from me; Spoiler: he does. I came back out around 4 pm and set up on the far end of the soybean field from earlier. I called and called hard. Nothing. As the sun started to set, I decided that gobbler had moved on and went to pick up to find a different sit. As soon as I stood up, I saw a large bird run across my sit and into the woods. Too far to ever get a shot. He was in the same field as me the whole time.
The next week I left for an Army-funded vacation to the National Training Center in Death Valley, California. We arrived back just in time for the last weekend of Spring Turkey. But my results were more of the same. I knew where the birds were, but they knew where I was too. I had roosted them, gotten out before daylight, made all the right calls but never got in shooting distance of anything with feathers. Frustrated, I made excuses: No Tom I saw had hens, the season just didn’t line up with the birds mating. I clucked back and forth with a gobbler who would not leave the trees for maybe an hour. If he was “in the mood,” that Tom would’ve come running!
The truth from a turkey hunter
All these factors and more made sense to me. But there was one element of hunting I was leaving out of my critical analysis. The hunter. I was on the birds. They were responding to calls. I knew where they slept and where they ate. So how were they beating me? That first bird probably heard me rustling around behind him. That Tom I called who wouldn’t le
ave the trees probably was watching me the whole time as I ran around trying to get closer. Hell, I straight stood up and busted one in the same field as me!
The truth is I was not patient. Now, I’m by no means a seasoned hunter. But this lesson is one I think many hunters fail to internalize early. Patience is key. Each time I grew frustrated with the lack of punctuality the animals displayed. How rude of them. I convinced myself the hunt was a bust only to be mocked by realizing the only element busting was me.
I Hate Turkey
I’ve had relative success in just about every season I’ve hunted. Even if I didn’t punch a tag or bag out, I’ve never been quite as stifled as I had been with Turkey. For an animal with a reputation for being pretty stupid, they sure seemed smart to me. Then Fall Turkey came around. Since the fall allows for the harvesting of either sex, my chances were better. I found increasingly promising turkey signs; tracks, feathers and had seen a flock not long before the season opener. A deer hunter in the same area had confirmed the presence of the birds and had them pretty well patterned.
I had confidence. Still lacked patience. I saw some tracks, and I knew where the birds were going. They liked feeding on the side of a road. This meant I had to cut them off 300 meters from the road to take a legal shot. 100 meters from the road, I moved back into the woods. It had seemed they beat me to safety. On my way back to the car, looking forward to lunch, three Toms flew up. The closest no more than 8 feet from me, and glided across a small creek. I sat down to call, knowing they would try to return together. I could see one in a tree across the river and another below the bank on some rocks. The only problem is they were too far out. So I did it again. I tried to move closer and gave myself away. Off they went.
Patience Pays Off
Losing hope, I took to the internet to see if I could find out what I was doing wrong. I came across a retired First Sergeant, David McNeal. Top McNeal had been hunting this area for 30 years and loved to hunt turkey. I shot him an email and asked for advice. He responded offering to take me out as he still had a tag he needed filling. Our morning sit was fruitless. So, Dave took me around showing me hunting spots that would be good for deer, duck, quail, etc. We passed a field, and I spotted a flock of about 15 turkeys. We got out, but they were too far to bust up. So, Dave backed us up a quarter mile in his truck, and we headed into the woods to see if we could call them in.
I was less than optimistic, just knowing how close I’ve come before. The birds were too far away, and we don’t even know if they’ll come to this direction. Nevertheless, Dave called and called. I was literally texting my girlfriend about how it seemed I’d have to throw away another unfilled turkey tag when I heard what sounded like a cluck. But from behind us.
The show-off turkey hunter
Dave called and scratched and made noises I didn’t know a human could replicate. And then I heard the loudest yelp I had ever heard. I turned my head just slightly and could see shiny black feathers. I turned away afraid they would see the pink of my face. They were so close to Dave; he could have turned and kissed them on the beak.
Dave told me was trying to wait and see if they would come around to the front but one raised its head and he knew it was now or never. He spun around and put one bird on the ground. I hopped up just in time to get a shot at the next one in line running right in front of me. In the most exciting 15 seconds ever on a hunt, Dave and I tagged out.
Hunting with Top McNeal was a humbling experience (you can find his account of the events here). It showed me that no matter how much internet research or hunting shows you watch, the best knowledge is firsthand. Mostly, it was reassuring. I was able to see that I was doing just about everything right. Except for waiting. If it had been just me in those woods, I would’ve gotten up and headed out instead of giving the birds every chance to come in. Dave also showed me a few veteran tips and tricks that inevitably killed those birds (be on the lookout for those and more in a future article). Just remember that if you know you’re in the right spot, making the right calls, just be patient. Happy hunting.