Relying on what worked last year is not the greatest way to approach spring turkey hunting. While birds likely will use areas similarly from year to year, turkey hunting is the epitome of “you never know.”
Therefore, I feel that scouting is critical to being successful in the spring. While preseason scouting is over (since the season started on Sunday), using your time and experience in the woods to steer you in the right direction on your next outing.
The first year my wife hunted in college, I set out with the goal of getting her to shoot her first turkey. I got permission on a beef cattle farm and scouted it a few days before May 1. Toms were roosting in the woods uphill of one of the pastures, flying down, and then coming into the field to meet up with hens.
So, on May 1, we set up in the hedgerow with a hen decoy. The birds all came out but never came down far enough in the pasture to give us a shot. So, the next morning, we walked to the top of the pasture and set out our hen decoy. When the birds came into the pasture from the woods, the toms got worked up because some jakes had also come to the field. The toms proceeded to round up the jakes and run them off from the group of hens. After getting run off, the jakes marched single file across the field and my wife shot her first turkey at 15 paces. The other three jakes all stood there after she shot, so I grabbed my shotgun and shot one of them.
With the knowledge of what happened during the hunt, I borrowed a jake decoy from one of my housemates when my wife and I went back later that week. We set up the hen and jake decoy in the corner of the field. When the toms came down into the pasture, they marched down to check out the intruding jake.
While one of them hung up at 70 yards, the second one came to about 25 yards before thinking something was up. My wife couldn’t get her gun on him, so I ended up shooting him as he walked away at 35 yards. If we hadn’t watched them run the jakes off, we wouldn’t have thought to use a jake decoy to get the toms to check out our setup.
For three years I had been parking at the bottom of the property and walking uphill through a wooded section to get to the top field. Once or twice each May, the birds will roost in that wooded piece and there is no way to get to the top field without spooking them off the roost walking through the wooded section. Last year I spotted an old farm lane that leads to the top field from a different road. I asked the landowner about it, and she said it was fine to park there. Then about a week later, a bird gobbled in the wooded piece. I rushed back to my truck and drove around to park at the top and snuck into the top field.
He gobbled as I got to the field edge, and he wasn’t very far into the woods on the other side of the field. I set out my decoys and sat at a tree just inside the wood line. A couple soft tree yelps were answered with a gobble immediately. A minute later I heard wingbeats across the field. Then he gobbled over the knoll in the field.
I got my gun ready and watched his tail fan come over the knoll at 50 yards. Once he spotted the jake decoy, he made a beeline for it. I turned my safety off and got ready to shoot. Then I proceeded to miss him at 20 yards! I think that I rushed and did not get my head down on my gun properly, leading to me shooting right over his head. But without knowing about that farm lane, I wouldn’t have even had a chance to get him to come in.
So, when you are afield, remember that just because your hunt is unsuccessful that doesn’t mean that it was a waste of time. Today’s problem can be tomorrow’s solution.