7 Public Land Turkey Hunting Strategies

Mar 31, 2022 | Turkey Hunting | 1 comment

The popularity of spring turkey hunting has increased across the country over the last three decades. Much of the interest is likely due to expanding turkey populations in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Restoration efforts paid off and turkeys rapidly filled habitat. Birds were abundant and the action was often fast and intense.

More recently, turkey populations in several states are in a downward trend. Additionally, social media has resulted in hotspotting for both resident and non-resident hunters. Lower populations and willingness to travel have made turkey hunting tougher, particularly on public lands where birds are pressured. Some simple tips and tricks will help all hunters hunting these high-pressure areas.

Why Hunt Turkeys on Public Land?

The grass isn’t always greener on the private land side of the fence. In many cases, especially where turkey numbers have declined in recent years, public land holds more birds. Sometimes better habitat can be found on public land because the controlling agency isn’t worried about paying the monthly bills of the farm like a private landowner is. Public wildlife areas often have the luxury of being managed purposefully, to encourage game species. By no means are we saying all public land is managed perfectly, but overall, there are larger tracts and typically more habitat, which results in more birds.

Tip #1: Know What To Look For

chukar hunting
Notice where Bone Collector’s Michael Waddel, and his kids, shot this tom. They are in an open field with green grasses where turkeys feel comfortable using their most keen sense, their eyesight.
Being local has an advantage. The advantage is the ability to gain an intimate knowledge of the landscape by on the ground scouting. If you want to maximize success you have to put some boot leather on the ground. You need to know the location of every cross fence, old rock walls, drainages, ridges, and open timber suitable for strutting.

Where are the open fields? Are they brushhogged, burned or planted to some type of food plot that would attract foraging hens or strutting toms? Are the open fields grown up with tall grass or brush? These types of details are critically important to understand before you hear the first gobble. Some of these features change annually, like the condition of certain fields. When a bird starts answering your call, you need to know if he can physically get to your location or if physical barriers such as woven wire fences are between you. Knowing physical barriers will help you select the best location to set up when you hear a gobble.

Knowing landscape intimately can pay off in another way as well. When the situation arises needing you to reposition, knowing where a rock wall or a thick field is located can help you conceal yourself. Contour can be used the same way. Knowing how steep a drainage is and the visibility from adjacent ridges can aid in maneuvering. Using creek beds and knowing where the high banks are located will conceal movement and can make the difference between a heavy turkey vest or a spooked bird.

Turkeys don’t like entering places where they can’t see danger. Fields with tall grass or brush are easy ambush sites for predators and centuries of evolution have taught turkeys to avoid such places. Contour can be another factor. If a gobbler is answering from a ridgetop with a drainage between yourself and him, depending on the steepness of the slope he might make the move. However, having two drainages between yourself and him lowers the odds drastically. It is always best to position yourself on the same ridge as the bird.

Fields can be an ideal location for turkeys to strut in if they are open, not overgrown, and provide unobstructed use of their best trait, their eyesight. The same goes for cedar thickets. If the thicket becomes visually obstructive to a turkey, whether within timber or an old field, they will avoid it.

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Tip #2: Pre-Season E-Scouting is Key

Today’s technology lends itself well to scouting your hunting area from afar. Hunters have the ability to use tools such as BaseMap to see contours, creeks, open lands vs timber, and enter markers of locations of various details. Fences or similar features can be plotted. Notes regarding open field conditions can be recorded. The opportunities are endless as to how much detail a hunter could enter to create their own layers.

Tip #3: Time Your Boots-On-The-Ground Scouting Correctly

When deciding to thoroughly explore a potential hunting site, timing and location are critical. Scouring over an area a few days before the season opens may result in multiple contacts with birds you intend to hunt and spook birds before the season even gets underway. Late winter is a better time to learn a new site. During the months of January and February you will find birds still assembled in winter flocks across much of the country. Sometimes these winter flocks won’t even be located in the planned hunting area. But when spring arrives, and birds break apart, smaller breeding groups scatter across the landscape.

Tip #4: Go Deep

Location is also critical. Obviously, it’s important to know there is an adequate spring population in the area you intend to hunt. However, savvy hunters take location scouting to another level. Due to increased public land hunting pressure it’s important to find less pressured spots. Look for opportunities to hike deeper into an area, going well beyond the standard access points. If hunting on a lake or reservoir use a boat to access areas miles from the nearest parking lot. If a river or stream runs through an area, consider using a canoe or kayak to get deeper than most other hunters. We even suggest backpacking in if needed to avoid the crowds. Working harder than 90% of the other hunters will exponentially increase your odds of success.

Tip #5: Use Hot-Spotting To Your Advantage

Long distance travel doesn’t allow for intimate knowledge of your hunting area. Social media has caused hot-spotting in many states and specific locations over the last few years. Many of these hot-spotted locations have resulted in excessive pressure and poor hunting success. Use social media with the opposite purpose. Look at social media, see where people are hot spotting, avoid those areas. Use the hot spot as a general idea for knowing turkey populations that are doing well in that part of the state. Then, look for other areas within the same region to hunt. The turkey population is rarely only doing well in just one wildlife area while struggling everywhere else in a two-hour radius.

Tip #6: Consider Skipping Opening Day/Weekend

It’s also usually best to avoid the season opener. Everyone wants the first crack at uneducated birds, but the crowd is often excessive during the first few days of the season. If possible, look for opportunities to hunt weekdays and during the second or third week of the season.

Tip #7: Try New Tactics

There are a lot of turkey hunting tactics out there, be it run-n’- gun with calling, silent spot-n’-stalk hunting, calling sets with decoys, and hand-held decoy hunting. Don’t be afraid to try something new if your go-to tactic isn’t working. Something new and different just might be the trick no one has tried yet on the pressured public land birds you’re hunting. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again yet hoping for a different outcome. Adding additional tools to your turkey hunting toolbox never hurts.

In Conclusion

With the recent turkey decline and COVID-19, some states are seeing a reduction in hunting pressure. This may help reduce the difficulties of finding responsive birds. However, working harder and preparing better than others will always be a superior strategy. Spring is coming, get out and do your preseason prep work.

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks This is a great article .

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