Turkey Hunting: It's All About the Setup
Photo by Newton Daily News
Our coverage of turkey hunting month in America continues as we turn our attention to the always important topic of turkey hunting setups in this installment. Because your setup is everything in turkey hunting.
Turkey hunting is often treated as more of a spontaneous and non-strategic sport in comparison to whitetail hunting. Hunters tend to rely heavily on locating birds and leveling the playing field by calling them in. Putting entirely too much stock into the vocal interaction involved in turkey hunting.
Getting call-happy and relying strictly on calling is easy to do yet detrimental to regular success in the spring woods.
It is important to remember that calling is just one tool in your toolbox. There are other things that can help to put big beards and tail fans on your wall. Things like good woodsmanship and proper setups. The things that the wise and experienced turkey hunters know how to do.
Championship turkey callers are not guaranteed to be championship turkey hunters. If you have sub-par woodsmanship, no idea of how to set up on turkeys, and you can't shoot straight to save your life, all of the calling in the world probably will not help you out.
Great turkey hunters are experts in situational hunting. They can read the situation in front of them and hatch a game-plan to put themselves in front of big turkeys time after time. We all know who those guys are professionally in the outdoor industry and in all of the small towns across America. Situational awareness is a huge benefit in the spring turkey woods.
Reading a situation and executing the proper setup also happens to be one of the tougher things to do in turkey hunting. You have to be able to see beyond what is in front of you. Thinking similar to how that big tom may as he approaches that setup.
Let's also realize the fact that turkeys are just downright spontaneous creatures, so there really is no such thing as a perfect setup. Some turkeys will turn their heads and run despite a seemingly perfect setup, while others will run in to commit suicide on what would seemingly be an awful setup.
There are no guarantees in turkey hunting.
However, there remains no doubt that knowing how to set up on birds is a key to successful hunting. Let's hit on some important bullets to remember when making those setups this spring season.
Know Your Style
To keep things simple, we will acknowledge two overarching styles in turkey hunting. One being stationary hunting where you are calling from one spot or a blind, and the other being run-and-gun hunting where you are on the move. Knowing which kind of turkey hunter you are and which type of hunting is applicable on the property you're hunting is a major key. Some hunters are good enough to switch between the two styles depending on the phase of the season and other factors. Just make sure that you consider your style before you consider setup possibilities.
Don't Give Up the High Ground
Whether you're staying put in a ground blind or on the move, you never want to give the turkeys the high ground. It's an easy mistake to make as you seek the best possible view of your hunting area. It goes without saying that you want to see the turkeys without them seeing you. One of the more simple tactics to avoid being picked off is taking the high ground when possible.
Turkeys live by their keen eyesight. If they are able to get above you and look down on your setup, there is a great chance that they will see a glimmer off of your shotgun or even a subtle alarm like a white face in a dark ground blind.
Keep the Options Open
Being hidden from the sharp eye of a big longbeard is key, but being too hidden is a definite possibility. Remember that executing a clean, ethical shot is the end goal of turkey hunting. If you're covered up in brush or blocked by other obstacles, you will go home empty handed. Regardless of how great of a job you did in calling that big gobbler in.
I can speak from recent experience. After calling in two beautiful Ohio longbeards on the second day of our spring season in 2017, I was quickly reminded of how important setups are. The two gobblers rolled into my clover plot without a clue in the world that I was there. The only problem was that the birds rolled to my right and a giant bush negated any chance of swiveling my shotgun in their direction.
It may sound simple, but make sure you have as many shooting opportunities as possible. Modern camouflage and good woodsmanship can do a lot in fooling the eye of a big turkey, but you cannot overcome obstacles that block clean and ethical shots. I won't be setting up in a bush with it blocking half of my field again anytime soon.
Side Note: Carrying a good pair of pruners is always smart. Like a true hunter overcome with turkey fever, I ignored the pruners that I always pack in my turkey vest on the hunt I described above. Don't be afraid to snip a couple twigs in order to eliminate obstacles. Hurrying around and ignoring potential issues will always come back to bite you.
Using decoys is an absolute must in turkey hunting, but it can also be an absolute bust if you do it the wrong way. Decoys are an integral part of most successful turkey hunting setups- don't get me wrong. But they can also spook birds and force them to hang up if used incorrectly.
The most common mistake is using the wrong decoy for the phase of the season, or even the wrong decoy for the specific turkey you're calling. A rule that I personally live by is using a different decoy for each phase of the season. A full-strut gobbler can work early on, a half-strut decoy may work in the mid-season, and a simple feeding hen late.
Know Your Ground
Good turkey hunters can seemingly walk onto any property and find great setups without any prior knowledge. If you are one of those hunters, great. But most of us are not that gifted in thinking on the run. Scouting your hunting spots and knowing the lay of the land is critical. Even those turkey hunting geniuses among us gain prior knowledge before heading out. Knowing what lies between you and that big gobbler is yet another major key.
Keep It Simple Stupid
The old KISS acronym is always a good one to abide by. As humans we tend to go overboard with everything, and that includes turkey hunting. We can talk about the intricacies of turkey hunting setups until we're blue in the face. When push comes to shove, the basics can get you further than anything.
Not getting too close to the roost, hunting those open woodlots, meadows and fields that turkeys frequent, getting comfortable, and not over-calling. Not sky-lining yourself, setting up with the sun at your back, and being patient.
Doing those basic things can land you more longbeards than you may think. Even the worst of setups can yield success if you simply get comfortable and exercise some serious patience. Not over-calling and forcing birds to hang up in a better place.
You would be surprised how many big turkeys will trudge into non-prime setups if you play your cards the right way. Meaning that you pique their interest enough to get them rolling into your lap. That can be done by simply getting comfortable, knowing what terrain a big turkey will walk through or not, and being patient.
The beauty of turkey hunting lies within the fact that a big gobbler will adapt to many situations. There are more successful setups than we could possibly think of and write down for you. You simply have to get out and get after it.
Stick to the basics and you will have a great chance at bagging the king of the spring.