If you spend a reasonable amount of time chasing public land turkeys, you will quickly realize that other hunters are the enemy. Just like with public land deer hunting, your turkey hunting success depends on other hunters not trampling through your hunting area. Some guys have the luxury of turkey hunting on private land, but most of us have to trudge through crowded and busy public hunting land to chase turkeys. For those of us who fight the public land crowd, there are a few tricks and techniques that can help tilt the odds in our favor.
Most hunters work a Monday through Friday, 8 to 5 job. This work schedule prevents most of them from hunting during the week. This is also the same reason why public hunting land is so crowded and busy on the weekends. The best public land turkey hunting technique is to hunt when others cannot. Turkey hunting during the work week greatly reduces the chances of another hunter stumbling into your set-up. If you cannot get out during the week, take advantage of the midday. By this time most hunters have already packed it in, and the woods have calmed down enough for the turkeys to cooperate. The lack of noise and intrusion also reduces the chances of spooking the turkeys out of the area before your hunt even begins. Midweek and midday hunts offer a chance to really amp up your turkey calling.
Public land turkeys get bombarded by a lot of turkey calls. The vast majority of the calling comes immediately before they fly down from the roost and continues until mid-morning. Be patient and wait until the crowds have left the woods. This is not the time to use the tried and true three yelps and wait an hour tactic. It is time to step it up and get the birds fired up. Convince them they are missing out on the party. This takes a couple of different calls, and you have to be able to multi-task. However, this is a technique that the other hunters probably will not try. As a piece of advice, be careful incorporating gobbles into your turkey calling routine. I know they can be deadly on an old, territorial tom, but this can cause a serious safety issue. As you entice that old strutter, you may also be enticing other hunters. Not all hunters are ethical hunters and may take a shot at what they think is a turkey without unprecedented proof. Locator calls can shock a tom into gobbling, but this is a time when you can easily overdo it. You do not want to sound like a hyper crow, owl, or heard of elephants running from one ridge to the next. This kind of activity will definitely get the birds’ attention. Unfortunately, it is the kind of attention that sends the birds running for cover. When you shock a tom into gobbling, stop trying to get him to respond and start hunting him.
This is also the time to set out a flock of decoys. This is the golden age of ultrarealistic turkey decoys. Turkeys have never had a harder time determining what is real and what is fake. Let your location dictate your decoy set-up. If you can see well past your decoy set, add a jake decoy. Otherwise stick with only hens. The more you set out, the better they will work. With this set-up, you need to add some movement to your decoys. One of the easiest methods is to attach the equivalent of a duck hunter’s jerk string. Attach a string to the front of a decoy and gently tug it to get the turkey decoy to move. It is a very simple but effective technique. Not to mention, this technique will make your set-up look different than the other hunters’ set-ups. Like your turkey calling, you have to be cautious when using turkey decoys because of other hunters.
Public land turkeys get pressured. They quickly learn to watch and listen to hunters approaching their roosts. They may not understand exactly what you are, but it is a guarantee they do not like what they are seeing or hearing. Turkeys stay on roost longer and gobble incessantly. They eventually fly down from their roosts and hit the ground running the opposite direction of the invaders.
One of the most important things a public land turkey hunter can do is keep his or her mouth shut. If you spread the word on a responsive gobbler, it is a good bet that you will have a crowd of hunters setting up in your area. If you are asked to reveal the details of your hunting exploits, this is the time for a basic and generic answer. However, this is also the time when a rookie reveals himself or herself. They cannot wait to tell everyone about their hunting experience. Remember the rookies’ location for the next turkey hunting season; there is a good chance the turkeys will still be there.