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Hunting Turkeys on Small Properties by Tim Herald

Hunting Turkeys on Small Properties

By: Tim Herald

When I first started turkey hunting, over thirty years ago, it was easy to gain access to lots of land to hunt just by knocking on doors and asking. I had literally thousands of acres to hunt on for no cost, and I could run and gun turkey hunt and not come close to covering all my ground in a day. Things have definitely changed over the years. With the popularity of spring turkey hunting, land leasing, and in much of the eastern US, large land tracts being divided up, more and more hunting is done on smaller parcels.

Switching gears a bit, I recently read a study on how turkeys react to pressure from coyotes and turkey hunters. With coyotes, if turkeys have an encounter with them, they immediately go back to their normal behavior in their normal range. It doesn’t affect them hardly at all. With pressure from hunters, turkeys will move away from roads and places where they encounter hunters often. They will literally shift where they spend most of their time to avoid hunting pressure.

With these things in mind, I have developed some strategies for turkey hunting small properties. I have a few key areas I can hunt that are small and if turkeys are pressured and move even a little, they will be off my parcels and unhuntable to me. So, I have to really concentrate on low impact hunting that does not pressure the birds and make them move.

First, on these small places, I do not run and gun. Walking around trying to strike a bird up and call him in is great fun, but as you are covering ground, you will undoubtedly bump turkeys from time to time, and I want to avoid that at all costs.

Instead, I do a lot of scouting, and identify roosts and strut zones, and I hunt them tactically. What I mean by that is that I try to really pattern birds to know where they fly down and go to strut right off the roost in the morning, or an area they use mid-day or afternoons before going to roost. I do a lot of listening from a distance early to track gobbling birds without spooking them, but the use of cellular trail cameras has been a real game changer for me.

Through a couple of years of scouting and hunting my spots, I now have some great camera locations identified, and I gain a ton of info without ever stepping foot on the properties, and this really lessens the pressure on the birds.

One other thing that I really pay attention to is my approach and exit strategies to my setup spots. I take great care to go into and out of an area via a route where I feel that I will not run into turkeys. Sometimes I have to walk much farther to get to my spot because of this, or I have to go in earlier or leave later than I would want, but again, it’s important to do all you can to lessen the pressure.

A case in point was opening day of Kentucky’s season this past spring. I had some birds located and planned to try to get my son Drew on a gobbler or two as he had missed the spring season the year before as he was studying abroad in Italy.

I had homed in on a gobbler that I had tried to kill all through the season before, but I never got him inside 80 yards. I had named him “Sissy Bird” because he wouldn’t come to a call, or to decoys, and if other gobblers were around, he always vacated the area. I knew we were going to have to basically deer hunt him and catch him along his daily route and ambush him.

Through using a couple of cell cams, I found out that in early to mid-afternoon, he regularly showed up at the edge of a wheat field where the farmer had sprayed a ten-yard wide strip at the edge of the woods, so it was short grass opposed to the wheat that was pretty tall. I had set a blind 35 yards out in the wheat where I could see both sides of a little point of woods that jutted out into the wheat field. I got photos of the gobbler walking the strip to the left of the blind skirting the edge of the woods, and on the right of the point, there was a major deer trail, and I had lots of photos of the bird coming out on that trail. If he stepped out on the trail, he was 35 yards from the blind.

Drew had to work that morning, so we decided to try Sissy Bird in early afternoon. We got there about 2:30 PM, and I had gotten cell pictures of the gobbler at 1:00 heading into the woods on the deer trail. We had a good approach to my blind through the wheat that allowed us to get in undetected, and I crawled around the blind and set out on single hen decoy that could be seen from both directions. I knew that would not draw him in but hoped it might make him stop and look and give Drew a chance for a shot.

I showed Drew the deer trail where the bird could appear, and then as I was showing him the travel route on the left of the blind, he said, “Dad, there he is, in the woods!” Sure enough, I threw up my binos, and there was sissy bird walking left to right through the semi open woods.

He went down in a dip where we couldn’t see him, and I told Drew I thought he was headed toward the deer trail, so we got him setup to shoot that way.

Within two minutes I saw the big gobbler coming out on the deer trail. He stepped into the clear, but had his head down feeding, and he was angling away. This had all happened so fast that I hadn’t even put a turkey call in my mouth yet. I told Drew to get ready, and I made one loud putt with my voice. The toms head came straight up, Drew put the dot of my Trijicon RMR2 on his waddles, and Sissy Bird was in the bag when he squeezed the trigger. We had literally been in the blind for seven minutes.




.We took some photos and it was not even 3:00 yet, so I decided to go jump in a blind on the edge of a small field that was at the bottom of a hill where turkeys had been roosting every night. I hoped to catch them loafing around the little secluded field in the shade during the warm afternoon before they went to the top of the hill to fly up to roost.

There had been a big dominant bird using the area, and my cameras had taken many photos of him strutting for a group of hens and jakes. Because he was dominant and there had been a whole flock there regularly, I put out a strutting jake and 4 hen decoys.

Once setup, I called about every ten minutes, and after half an hour, I looked out the right window of the blind as that was the direction I expected the birds to come from. Sure enough I saw a hen feeding straight toward the decoys, and ten yards behind her was a very big tom strutting in all of his glory. He was at 80 yards, and he would stop every two or three steps, spit and drum and then continue our way following the hen. Drew and I enjoyed the show, and when the gobbler got to 20 yards, I decided to call to him to make him raise his head for a good shot.

I cutt loudly on my diaphragm call, and instead of periscoping, he let out a thunderous gobble. I already had my Trijicon SRO site trained on him, so I touched off the trigger while he was in mid-gobble, and the 24.5 pound eastern gobbler was mine.

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In less than two hours Drew and I had taken two great Kentucky turkeys on less than 20 acres of land. It was all due to scouting to really pinpoint the birds and adapting strategies to have low impact on the small property. During the season, I was able to take two more friends and harvest birds in the small bottom field because I left it alone and “watched” it via cell camera. When a new bird would show up and start using the area, we slipped in and surgically removed him, so to speak.

Small tracts of land can be big producers for both turkeys and deer, but you absolutely must tailor your tactics to fit the situation.

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