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How Can I Approach Birds in Open Country?

OpenaskI hunt big farm country, and of course, turkeys love using the huge pastures and ag fields in my area. It's awesome to see strutters and breeding flocks, but it's also frustrating. I can't ever seem to get close enough to these birds to do anything with them. Any suggestions? — Ty Weller, Novinger, Mo.

See the picture above? That's Pine Ridge, S.D. When I snapped it, there was a gobbler hammering his wattles off somewhere on that open ridge. If I'd had a tag, I would have gone after him, but the trek would have been long and arduous. With a straightforward approach, I could have made it across the road and through the buck brush past the shack, but after that, the gobbler still would have been several hundred yards away, with nothing but air between us. Instead, I would have gone far to the right of the picture, slipped over the top of the ridge and then tried to slip out somewhere above the turkey, hopefully within calling distance. Would it have worked? I don't know. But it would have been worth a shot.

Basically, when you're trying to gain ground on an open-country gobbler, you have to use every bit of cover and any terrain wrinkles available. Usually, you''ll find more of the latter than the former. Unless you're in the flattest of flatlands, there will usually be at least some rise and fall to the landscape, even if only in the form of small folds or gullies. The key is to identify terrain wrinkles and then formulate a travel path toward the turkey or a likely setup. Oh, and you'll have to belly-crawl, too. It's not bushwhacking — just low-level relocation.

Years ago, I stood with friends Scott Bestul and Pat Reeve on a Minnesota ridge and watched a breeding flock cavort in a stubble field several hundred yards away. I remarked that the turkeys were safe from us, but Reeve indicated otherwise. He pointed out a small depression that wound toward the birds, and then identified two tiny knolls that might provide cover. He then suggested that I try it, which I did. I never killed a bird, but I got within 70 steps of the flock, which was still a pretty cool accomplishment. Reeve's keen eye and terrain savvy made it possible.

When you make your move, be patient yet decisive. Stay as low as possible, even though it's uncomfortable. Glass often to look for birds. Don't worry about getting wet or muddy. It'll wash off later. Constantly listen for clues — gobbling, yelping, scratching, drumming — that indicate turkeys are near. If you bust the birds or they wander away, no biggie. Hunt them another day. But if it works, slip as close as possible to a decent setup, and then yelp or sneak out a decoy. Close counts, especially with Eastern turkeys, and you will have improved your odds tremendously.

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