I once opined that if you took me off my 200 acre plot, I probably would not be a all that great a turkey hunter. However, I was probably the best there was on that one 200 acre patch in KY. So far, no one has come forward to dispute that. But then there is last year.
Last year was a bust. Nobody got a thing. It was an off year overall. The harvest numbers were down. Outside of the Opener, we hardly made contact with birds. The Opener, however, was incredible. I've never had more close encounters with gobblers in a single day. We just did not close the deal. #3 son and I were out at the honey hole and a large flock showed up with several gobblers. One mounted a hen within 20 yards of us, but sadly just behind a bush. Another poked his head up the exact same spot my 2011 Opener gob did, but he busted me and ran before I could shoot. Another came in on my back door, and I could not get around to nail him. Then? A zilch for the rest of season. We did have a gobbler one day trailing hens. He almost broke away and came to us, but he never quite got there. We tried an end-around he zigged when we zagged. As I said: zilch.
So as a result of last year, I would like to open this all up for discussion. Let me describe to you what I do, and then we can discuss it. I'd like to know: is there a better way? What am I missing? What would you do?
Look, I know some of you hit 4 or more states and I have neighbors that have 4 or more spots in the area that they hunt. I find it a satisfying challenge to stick on my own 200 acres and work the same birds year after year. If it's a bad year, it can be a long month, but I could have just as easily been skunked spending a few grand driving around the country.
In March, I can sit on my front porch and owl and get gobblers sounding off in all directions. There is a flock of hens that roosts less than 200 yards from the back of the house. I frequently go out hunting in the morning and come back to find fresh gobbler tracks over the top of my boot prints between the house and barn.
This is a fallow farm in SW Bracken County, KY-- what's known as the Trans-Bluegrass. Kentucky allows two gobs in the spring. The season start with a Yute season the first weekend of April. Depending on the calendar the second weekend may or may not be the Spring Gob Opener. This year it is. The season runs until the first weekend in May. Overall harvest in KY has been going up. The NorthEast region has been trending down. Bracken County's numbers have been declining for a few years. I talked to the wildlife biologist, and he says it is nothing to worry about. The local effects of the decline are that the turkeys disappear off my place in late winter and I may not see them until just before the Opener. I have counted as many as 80 turkeys on my place in a weekend. The past few years, has been considerably leaner. The spring gobbler season is timed so that the turkeys come out of their latency phase some time in the first week. I usually hunt that first week, and then every weekend thereafter.
My property lies 2 miles north of the Licking River and 10 miles south of the Ohio River. It is a series of finger ridges with hollows between. These flow into creeks that form the east and west boundaries. There are 40 acres of pasture on top of the ridges. There are a few acres of bottom land and all the rest are hillsides with a mix of scrub cedars and oak/hickory savannah.
April in the Trans-Bluegrass is highly variable. I've had 15F and snow on the Opener. I've had 90-something for a high Opening Week. Usually it is windy by 9 AM and very windy in the afternoon. I frequently carry a Jon-E handwarmer in the morning, tucked under my coat. By the time I come in, I'm often down to a t-shirt. I have seen birds active in just about every circumstance from cold and windy to hot and muggy. Unless it is pouring rain, I try and go out. If it is pouring rain, I'll be out as soon as the radar shows it is going to lift.
Usually I open up Turkey Camp in early March, and spend every weekend scouting. I don't try to get too close to the birds. I just want to hear them and get an idea of their numbers and movements. Over the years, I found some basic components to my strategy.
1) The turkeys roost overlooking the bottom land, but tend to fly down uphill from their roost trees and proceed up to the pastures to feed and loaf
2) Starting from the bottom and working up never seemed to work. I was always behind the turkeys. Starting about 7 years ago, I get on top of the ridge and wait for the turkeys to come to me.
3) Over the years, I found myself traveling to the same spots to set up. So I finally decided to drop all pretense to pursuing the turkeys. I go to the known honey holes, work my calls and wait.
4) I have a string of setups along the spine of the N/S ridge. There is a line of trees following a long-abandoned road. I will normally set up in that, and watch the fields to either side, or the adjoining woods. My other favorite strategies is to hang out all afternoon in one of the abandoned barns and call, or go to one of the other places where I have seen gobblers strutting over the years and wait.
5) My favorite spot, where I have had the most success is in the treeline, overlooking the ends of pastures two either side. It also overlooks a favorite crossing point between the two fields.
6) In fear I will get patterned by the birds, I try and change out my calls and my hunting venues.
7) I work from a variety of venues. My favorites are back-to-the-big-tree kickin' it up old school. I have three locations or so that I improve every year with burlap or die-cut blinds. I have my deer hunting luxury boxes for really bad weather and I have the old barns. The turkeys use them for dusting. I'll sit in the door and call.
I normally am well away from the flocks when first light hits. The closest I try to be is 80 yards. The light comes up, the flocks start to fly down, and that is when I go to work. I try not to be the first, or the loudest or anything out of the ordinary at first. If there is a gobbler sounding off, I try to take his temperature, but dollars to donuts he's usually with hens and he is tending them in the first hour or so. That just seems to be how the season works. Along about 9 AM the action picks up. Gobblers start showing up, and I may have 2-3 honoring my calls. I will flat yelp with occasional excited calls spaced several minutes apart. Once a gobbler starts to honor my calls, I shut up on the loud stuff and revert to feeding calls and dead silence.
If nothing is happening, I go in about 11 AM and go back out in the afternoon. My afternoon hunts consist of bouts of excited yelping at known strut zones spaced out about 15 minutes apart. A gobbler in the mood may travel a half mile over the course of the afternoon to come visit.
Despite changing venues and calls throughout season, I seem to get the majority of birds from the same spots using the same calls year after year. I have a homemade slate-over-glass pot call with Purple Heart striker that really seems to get them going. Close-in, (you'll laugh) I frequently use a push-pin Quaker Boy, because I have trouble purring with a mouth call. I have good luck with an old-style Toby Benoit Dixie Darlin' box call for reaching out in the wind. I also have a Quaker Boy Grand Old Master that has stirred the heart of many a gobbler. I also carry a selection of mouth calls.
On rainy days, I will either go out to one of my deer blinds and hang out, or I will wait until the rain lifts.
On a good day, I may hear as many as 20 individual gobblers sounding off between my ridges and those surrounding. On a bad day, I may not hear a single one on my property.
I shoot a 3" #4 Federal lead load out of a scoped Mossberg 500 with a Dead Coyote choke tube. Most of my encounters with birds are inside 20 yards. I've got bad eyes, so I put a scope on about 20 years ago, and it helped dramatically. I have missed more birds from having too-tight of a choke and the bird being too close than being too far away and not being able to throw a dense pattern.
The ground is uneven enough, even in the open fields that it takes planning to engineer a 40 yard shot from a sitting position. In the deep woods, a gobbler can be 10 yards away and you can't see him to get a shot.
There seems to be only a few days a year where the gobblers are actually receptive to calling. Before season sets in they will come to any rustle in the leaves. Some years you will not see them receptive until the last weekend of season.
I generally do not use locator calls. There are enough owl, crow, and hawk sounding off that I usually know where the gobblers are. All I have to do is be patient and listen. In the reverse sense, the appearance of turkeys in one of fields is usually occasion for the crows to sound off.
Roosts, strut zones, dusting areas, etc. remain stable from one year to the next. Even the personalities of the birds seem to get recycled. After more than a decade there is not much new happening. I'm now hunting probably the 4th or 5th generation of birds. The last new actor on the place was Mister Moto. He showed up about 5 years ago, and he was a gobbler noted for gobbling heartily in all conditions all year 'round. There are now a number of Mini-Moto's running around. He must have passed on the trait.
Runnin' and Gunnin' seems to lead no where in a hurry. The N/S axis of the farm is 3/4 of a mile. I can walk the circumference in 4 hours.
I stopped using dekes. I found they were more trouble than they were worth. They just added bulk to my kit, and I seldom saw where they added to my success.
So now that I've laid it all out, what do you all think? I'm open to ideas.