I’m not sure where old “Three-Bump” came from or where he ended up. I can testify, however, that he was one heck of a runner.
I met Three-Bump in early May 2006, when fellow Turkey & Turkey Hunting contributing editor Scott Bestul and I were walking and calling in Bestul’s southeastern Minnesota stomping grounds. Hunting had been tough, so we were covering ground, trying to find a hot gobbler.
We had just run a couple of calls near the base of a steep ridge when a longbeard flushed from some nearby brush and high-tailed it up the slope.
“Unreal!” I said. “He sat there and watched us the whole time.”
No matter. The bird had headed toward a large flat atop the ridge, and a fresh logging road led right to it. We slipped onto the road and circled toward the ridgetop, hoping to find a good setup. As we neared the flat, Bestul stopped.
“We should call here,” he said.
I did, but nothing answered. Not liking our position, I pressed the issue and eased toward the flat. Sure enough, there was our gobbler, along with several hens we’d no doubt bumped near the base of the ridge. The turkeys rubber-necked away in unison as I kicked myself for being careless and impatient.
“There’s a big wooded area over there,” Bestul said. “Let’s try to slip around and get in there with him.”
And we did, but you already know what happened. We bumped that longbeard for the third time, sending him screaming toward some safe haven — probably in Iowa.
Needless to say, I never saw or heard Three-Bump again.
As that hunt illustrated, turkeys aren’t big fans of movement. In fact, as you know, they tend to get paranoid at the slightest nearby twitch. And if they’ve been pushed, boogered and spooked like ol’ Three-Bump, their mood gets downright sour.
But therein lies the quandary: With few exceptions, you usually have to make some kind of move to get in position to kill a turkey, whether it’s easing in tight on a strutting gobbler, slipping around a large field to cut off a breeding flock or changing calling positions to convince a stubborn longbeard you’re the real thing.
Also, you must make those moves without being seen. And even if you get away with a move, it does no good if you go to the wrong spot. In a nutshell, you must know when, where and how to relocate on a gobbler.
That sounds simple on the surface, but moving on a turkey can be like playing roulette: You’ll win a few, yet your losses can pile up in a hurry. However, that’s what separates good hunters from average hunters: They quickly and accurately assess situations and then formulate plans for success — knowing when to take risks or quit. And that comes solely from experience.
As mentioned, a large part of the movement equation is knowing when to move on a turkey. Unfortunately, that topic is broad enough for an entire article or large book chapter. So for our purposes, let’s assume you’ve made the correct decision to move on a turkey.
Hopefully, these thoughts will help you outsmart Three-Bump and his kindred this spring.
When making a move, you should have a plan or destination in mind. Typically, it’s counterproductive to move just for the sake of moving. Decide where you’re going — and why — before heading out. (An exception occurs when you’re working an obstinate or hung-up longbeard. Often, relocating a bit and calling from new spots creates the illusion that a hen is moving, which seems much more natural than a hen calling incessantly from the same spot.)
If a bird responds to calling but seems reluctant to approach your setup, try to determine why, and then identify a better calling position to which you might move. Are there nearby benches where a bird might strut, a hilltop field where he might find hens, or finger ridges that provide an easy travel path for a gobbler? Try to recall such areas from your scouting, determine the quickest and safest travel path to them, and make a swift, decisive move. Don’t be hasty, but don’t dawdle, either.
The same principle holds true if a gobbler seems to be drifting away. Draw from your scouting, and make an educated guess about where he’s going. Is he traveling on a long ridge? Drop off the side of the slope, and try to get ahead of him. Ditto if a turkey is in a creek bottom or some other type of funnel. If a gobbler seems to be headed toward a food plot or agricultural field, try to beat him to it. Or, if he’s walking along a finger ridge toward a large perpendicular ridge, try to get on the main ridge and await his arrival.
Remember, these educated guesses won’t always pay off. However, they’re far better bets than staying at an unproductive setup or falling in behind a going-away gobbler.
Even when executing the highest-percentage moves, you run the risk of spooking turkeys. That’s just part of the game. But here’s how to succeed more often than you fail.
It’s easiest to move on unseen gobbling birds in timber, especially in hilly or rolling terrain. You know where they are, and the cover prevents them from seeing you. It’s often fairly simple to switch setups, slip closer or move around on a bird using hills, ridges and thick timber as cover.
Strive to be quiet, and avoid shuffling your feet or snapping twigs. If the woods floor is especially dry or noisy, you might even have to tip-toe. When using terrain as your main cover, stay low, and don’t get skylighted. Keep your head low. Crawl if you must.
One note: When calling and moving toward a gobbling bird in the woods, don’t go directly toward him. He thinks you’re a hen, and he might break at any moment and try to find you. If you’re on a collision course, you’ll bump him. Try taking a 20-degree angle to either side of a gobbler, preferably at or above his level. That way, if he moves toward the last place you called, you probably won’t run into him. Further, you’ll be in position to yelp him in.
Timber and foliage will hide a lot of movement, but more so later in the season when the vegetation is thicker. If you’re counting on timber to hide you early in spring, you must stay farther away from birds. If you get too close, they’ll catch your movement through the trees. How close is too close? Brad Harris said it best: one step. In relatively open woods, err on the side of caution.
Later in the year, after understory plants in the woods have thickened, you can get away with much more. The down side, of course, is that gobbling will sound farther away, so you can’t charge a turkey. Be careful and deliberate.
The movement equation becomes more difficult if you’re in the woods and a turkey is in a field, meadow, sparse woods or similarly open area. Timber and foliage will only take you so far. Terrain is the key. Note any rises, ridges, berms or banks that might conceal your movement and let you relocate on a wide-open turkey.
Ditches, drainages and creek bottoms provide ideal movement corridors. If you’re pinned down by a turkey, you can often slip away from your setup, drop into a ditch or creek and use the cover to move undetected. The tough part, of course, is popping up out of the cover, potentially into the turkey’s field of view. Sneak a careful look over the cover, and if everything seems OK, proceed with caution.
When you and a turkey are both in the open, moving is quite difficult, though not impossible. Again, note any terrain features that might conceal you. Often, subtle folds or rises on the prairie or even a Missouri pasture will hide you if you’re willing to belly-crawl. And of course, any cover — gooseberry bushes, brushy fencerows or old stone fences — can help, too.
Optics are critical in open situations. With quality binoculars, you can view a turkey and any cover or terrain rises between you and the bird. Further, you can use your optics to keep tabs on the bird while you’re making your low-level relocation.
In any scenario, you’ll often reach the point of no return, where you can’t go any farther without risking disaster. Perhaps there’s nothing but air between you and a wary gobbler, or maybe he’s stopped gobbling, leaving you wondering about his whereabouts.
Whatever the case, don’t push the issue. You can always back up a bit and find a viable calling location. If all else fails, try to avoid spooking the turkey, and hunt him another day.
Some moves are leaps of faith, but they can often pay off handsomely. The best and most daring I ever saw came courtesy of Bestul one rainy April day in Minnesota.
We had set up on two gobblers and several hens roosted in a long ravine. After flydown, the longbeards gobbled a bit at our calling but slowly and steadily moved away. Thinking we were finished, I slumped against an old elm tree and dreamed about breakfast.
“Come on,” Bestul said, springing to his feet. “I’ve seen them do this before, and I have an idea!”
Who was I to argue? I followed him to his truck, and we drove a half-mile down the road to another property.
“For some reason, when they head out of that ravine, they often seem to end up here,” Bestul said. “It’s worth a try.”
It seemed like a huge longshot, but I tried to keep an open mind. We slipped around the edge of a beanfield and slowly peered over the rise.
“He’s there with a hen, and they’re coming this way!” Bestul said.
We set up on the field edge and called. The bird answered immediately. Minutes later, I called again, and another bird answered slightly farther away. It was the second gobbler.
Within minutes, the hen and lead gobbler skirted past our setup at about 80 steps. I called at them to no avail, but the trailing longbeard boomed a gobble just 60 steps over the ridge. He was coming.
Seconds later, a huge red-and-white head popped over the rise. I calmed myself for a split second and then finished the deal with a swarm of Winchester’s finest.
I couldn’t believe it. I’d seen some great moves in the turkey woods, but Bestul’s half-mile bull’s-eye was the finest I’d ever witnessed. He’d taken hard-earned experience, applied it to the situation and then made the right call in the nick of time. It was the perfect lesson for making a move on a turkey.
I know what you’re saying. Why couldn’t Bestul have employed similar savvy on ol’ Three-Bump? My answer? Who said he didn’t?
Hey, I never said he bumped that turkey.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Brian Lovett’s latest book, Hunting Pressured Turkeys, offers 195 pages of advice for going after the most challenging gobblers. You can order a signed copy for $19.95 plus $4 shipping at firstname.lastname@example.org.