There are two sources of turkey hunting tips to look for. The first is from the real experts: the people who have killed loads of birds in various situations, during different parts of the season, and with different weapons. They get bonus points if they have amassed a lot of toms on public land.
The second source is the turkeys themselves. When they tell you something, you should listen. This isn’t what we normally consider real advice, but I don’t care. If anything is going to tell you how to be a better turkey hunter, it’s the birds themselves.
Trust your calling
Tyler Jones and KC Smith host the popular hunting podcast, The Element. They also film hunts ranging from turkey to elk and are convinced that none of them are expert turkey hunters. This is, according to Jones, one of the reasons they try to hunt with people who really know what they’re doing.
“I looked up Mitchell Johnston this year, who is a calling champion,” Jones said. “When he gets a quick response from a gobbler not too far away, he finds a place to settle. He doesn’t waste time because he trusts his vocation”.
Many hunters don’t, but the best advice you can receive for becoming a cold-blooded turkey hunter is to learn to call well. He learns to sound like the birds and reads every situation. This comes from practice, hunting with experienced callers, and listening to the birds. It also involves understanding the turkey’s vocal range and how you can mimic it.
“One thing really good turkey hunters seem to understand is how to call very softly,” Jones said. “If you learn to softly purr and cluck and sound like a quiet chatter from hen to hen, you will attract more birds. Every good turkey hunter I’ve shared the woods with has passed that message on to me.”
There are some decoy rules that are pretty ubiquitous in a wide variety of hunting situations. The more realistic, the better a rule. Another is to match what happens to wild birds, such as using more decoys early in the season and less later.
Even following those loose rules, you’ll have birds that turn on and just don’t commit. Jones dealt with it several times this spring and realized that the best advice for lure use might be to adjust it as you go.
“We had a gobbler hang 90 yards out in Tennessee,” Jones said. “He was embarrassed, and then four Jakes ran in and pushed him. Having a quarter strut jake lure actually worked against us on that bird. He probably would have compromised if we had only had chickens, although the seasonal weather said a jake was the way to go.”
When the local birds tell you what they want from your setup, you better listen.
just gain experience
“I’m not a good turkey hunter,” Smith said. “I don’t have the experience, so I’m like a sponge when hunting with good turkey hunters. One of my friends who is a huge turkey hunter told me this spring that you just have to mix it with the birds. You have to call them, interact with them and just learn to read their mood.”
This is some of the best advice you will ever hear. Just spend time with the turkeys. Explore before the season, pay attention to what they say to each other as they pass your tree in the fall, and learn from their behavior whenever you can in the spring.
While this will be wildly unpopular, I will offer some parting advice from my own world. After killing dozens of birds with shotguns over the years, I started primarily hunting turkeys with a bow. Talking birds into range at distances less than 10 yards is a different challenge, and you learn a lot about what makes a bird commit or leave.
This has changed the way I hunt and definitely made me rethink my run and gun strategies. I’m more patient because of it, and much more confident in my settings. The need to abandon all settings after 45 minutes of inactivity is gone. Good advice is excellent, but it is not a substitute for experience.
You probably started this article looking for something like “scream three times at dawn and shut up”. But that’s not how this works. There are too many variables in individual hunting situations to make blanket statements.
The best you get is this: Try spending time in the woods with someone who knows how to be successful (and often is). Then, dodge the birds and let them advise you on how to proceed in each encounter. Do these two things enough and you won’t need any more turkey hunting tips from anyone, ever.