All photo credits: Brady Miller
Wild turkeys inhabit 49 of the 50 states and can be a blast for hunters to chase in the spring when most of the other hunting seasons are over. When a person thinks about western hunting, you may hear a conversation about elk, mule deer, antelope or even bears; however, hunters rarely associate western hunting with the kings of the spring and this should change. Not only are there various subspecies of wild turkeys in the West, but they also have robust populations scattered through pockets of turkey habitat inside the western states. Wild turkeys do not inhabit the peaks and high elevations of the alpine country of the Rocky Mountains. Instead, they are found in most agricultural areas scattered throughout each western state and sometimes live as high as 9,000’ in elevation. While many hunters may use basic knowledge (and still have a blast chasing these birds in the spring), here are some tips to help seal the deal on your next western turkey hunt.
Like most western animals, scouting can make the difference between going home with meat in the cooler or tag soup. Turkey hunting is no different and may be more crucial since hunters can find turkeys in isolated pockets with thousands of turkey desolate acres in between the next pocket of birds. Scouting starts at home with a call to a local biologist or fish and game official before pinpointing spots on GOHUNT Maps.
Next, it’s time for some boots-on-the-ground scouting before your hunt.
Any time you can get out into your hunting areas in the weeks before the season helps you find good spots and eliminate bad spots before you use precious hunting days to do this. Arriving early can help you find and gain permission to hunt some private land birds. To find birds, I concentrate on listening at first light, using locator calls and glassing in the late morning hours and early evening hours. I do not call toward the birds as I do not want them to get “call shy.” Once I know where some birds are hanging out, I will leave the area until the evening before the hunt.
If you have been around turkey hunters, you will most likely recall them talking about roosting birds the night before. The term roosting means going out into the mountains or forest to listen and watch for birds heading to their roosting tree for the night. Often, a tom will gobble once or twice when flying up to the roost or as it gets in the tree. Hens will usually make a series of fast pace clucks as they fly up and if you are close enough, you can hear their wings beating against the air or small limbs as they fly into their nightly perch. Roosting is super important because if you can determine where they are roosting, you will know exactly where they will be in the morning.
Turkeys are creatures that thrive in a lot of environments because they are incredibly wary of predators. They utilize their excellent eyesight and wary personalities during the day and roost high above the ground in trees at night. Getting close to this roosting area well before daylight can increase your success tenfold. If a tom turkey thinks that you roosted all night with the group, they will frequently fly down from the tree and into your shooting range, allowing you to seal the deal. If you are late getting there, a turkey will be able to spot you walking in and take the opportunity to fly off the roost and out of your life. So, if you are going to hunt turkeys, get close and be sure to be early.
When hunting turkeys, it is essential to understand that changing it up can make a big difference in birds. The quickest and most straightforward way to change it is to carry multiple different calls with you on your hunt. Turkeys often travel with a group, so having calls with different pitches, tones and cadences can give them the impression that you are a group of hens, making it seem like heading your way will put him in the middle of a layd’s day out. Sometimes a tom turkey will key in on a certain call he likes; if you find this call, stick with it while working the bird in your direction.
With a lot of hunting, you hear less is more, especially regarding calling. This is true for turkey hunters most of the time; however, there are times when more is better. Turkeys are very vocal creatures, so hearing them clucking, yelping or gobbling in the springtime shouldn’t seem abnormal; however, the way turkey mating season goes naturally is a turkey gobbles and the hens head towards to gobble. When hunting turkeys from a stationary position, we ask the male turkeys to go against nature and come towards a stubborn hen or a hen that is not intent on coming towards the gobble. Often, when you call sparingly, a gobbler seems to interoperate that he must find this stubborn hen and woo her with his strutting behavior. He may still head your way if you call too much, but he will know exactly where to look. When he doesn’t see a hen, he will likely turn around and high-tail it out of there.
Whether you are chasing turkeys on the East Coast, in the Midwest or in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of the western United States, you can find success using some basic turkey hunting tactics and the tips mentioned above. Turkeys are wary creatures, but a blast to hunt, and a turkey hunter who chooses to get off the couch and into the mountains hours before sunrise will eventually be rewarded for their sacrifice with some great meat in their freezer, a long beard on their wall and a great story to tell their friends.
For your turkey hunting needs from calls to gear, be sure to check out the GOHUNT Gear Shop.