Author’s note: Tracy Groves of Sykesville, Maryland is an avid turkey hunter, a member of Mossy Oak’s Pro Staff (www.mossyoak.com) and particularly enjoys hunting public lands, something many turkey hunters find hard to do. The host of the Real Deal TV show on the Sportsman’s Channel for three years, he recently developed a camp called Heartwood Outdoors (http://heartwoodoutdoors.com) to take youngsters from single-parent families hunting to teach them outdoor skills and to work with special-needs children.
If you’re going to hunt turkeys on public lands, you’ve got to commit to hunt the turkey on his time, not on your time. Your best tool is patience.
Public land turkeys receive a lot of hunting pressure, and they don’t like it. The average public land turkey hunter will listen for a turkey to gobble, move within 100 yards of that turkey, and as long as a turkey is gobbling, the hunter will keep calling to him. But, when the turkey doesn’t gobble back to his calls, the hunter usually will wait 10 to 15 minutes and then go home. However, on many of my hunts, I’ll sit in the same spot for 3-1/2 hours, waiting on a gobbler to come back to me.
I was hunting on public lands in New York one year and had a special guest with me. I hunted this one gobbler for four straight hours. We moved perhaps 20 or 30 yards, but we never left that area. We would soft-call and move 20 or 30 yards and then soft-call again. If you listen to a wild turkey hen, you’ll notice she doesn’t call loudly at all. The hens call very softly and low and do a lot of clucking and purring. When they yelp, they yelp very quietly. I call so softly that if there’s another hunter 50 yards from me, he’ll never hear my calls. But, a turkey can hear that soft calling even if he’s 100 to 150 yards away.
The first secret to taking a gobbler on public lands is to call softly and to be patient. One of the rarest calls a wild turkey on public lands hears is soft-calling. Most hunters believe the louder they call, the more ground their calls will cover, and the more turkeys they can touch with that calling. However, you need to understand that all the turkeys on public lands have heard loud, aggressive calling from the day turkey season has opened, and they quickly have learned that that style of calling isn’t natural and represents danger to them. They also have learned that the faster they go to loud calling, the chances dramatically increase that at some point they’ll have lead in their heads. So, don’t call loudly, and plan to stay at least 30 minutes longer than you think you need to when a turkey stops gobbling. You’ll see your success ratio go up dramatically.