Author’s note: Tracy Groves of Sykesville, Maryland is an avid turkey hunter, a member of Mossy Oak’s Pro Staff ( 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 ( to take youngsters from single-parent families hunting to teach them outdoor skills and to work with special-needs children.

I like to find the turkeys to hunt on public lands before the season begins. I go into the woods at first light and get to the highest point I can find. Then I listen for turkeys to gobble and use my compass to determine the direction from which the gobbling is coming. When daylight appears and the turkeys shut up, I walk in the direction from which I’ve heard the turkeys gobble and look for the nearest water to that spot.

Early in the morning, the first thing a turkey is thinking about is getting a drink of water. Once I find the direction the turkey will be coming from, and I know where the water is, I next attempt to determine the direction I need to come from to get ahead of the turkeys before they reach the watering hole. Most turkey hunters overlook several steps when they’re scouting, primarily by not pinpointing the direction from which the turkey is gobbling. They also often don’t determine which direction the turkey will go in once he flies down from his roost tree, and consequently which direction the hunter needs to move in to get ahead of that tom. One of the biggest mistakes most turkey hunters make is they try to get too close to gobblers still on the roost.

One other caution–don’t use decoys on public lands. Most turkey hunters don’t have patience, so instead of waiting on a turkey to come to them, they want to try and sneak up on a gobbler and shoot him. Therefore, if you have a decoy sitting out in front of you on public land, you may be in harm’s way. For this reason, I don’t use a decoy on public ground.

If I’m going to make a mistake on pubic lands, I’m going to make the mistake of being too cautious. I’m in the woods trying to sound like a turkey. I’ve got Mossy Oak camouflage on, so I’m invisible. The very last thing I want to do is put a decoy out in front of me that looks like a turkey to give those hunters walking around something to shoot at. Although I get as far away from other hunters as I can, the reason public lands have their name is because hunters can hunt anywhere they want to on that land. Not all hunters are skilled at looking for a gobbler. Even if you have a hen decoy in front of you, and there’s a chest-high stick in front of that decoy, a hunter still may mistake that hen decoy for a gobbler. So, I just don’t use decoys on public land.

Image courtesy John Phillips

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