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.

Most turkey hunters start scouting for turkeys a week or two before the season begins, but I start 30 days before the season. I’m looking for the turkeys that are the farthest from the parking lot or any road. Those turkeys are the ones I plan to hunt on opening morning.

Very few turkey hunters today are willing to walk as far as I think you need to walk to take a mature gobbler on the opening day of turkey season. On the opening week of turkey season, I’ll walk many miles before daylight. I don’t use a flashlight, and I don’t have to use a GPS, because I know the woods so well. I can leave my vehicle long before daylight and reach the spot I want to hunt without any lights or navigation system. I don’t use flashlights, since they’ll let other hunters know where I’m going, and where I’m hunting. Most of the time, I’ll walk in 45 minutes to an hour before first light to get to a turkey that I believe other hunters haven’t found yet.

If you’re hunting an area you don’t know well, then do carry a handheld GPS or compass. Any time I go into a new region or a new state where I’ve never hunted before, I’ll have a GPS and a compass with me to use for navigation.

All you have to do to take a mature gobbler on public lands is to do the things that other hunters don’t do. Most public-land hunters…

  • don’t start scouting 30 days before turkey season;
  • won’t call softly;
  • won’t sit patiently for two to three hours;
  • won’t learn which direction a gobbler flies from a tree as he leaves the roost;
  • don’t find the water that turkey’s going to;
  • won’t find a route they can take to the place they want to set up, so they won’t spook the turkey;
  • aren’t willing to walk a mile or two in the dark to get to a turkey before daylight;
  • won’t scout for other turkey hunters and where they’re hunting;
  • won’t stay in their stands after a gobbler has left their area with other turkeys;
  • aren’t willing to hunt a silent gobbler, although 70 percent of the turkeys I take on public lands come in silently; and
  • won’t leave their locator calls at home, especially their owl hooters, and won’t leave their decoys at home, even though leaving decoys at home is the safest way to hunt on public lands.

We live in the get-it-done-quickly society. We believe that if we can’t take a turkey within the first hour or two of daylight, we just need to head on to the house and come back another day. But, I’ve learned that soft calling, scouting, and patience pay off with more gobblers each season for me than any other tactics I can use.

Image courtesy John Phillips

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