Hunt smart to bag smarter turkeys

If you’ve been hunting turkeys for a while, or even if you haven’t, you’ve probably heard hunters talk about “educated birds.” You know, those smart public-land gobblers your buddy always brags about hunting and killing.

The fact is, whether it’s public or private land, some turkeys are harder to hunt than others. The question remains — why?

We know some of the main causes, or at least suggested causes, of turkeys becoming harder to fool. Some of the most common suggestions include enormous pressure, too much calling, and I’m sure the list could go on from there.

So we hear about the smartest turkeys we’ve ever heard of on a regular basis, but rarely is there context or any further learning material offered. So that’s what I would like to cover as best I can in this brief article, which could actually be the topic of a chapter book.

I’m going to start by saying that there has been nothing telling, nor proven to me, that leads me to believe that one muffed turkey hunt will educate a bird. If pressure is low and hunters to a minimum, one hunt won’t break the bank in this case.

When I previously mentioned that metaphorical friend who talks about public land birds being smart, he (or she) was right. As mentioned above, most even attribute this to how many hunters there are calling to a bird, and that’s only partially true. If an area of public ground holds a small amount of turkeys, and all of a sudden on opening day, there’s more hens than in a gobbler’s wildest dreams calling to him from all over the woods, sure, he probably suspects something.

To me, however, the calling alone isn’t something that I believe to be the determining factor into a turkey’s growing wisdom. It’s usually what happens after the calling.

You have to believe that a turkey, a few years of age, living on ground with public access has strolled into a decoy setup or two. He may have been kicked off the roost, been down range of a shotgun blast or two, saw hunters moving, or maybe even witnessed an arrow or two flying through the woods in his direction. If that doesn’t educate a turkey, I don’t know what will.

It becomes less about simply calling to a bird and more about a bird’s natural adaptation to pressure and his evolving survival instincts.

Second, in my personal belief, is that predators play a huge role in this. Again, a turkey that’s a few years old has probably been chased by numerous predators, like coyotes and bobcats, and even dive-bombed by birds of prey. I’ve hunted areas where turkeys would gobble on the roost and once they hit the ground, they rarely called again.

They know that off the roost, they’re not as safe as where they spent the night in the tree. They’d rather not alert anyone, whether it be man or creature, to their location on the ground.

So what can help to ease the burden of hunting a feathered foe with a seemingly enormous brain? Know the turkeys you’re hunting. Personally, I’ve killed more turkeys on public land by waiting until later in the season when the hunter numbers and pressure are on the decline. If turkeys tend to be quiet when they hit the ground, it doesn’t meant they’re not coming your way, there’s something that convinced them that doing so is key to their survival.

So I’d suggest two things moving forward. First, don’t become a creature of habit and hunt the same turkeys the same way day after day. Mix it up a little. Second, keep a journal on your daily turkey hunting experiences and go back and read it often. This isn’t just words on a page, it’s a scouting report. You’ll definitely begin to notice patterns and common themes.

Choose to be the hunter that experiences success, not just another hunter to add to a turkey’s war stories.

Hunt hard, hunt safe, and shoot straight, friends.


John Knouse writes about the outdoors for The Sentinel.


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