How to Hunt Pressured Turkeys

How to Hunt Pressured Turkeys

As seasoned turkey hunters know, highly pressured turkeys are a different animal and require a different set of tactics from the neighboring flock that’s never been hunted. While that unpressured flock can make for an unbelievable hunt, the reality is that most hunters are seeking turkeys on ground shared by many other hunters. For a tried-and-true strategy to tag a public land gobbler, here’s the blueprint.

Find Their Comfort Zone

Turkeys that hunters have bumped tend to find an area that they believe to be safe and stick to it. After many failed attempts to coax pressured birds into bow range, I’ve found that even though the turkeys can see your decoys and hear your calls, if you aren’t in their comfort zone, they’re not coming in.

It’s almost as if they don’t typically hang out in the area where your decoys are planted, so they’re skeptical why two random birds have been staked out there all morning, pun intended. The only way to find their comfort zone is through scouting.

While preseason scouting is a great way to locate unpressured birds and learn their approximate whereabouts, after the birds have been pressured, they typically move to more discreet locations. The good news is that these new core areas likely aren’t too terribly far from where you found them during preseason scouting, but a little in-season scouting will be required.

If you can pull it off, getting visual confirmation before setting up for a call-in is highly advantageous. In my experience, the closer you get to a gobbler’s comfort zone before calling, the more likely he is to be surprised by your presence and come to investigate.

Ditch the Ground Blind and Field Edge Setup

When pop-up ground blinds and ultra-realistic turkey decoys first hit the market, I recall many hunts where a couple of decoys on a field edge was the winning ticket. Even on public land, the birds didn’t seem to pay any attention to the shiny ground blind in plain sight. However, over the past decade or so, pressured turkeys seem to have become adverse to this kind of setup.

I vividly recall the first couple of hunts where a tom was 100% committed to my calling, only to flee the country after laying eyes on my conspicuous ground blind and motionless decoys. These experiences have led me to believe that modern turkey hunters are better off leaving the ground blinds at home, or if bowhunting, spending the time to brush in your blind has become critical.

As far as decoy placement is concerned, I believe that pressured turkeys react more favorably to your decoys if they are less visible from long distances, so an approaching tom is somewhat surprised by their presence. I’ve witnessed too many field edge decoy setups in which the birds have too long to investigate the decoys and become either disinterested or suspicious.

Instead, try placing decoys in areas where pressured toms won’t see the decoy until they’re within 50 to 75 yards of your position, situation-dependent. The idea is as the tom approaches, he’ll be startled by the presence of the decoy and react aggressively.

Patience is a Necessity

When hunting birds that have been educated by many hunters, patience is absolutely paramount. Every once in a while, you’ll encounter a bird who is fired up and desperately looking for a mate. However, it’s far more likely that you’ll need to coax a bird into range over the course of an hour or longer.

In a previous conversation with wild turkey researcher, Dr. Mike Chamberlain, he mentioned a GPS study that was conducted on hunters and gobblers simultaneously. Researchers tracked the location of the hunters and the wild gobblers with GPS tracking devices. The study revealed that even though the toms didn’t come into the hunter's calling, on numerous occasions, the toms pinpointed exactly where the hunter was calling from and investigated this area later in the day, long after the hunter had left the area.

The take-home message is that the toms may not be coming into your calls at the present moment, but he does hear you, and he is interested. “The tom might not have any intention of checking out your calls at present, but he will remember exactly where your calls came from and will put it in his schedule later down the road,” Dr. Chamberlain said. “It might be hours later, or even the next day, but he is likely going to come investigate.”

Less is More

As the season progresses, outside of the morning fly-down, turkeys tend to become less vocal. This is partially due to changes in the breeding cycle, as hens begin leaving the flock to find suitable nesting locations, but is also caused by turkeys noticing a new threat on the landscape. That threat being a bunch of shotgun-toting hunters armed with motionless decoys and uber-enthusiastic hen calls.

Another study conducted by Dr. Chamberlain was aimed at correlating turkey vocalizations and hunting activity. Dr. Chamberlain said that the data almost immediately reflected fewer turkey vocalizations after just a few days of hunter activity.

The point is, if you notice that the turkeys you’re hunting have become very tight lipped, if you want to sound realistic, it might not be a bad idea for you to do the same. Once you’ve gotten within a gobbler’s comfort zone, try a few clucks and very light and short yelps. You might not think he can hear you, but he can.

Feature image via Alex Comstock.

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