How To Set Up For Turkeys In The Woods

Almost all hunters lean toward sitting on openings and other areas with solid sight lines. Whitetail hunters do this. Western hunters do, too, as they inevitably gravitate toward meadows and high-country basins with prime views. It’s in our nature to seek out spots that provide visibility, which is definitely the case for spring turkey hunters.

It’s not like setting up on the edge of a picked cornfield to call in a gobbler is a bad idea, either. Plenty of wild turkeys get whacked every spring on field-edge setups. This is a great strategy for early-season birds if you hunt where the pressure gets heavy, but by the time the season really gets rolling, some toms will start to default to the safety of cover.

Couple this with the fact that destination food sources like ag fields become less appealing by the day as more fresh growth and bugs become available, and you have a recipe for killing a tom in the timber. This is one of the most enjoyable ways to hunt, but it takes the right setup. One that involves at least some sort of likely travel path to your decoys.

Benches, Logging Roads, and Ridge Tops

While turkeys often look like they are randomly moving across the landscape, they usually aren’t. Nature doesn’t do a whole lot of randomness. Instead, birds usually follow predictable paths, even in heavy timber. The key to understanding this is to read each setup and make an educated guess on which direction birds are likely to approach.

Generally, they’ll come to calls from above you if they have the option. They love ridge tops and benches positioned on the upper third of hills and bluffs. If they can find a flat spot to walk that is above the hens they can hear (aka, you), they will almost always follow that route.

If you’re hunting flat timber, the next best thing is either a logging road, a two-track, or just a patch of woods that doesn’t feature any fences, ravines, or anything that might cause a bird to pause and hold up. If you’re blind calling, hoping to get a tom to commit, or you hear a bird and are actively chatting with him, look around and ask yourself where his best approach is.

That will tell you how to set yourself and your decoys up.

Hide, Naturally

It’s common to see people simply put their back to a tree and let their camo do the rest of the work. Turkeys that have been hunted hard often need a little more effort, however. The key is to think about how visible your decoys will be and how invisible you’ll be.

A few years ago, I ran into this while hunting public land in Iowa during the late season. The wind was howling, so I slipped into a valley and found a nice, flat bottom that looked ideal for a mid-morning setup. The only problem was that I didn’t have a place to sit unless I climbed a nearby hill and tucked myself into a deadfall.

It was weird sitting above my decoys, but it didn’t matter because I knew I was buried in the shadows and had a ton of depth to my hide. After calling in a hen, I struck up a gobbler who strutted in below me and focused all of his attention on my quarter-strut jake. That tom was a true limb hanger, and he was all about that timber life.

Think—not only about how a tom might approach—but how you’ll be hidden if he doesn’t follow the script. You want to disappear into the brush, not plant yourself as a 200-pound lump next to a tree trunk. The more depth you have to conceal yourself, the easier it is to reach for a call or swing your barrel in whatever direction you need it to go to make the shot.

This might seem like overkill, but hunting in the timber allows birds to sneak up on you in a way they mostly won’t do on a field edge. They also often sound like they’re positioned differently than they really are by the way the timber swallows up and redirects their gobbles through valleys and over ridges. The best bet is to assume he might catch you off-guard, but it won’t matter because of how well you hide yourself.

Timber turkey hunts are different from an easy field-edge foray. They require scouting and attention to detail not only in regard to the land around you but every setup. The good news is that once the openings have been hunted into dead zones, getting into the woods should get you around longbeards willing to play along. That’s when the fun starts, even on pressured ground.

For more turkey hunting information, check out these articles: How to Kill a Silent Tom, How to Kill a Tom in the Snow, and 3 Turkey Shot Opportunities You Shouldn’t Take.

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