As spring settles in, many outdoorsmen in my neck of the woods take to the water to troll for walleye. I, on the other hand, choose to troll for toms. Like trolling for the best tasting fish, trolling for turks is all about efficiency and productivity. The plan is to cover as much ground as possible.
This tactic, often referred to as run-and-gun hunting, is an aggressive approach that affords you the ability to go to the turkeys rather than have them come to you. This tactic can be effective throughout the entire day, but works best in the late morning and early afternoon as flocks begin to separate. Run-and-gun hunting is increasingly deadly as the season progresses and hens split up to begin nesting.
Here are the key factors to consider when you’re thinking about getting mobile.
When deciding whether or not to get aggressive, consider the lay of the land. If you only have access to a small piece of ground, it probably isn’t wise to risk spooking birds off the property entirely. You’d be better off deploying patience.
Alternatively, if you have access to a large property or multiple properties, getting aggressive could pay dividends. This tactic is best suited for areas with thick cover or enough topography to keep you concealed during your approach. If the terrain is conducive to glassing, trolling becomes even more effective. Visually locate a gobbler, pick a concealed route, and intercept his direction of travel.
If you’re hunting with archery equipment, choose your setup location wisely. Pick a spot with plentiful drawing cover, and whenever possible, set up with large obstacles between you and the decoy. A cedar tree or large hardwood trunk can be your best friend.
Speaking of archery, weapon choice and available cover will often dictate what gear you shoulder. When toting a shotgun in dense cover, sometimes all you need is a box call. If you find yourself hunting sparse cover with visibility beyond effective shotgun range, a decoy might help coax gobblers into the red zone. If not, birds will often hang up for lack of visual confirmation.
When it comes to bowhunting, decoys are almost essential. Realistic decoys give turkeys the confidence to close the gap from 30 yards to 10 and redirect the bird’s attention off of you.
For the run-and-gun turkey hunter, blinds are optional and seldom necessary. For shotgunners, hide your silhouette with a big tree, downfall, or the thickest vegetation available. When it comes to actively pursuing gobblers with a bow, a blind is a luxury that will dramatically increase your odds of success. If nothing else, a blind will conceal your draw, which is arguably the hardest part about bowhunting turks—wary gobblers almost always spot that movement if your timing isn’t perfect. The downfall of carrying a blind is that they are cumbersome, heavy, loud, and time consuming to deploy. However, birds get killed every year by bowhunters who go blindless.
Trolling turkeys requires that you always keep your gear handy to avoid fumbling for your turkey call or facemask on short notice. Shot opportunities can appear in the blink of an eye, leaving you with little time to get situated. It’s good practice to develop a run and gun system, and stick to it. For example, my handheld release goes in the same pocket every time, mouth calls always in my bino harness, facemask and gloves always in the left pant pocket, extra shells always in the right pocket.
As far as calling strategy goes, keep your midday sequence simple. Hens are typically less vocal this time of day and decreasingly vocal as the season progresses. To match seasonality and time of day, soft, subtle clucks and yelps are often all it takes. Leave the cackling and cutting for fly down and when birds are flocked up.
If I’m on fresh sign or know birds are in the area, I’ll often start with a just a few clucks. Next I like to throw in a soft, short yelp to let them know I’m there. If 10 minutes pass with no activity, I’ll then throw out an assembly yelp to mimic a hen that has lost her flock and is looking for companionship. Then I like to go completely quiet and wait for any toms that could be coming in silent. If nothing happens in 30-45 minutes, it’s time to move on.
If conditions favor a more aggressive approach, lighten the load and troll for gobblers. This is a tactic that works in the East and West, on private ground and public. When done right, it’s the most efficient way to find that one receptive gobbler.
Feature image via Matt Hansen.