There are few outdoor pursuits more enjoyable than an all-day run-and-gun mission on a huge tract of turkey ground. If you bust some birds, or the gobbler you’re working shuts up, you can just move on to the next one. Freedom to roam is a wonderful thing, but it’s just not a possibility for everyone.
Turkey hunters in more densely populated regions might be relegated to 20 or 40 acres at most. As someone who has experienced this situation, I can safely say that it kind of sucks. It’s better to hunt than not, of course, but when it comes to spring birds there are real challenges associated with being stuck on a little parcel.
Small-property birds are often difficult, and maybe not as enjoyable as the longbeards living in national forests, but they are still worth hunting. You just have to think differently about your scouting and hunting tactics.
Confirm Usage & Treat Lightly The thing about turkeys is that they like to cover ground. They are movers, and that means they aren’t going to sit on 1/16th of a section all day long. The first goal when faced with this dilemma is to just figure out if any birds are using the property and when they’re likely there. President of Montana Decoy, C.J. Davis, says he accomplishes this in a couple different ways.
“First, I just walk everything looking for roosting, nesting, or feeding sites,” Davis told MeatEater. “Then I get in and listen to try to see if the birds are on my spot or nearby. This tells me a lot about who is living there and when I should hunt.”
This might seem basic, but it’s important. I hunt a few small properties in the suburbs of the Twin Cities and I’m confident there are whole days when not a single turkey uses some of them. Yet, during certain conditions or at certain points of the season, they turn on for a day or two.
A few years ago, I ran into this on a 29-acre parcel that had about 12 acres of actual high ground. Trail camera images and some boots-on-the-ground scouting led me to believe there were just a few birds sporadically using the property in the pre-season. For the first two weeks of the season that didn’t change. But when the temperatures finally warmed up, it changed. Suddenly, the birds started moving more to feast on grasshoppers and other bugs.
That brought them into the land I could hunt. The first time I slipped in was because I knew through scouting that the frequency of visits had ramped up. Within an hour I’d arrowed my heaviest bird ever, a 26-pounder that was a true limb hanger. Staying out of that spot other than on quick scouting missions paid off on my first sit. That restraint is something Davis is diligent about too.
“I try extra hard not to bump or spook birds when I’m hunting small properties because it’s so easy to run them off,” he said. “This means I sit longer and simply don’t move around as much as I’d like, but that helps preserve the natural movement.”
This goes for the pre- and post-hunt movement as well. If you can’t get in or out without walking close to the roost, it might be best to consider a banker’s hours hunt. Or, even better, resign yourself to getting in really early or waiting until it’s super late to sneak out.
Spot-On Spot Another important strategy with small-property birds is setting up where they are most likely to be callable. This is when you can take a page out of the whitetail hunter’s playbook and really pay attention to the landscape. Ask yourself, are there any natural funnels or pinch points that should put birds in your lap as they cruise?
In bluffy or hilly country, this might easily be the case. In flatter ground, it’s trickier business. One thing to remember is that turkeys don’t like getting their feet wet. If you’ve got low, wet ground, turkey travel routes are usually easier to identify. Birds will walk higher spines of land to get from point A to B, and these can be excellent spots for all-day action. If you don’t have up-and-down terrain or swamps to funnel birds, your best bet might just be an open gate on a two-track road or some other potential gobbler funnel.
If any of these potential travel corridors happen to be along a route to food or the roost, that’s even better. Setting up where multiple factors work in your favor is better than just hoping to be in a spot where birds will respond. This is true for all turkeys, but a must for small-ground toms and birds that are pressured.
Tight Spot Tactics Since the goal is to keep the birds in the dark as to your presence, it might seem wise to call softly and use decoys minimally. I’ve never found that to be the case, and quite frankly, it’s a great way to suck the fun out of the hunt.
Do what you do best out there, whether that’s something timid or something boisterous. It’s far more important to factor in the overall hunting pressure in the area and set up accordingly. If you don’t think the neighbors are pressuring the birds, those turkeys should be workable. Give them something to ponder.
If there are several 20-acre parcels butted up to one another and every one has a few hunters per season, a lighter touch is probably the way to go. But that pressure-based style goes for hunters with thousands of acres to hunt as well.
Conclusion You might not get to go run-and-gun for hours any time you have a free day, but that doesn’t mean you can’t kill longbeards on small parcels. You can—you just need to really understand your ground, the neighborhood birds, and who else is tossing yelps their way. Put all that together to develop a good plan to kill birds on properties where you can walk from one end to the other in a matter of 15 minutes.
Feature image via Captured Creative.