Despite the fact that we had hunted hard that April morning, my hunting partner Rick and I had failed to seduce a turkey to answer my call. In fact, things were so quiet, if it wasn't for my friend's optimism at shooting his first wild tom, I would have called it a day and been on my way to a short stack and a hot cup of coffee. Then, just as the sun was getting a leg up on the high ridge, a tom rattled the small valley we were in with a thunderous gobble. He was close, and we had little time to do anything but sit down and get ready for the bird to come strutting in.
Keep your backdrop dense and your shooting lanes open.
My friend quickly moved to a little depression in the forest floor among a tangle of concealing brush, and I moved to a position behind him with my call. It didn't take long before I saw the big long-beard walk onto the little meadow and begin to strut. As he puffed up and displayed, I called a little trying to pull him a little closer to Rick's position. At the sound of my first stoke on the box call, the old boy came right in as if being pulled on a string. All that stood between my stack of pancakes was the retort of Rick's twelve gauge.
That shot never came. My friend, in an attempt to hide from the turkey, had inadvertently hidden the bird from himself. As I watched the glorious show, all he could do was listen to the sound of the bird gobbling, and hope that it would step into view. It didn't.
Options A, B and C
Preparing to wait out a cagey gobbler.
Anyone who has spent anytime hunting wild turkeys knows that things don't always go as planned. Often what seemed like an ideal spot to plant yourself the evening before your hunt turns out to be all wrong come sun up. Or perhaps that bird flew down on the opposite side of the woods, and you need to do an end run to get to him. Either way, being able to change your set up at a moments notice can be the difference between a tag around the leg and a tag in your pocket. A good turkey hunter is constantly aware of his options; he's never too far from cover and has practiced setting up in a hurry with as little noise and commotion as possible.
The Lay of the Land
Scouting your turkey hunting spots makes a big difference. In the event that you see or hear a bird from a great distance, it is often a good idea to move towards his location. A good understanding of the country you are hunting helps a great deal. I try and get out to as many of my best spots before the season opens as I can. I look for large trees near the edge of the woods were a meadow or grain field meets the forest. I also make note of any stone fences that might bisect those fields; as long as I can hide behind that fence, or have my silhouette broken by getting in front of it, I will make a mental note of its location. Such information can be of great value when you are trying to get to, and stay hidden from a cagey tom.
Trust the Camo
Many hunters prefer a pop-up blind to hunt their turkeys. When I've patterned birds to a point where I'm confident that they will appear, I like their spacious comfort and concealment too. However, I am cursed with ants-in-my-pants syndrome, and I find it hard to sit when things are slow and quiet. For this reason, I generally prefer the run and gun option.
Trust your camo to conceal and keep movement to a minimum.
Today's camouflage makes blending into a tree stump or forest floor easy. Depending on the outside conditions, I may go as heavy as a camo parka and coveralls, to as light as a long sleeved camo shirt and lightweight pants. Regardless of what clothes I am wearing, I always use a face mask. Face paints or camo makeup will work too, but remember to also cover your neck area.
Camouflaged gloves are important as well, especially when your hands will be doing most of the moving as a gobbler struts in front of you. When properly camoed up, it's your movements that will blow your cover, not your attire. In my friend Rick's situation that I discussed earlier, he felt the need to hide in the thick cover, and that decision that cost him his turkey. I've learned to select a fairly open spot, and then I trust my camo and my stillness to fool a big tom.
Wherever I end up setting up, I look for a few essential things. First, I look for a large tree or natural backdrop that will eliminate my silhouette from being seen against a lighted background. Regardless of how well you are camouflaged, your backdrop is essential. Once my background has been determined, I will choose the shaded side of that cover whenever possible. The sun can catch the frame of your glasses or the magazine of your gun and spook a bird.
Well worth the wait...a late season gobbler.
The next thing I look for is a comfortable sitting spot. I use a turkey vest that has a fold-down cushioned seat that makes sitting dry and comfortable. My vest also has padded back protection, which I find very valuable when up against an old oak tree or rocks. A turkey vest is a great way to turn a lumpy, wet or prickly spot into a choice seat.
Lastly, I always carry a set of pruning shears in my vest so that I can quickly remove any small saplings and branches that might impair my lifting and mounting of the gun. Remember, also, to clear any loose sticks and leaves from where you will be sitting. A snap of a twig at the wrong time can have a big tom heading for the hills in a hurry.
The Perfect Spot
While it may sound obvious, it's worth remembering that the best place to set up on a gobbler is where he wants to be. No matter how attractive the spot may seem to you, if the bird doesn't like the spot for one reason or another, you will not be tagging that bird. Being able to adapt to the natural features of the landscape in a moments notice will pay big dividends. Ultimately, though, your comfort in that spot has a lot to do with how long you can remain motionless. The only -- and last -- thing that big gobbler should ever see is the flash from the muzzle of your turkey gun.