Difficult situations abound in turkey hunting. The extreme challenges are an integral part of what keeps turkey hunters going back for more. Gobbler chasers continually try to improve their skills and tactics in order to win battles with the slyest old gobblers.
Big gobblers walk by thick cover almost every day of their lives, keeping a safe distance because of predators which might lurk there. Shotgun patterns reach much further than the spring of a bobcat, however.
Every hunter with a few years of hunting experience under his belt will testify that a wild turkey gobbler's uncanny ability to pull off the unthinkable to escape becoming a hunter's next meal is nothing short of amazing.
Turkeys are paranoid from spending so much of their lives trying to avoid being eaten by predators. Experienced hunters will also testify that setting up near thick cover is a bad mistake because turkeys will avoid it due to their fear of lurking predators. Sometimes we turkey hunters don't think things through. Turkeys stay a safe distance from thick cover, based on their knowledge of how far a bobcat or a coyote can spring. However, wild turkeys don't have a clue as to how far a load of Winchester Extended Range sixes can reach.
Several springs ago, I joined Quaker Boy Call pro-staffer George Davis on a gobbler chase in the beautiful hill country of southern Tennessee.
Although Tennessee allows afternoon hunting, Davis preferred to allow the turkeys to rest on his private lease in Pulaski County. We sat in camp the afternoon I arrived. I salivated as several gobblers broke from thick oak-pine forests into grass covered fields below the towering ridge lines and gobbled their heads off.
"Anxious, huh, Bill?" Davis recognized my antsy behavior for what it was. "Don't worry we will be in lots of action tomorrow morning."
Minutes after a glowing sun slipped below the ridge to the west, Davis owl hooted. Gobblers sounded off from all directions. Sleep deprivation had been activated.
Kevin Small is the guru of using thick cover to outsmart wise old turkey gobblers.
Three days later, Davis and I were still trying to outsmart those Tennessee gobblers. We had several gobblers working over the last two days, but did not close a single deal. Gobblers were heading to the fields early and sticking tight to the hens. Finally, at 10:00 a.m. on the last day of the hunt, we spotted a gobbler strutting in a field 600 yards away. We were caught in the open, again.
Davis plopped down by a fence line, while I slithered behind a hump in the field and low crawled to a nearby walnut tree, when Davis told me to stop. The gobbler was coming.
I desperately needed some cover. I secretly wished for a wall of brush. Minutes later I learned that barriers which break up a hunter's outline can come in many forms.
I made one call soon after setup to get a fix on the approaching gobbler's location. It had crossed the peak of the pasture ridge and was approaching just over the crest from me, which lay 75-yards out -- too far for a shot if the bird broke over the top. And the bird would spot me immediately.
What happened next was astounding but effective. A herd of cows, curious about my call, lined up abreast 35-yards from my open air hide and stood staring directly at me. My desired brushpile appeared in the form of a herd of cows.
The gobbler had slipped into the wood line to circle the end of the line of cows. His last gobble gave away his location. I twisted to my right, keeping cows between me and the turkey's line of sight. The big bird traveled past the line of cows, but just over a hump. I teased with an H.S. Strut mouth call. When his bright red head appeared above the berm, he spotted me immediately, but it was too late. The pile of cows had worked perfectly.
I had scarcely tagged my bird when another tom gobbled down the ridge and around a wooded corner. Davis stayed a few yards ahead of me and quickly plopped down in the thickest stuff around. He called one time and the bird responded as it broke over the lip of the hill and came to a halt, obviously alert to the thick cover below. Davis tagged his gobbler only ten minutes after me.
Brushpiles, of a sort, had caused the demise of those two Tennessee gobblers after two days of running and gunning had not paid off.
Utilizing brushpiles, pushpiles, laydowns and other thick cover is a good tactic for moving closer to gobblers as well as to hide in as birds move into gun range.
Texan Horace Germany joined me in Missouri for a gobbler hunt a decade ago. On the fourth day of our Ozarks hunt, thunder claps initiated the first shock gobble of the morning. Germany had said that he would hang near an old log cabin he had seen just in case the weather turned sour. "I've seen a couple of gobblers feeding near the cabin later in the morning, too" he added.
A lightning bolt struck the top of the mountain near the old cabin. Two gobblers bellowed in response. Germany's 12-gauge roared moments later. A pioneer home from long ago had provided Germany a dilapidated hand-hewn log brushpile for the perfect blind.
I avoided brushpiles and other thick cover for the first two decades of my turkey hunting career, opting for run and gun, call them in quick, super-charged kills. To my dismay, however, turkeys often hung up on the opposite side of brushpiles and other obstacles from my setup location. And, in most cases, I had set up to far from the brushpiles to kill a gobbler if it had strutted to my side.
A run in with a trophy gobbler on the Bourbeuse River in Missouri changed my opinion about brushpiles and thick cover, however. I had tagged out early with a 22-pound longbeard. As I headed across a 200-acre soybean stubble field, a tom sounded off on a ridge across the field. A large pushpile stood between us. I cautiously moved to it and buried myself in the pile of dead trees, leaving a small hole through which I could see.
I called one time and watched the biggest gobbler I had ever seen run across the field and strut to within 15 yards of my brushpile blind. I never forgot the lesson I learned that day.
As my brushpile knowledge expanded, I learned that thick cover is a good place to hide while challenging the old boss hen of flocked up turkeys. On several occasions I have worked hens into a frenzy only to have them waltz right into brushpiles looking for me. And old Mr. Gobbler is always close behind.
During the spring of 2008, I met the guru of brushpile turkey hunting tactics while attending a media hunt put on by turkey hunting icon Ray Eye. Kevin Small, owner and operator of KT's Trophy Hunts near Rutledge, Missouri, introduced me to the ultimate brushpile turkey hunting experience.
Author Bill Cooper and Quaker Boy pro staffer George Davis took this pair of Tennessee gobblers only ten minutes apart by using thick cover to their advantage.
"It is going to be cold, windy and rainy tomorrow morning," Small had said upon my arrival in camp. "Casey Clatt and I will be taking you out. We just got back from building a thick, cedar tree blind in the middle of a small field, off of a main ridge field which is surrounded by big timber. We will slip in before daylight. Gobblers like to sail into the field directly from their roost trees."
Small manages over 6,000 acres of prime habitat for his deer and turkey hunting operation. I knew I was in for a thrill.
The weather man proved right for once. Cold wind and a slight rain pelted our trio as we walked across the cut bean field. "Stay low and stay quiet," Small instructed. Most hunters would have regarded the cover of darkness and the wind sufficient.
A monstrous pile of cedar trees greeted us. "Wiggle deep into the branches," Small said. "But, don't poke your shooting eye out and stay stone still once you get in there."
I immediately took out my pruning shears and went to work opening a small hole to shoot through. "Don't move so much, Bill," Small snorted as he peered through his binoculars into the darkness.
"Don't move. We've got two gobblers roosting in that tallest tree, 80 yards to the south," Small whispered. I could see their silhouette against the sky.
The cedar tree brushpile in the middle of the field had been the result of Small's intensive scouting. The heavy cover was his only hope of getting close to these gobblers early.
When hiding in thick cover, all a hunter may see is the head and beard of an approaching gobbler.
Just before good light, the two gobblers flew down to the edge of the field. I already had my shotgun positioned in their direction. Small's purrs on a H.S. Glass Witch brought them within 60 yards, but a gobble to the north pushed them up the field and out of sight.
Small elected to go after the gobbler to the north. "I know where he is," he whispered.
We quickly stepped off the one hundred yards to the woodline and creek bottom below us. "Stay in the creek and move slowly," Small said again.
Small halted us as the creek swung towards another ridgetop field. With his hand in front of his body, he motioned for us to squat down slowly.
An enormous pushpile of logs and brush lay as a barrier between the woodline and the field above us. When Small reached it, he immediately showed me five fingers and motioned for me to crawl up hill, slowly.
Luckily, I wiggled into the brushpile where two basketball size holes through hich I could shoot appeared. I eased my gun into one. "Don't move anymore," Small said.
Small began the finest serenade of purrs I had ever heard. Three of the five gobblers in the field broke off and began moving down the field edge in our direction.
Within five minutes the trio stood 15 yards from the brushpile where we were completely concealed. "Shoot," came the instruction. "Can't," I whispered back.
The birds became nervous. Small purred again. Two birds headed back the way they had come. The third tom moved parallel to the brushpile, to the right. It stopped short of the only opening I had. "Two more steps," I whispered. Small purred again. The gobbler promptly eased two steps to the right.
Small declared that his last two calls had first instructed the gobbler to move to the right and then to stick its head in the hole where my shotgun waited. Probably true, but the close encounter that left that gobbler flopping in the leaves came about as the result or our wise use of a lowly brush pile.
Brushpiles, pushpiles, laydowns, cows, cabins and thick cover are abundant in many areas which turkeys inhabit. When you have run out of turkey hunting tactics and are ready to hang it up, think thick!
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