It's the day after Easter as I write this blogpost. The weather does not look at all Springlike as I look out the windows of our house on a hill in the Eastern Missouri woods. But, I know in two weeks from today, regardless of what surprises the weather sends our way, hunters will be playing hooky from jobs across the state to try their luck hunting wild turkeys.
Of course luck does play a part in any hunting or fishing endeavor, but my assumption is that every hunter would like to try to do all he or she can to put the odds in their favor. For public land turkey hunters, this is of paramount importance for not only hunting success, but in doing all we can to insure success.
By definition, you will almost certainly sharing the public land you hunt with others. This modifies our actions in terms of tactics and location. In comparison, on highly secured private land (in other words, land where you KNOW you will be the only hunter present), you can feel comfortable hunting any place and using any legal tactic. When hunting public land for turkeys or any other species, sharing the land means modifying tactics.
To locate areas to target on your public lands spring turkey hunt, start by identifying the areas you are considering hunting. In Missouri, your choices for public land essentially fall into two categories. First, there are hundreds of Conservation Areas managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Second, Mark Twain National Forest offers huge and unbroken tracts of big woods turkey hunting options. If you need help getting ideas, please visit our Missouri Public Hunting Page.
Once you have identified an area, focus on areas that are as far as possible from access points to the area. We like to obtain topos of the area, and begin by first laminating the map, and then using a sharpie to mark out all areas within a quarter of a mile from an entry point, road, or established trail. Just by getting this far from these features, it is surprising how much hunting pressure is reduced. For some smaller Conservation Areas, this does not really work, but especially down in the Ozarks, Conservation Areas are often huge, and then there's Mark Twain.
In considering the places you will scout, consider water sources, cover, and acorns. Use crow and owl calls to locate roosting birds at appropriate times. Keep in mind that turkeys follow paths of least resistance and that because of their eyesight being their top means of defense, they greatly avoid dense areas.
When you actually start your hunt, get to your spot early. In Missouri, hunting ends in the Spring at 1 PM. Not all hunters will heed this advice, but the wise public land turkey hunter scouts well, gets set up early with a good backrest fully covering the hunters body, and then he or she generally STAYS PUT. Stalking and even more aggressive tactics on public land are risky to the hunter and unwise.
Gentle calling tactics seem to work best. Be patient and work turkeys in conservatively. Use clucking and plain yelping to start. Play cat and mouse with your gobbler. Once you have a turkey in range, be amply careful to identify your target and what is behind him. Many turkey hunting accidents occur when one caller brings in a hunter following his or her call.
Turkey hunting is one of our favorite times of the year. Weather is often perfect, and there is something special about hunting hard in the morning, knocking off at 1PM (required in Missouri), and lounging the afternoon away.
We hope you will find this season equally enjoyable and do so safely.