By Gerald Almy
When I first started hunting turkeys, it was strictly a woods game. The stately black and brown birds were found mostly deep in forests amid towering oaks. And that's where I hunted them.
After a few years of woods hunting, though, from time to time I would catch sight of turkeys in fields feeding on bugs, wheat or last year's corn crop leftovers. Finally, I got the message. Following one particularly challenging morning woods hunt when a friend and I had seen and called to birds for hours with no luck, we passed a field with turkeys in it and decided to do something about it.
Looking through binoculars, we saw that they were four longbeards. Calling drew no response, but gradually we saw a pattern to their movement. Circling wide, we snuck along a creek bottom, hunkered down ahead of where they were going and clucked softly. In short order four trophy birds appeared. Two of the biggest went home with us for dinner.
Since that encounter, birds in fields have provided plenty of turkey hunting adventures for me. But the experience that day illustrated several key lessons about this type of hunting. First of all, it was late in the season, and that's often when you'll find turkeys in fields. Since gobbling is winding down at this time, hunting fields offers a good way to harvest toms that aren't talking.
It was also mid-morning. That's consistently proved a good time to check out fields. Birds may peck around in the woods for a while, go to water along a stream, perhaps mate if they're lucky, and then drift over towards a meadow or pasture. They find lots of insects there, sometimes even flipping over cow dung in search of bugs and larvae, as well as wheat, corn, clover and other grains and forbs. Fields are also attractive to toms because they can strut there and show their stuff for long distances.
That day we used two tactics you can put to work on field toms. The first approach, simply attempting to call the birds from where you are, is a difficult proposition. It's worth a try, though, particularly if it's a situation where time or terrain won't allow you to study the turkeys and get ahead of the direction they are traveling.
Normally, though, the birds will simply go where they planned to go before you arrived. Finding out where that is and getting to that location undetected is almost always the most effective tactic.
After you watch the flock in a field for a while and have a good idea where they're heading, study the terrain and see how you will have to loop around to get in front without being seen. Use creek draws, swales, hollows and ridges to circle around and set up. Stay totally out of sight at all times during the move. Often there will be several birds out in the field, so you need to avoid a lot of wary eyes searching for danger.
When possible, putting a decoy out where you anticipate the turkeys heading for is a great aid. Birds rely heavily on their vision in fields. If they can't see a turkey where they hear calling, they may grow suspicious. Put out one or two hens and a jake, too, if time allows.
Calling Tactics: It's possible to harvest turkeys in fields without calling at all. If you see the birds and can predict which way they are likely to head, setting up at the exit point is all you need to do.
It usually won't hurt to call, though, and I'll normally make a few soft yelps and clucks. If they begin to stray out of range, give them some excited cutting or try multiple calls to lure them the final yards needed for a shot.
Fields without Turkeys: You don't have to see turkeys in a field to make it worth hunting. Don't just plop down on any opening, but if you find fresh sign (droppings, feathers, scratched ground, tracks, etc.) or have seen birds in the field at a similar time in recent days, simply setting up and waiting can be a good strategy. Try to determine by scouting which part of the field the birds normally enter and exit from, such as an old logging road or narrow corner, and pick whichever location offers the best setup.
Since no birds are present, it pays to take the time to set up at least a couple of decoys. You can even erect a portable blind or build a makeshift one from brush if you like. Try calling every 10 of 15 minutes with a few yelps or clucks. With patience, a long-bearded gobbler might just sneak into shotgun range.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.