Gerald Almy: To bag a gobbler, avoid turkey turnoffs
One of the best ways to improve your chances for harvesting a gobbler this spring is to avoid locations and types of habitat that turkeys dislike and rarely make use of.
Certainly, you should learn about and focus on areas that turkeys do like. But the best hunters also learn to steer clear of types of vegetation and terrain that turkeys hate and never use.
Winchester’s Jim Clay, a champion caller and founder of Perfection Turkey Calls, says “If you’re in prime habitat where gobblers would want to be, you’re more than halfway there towards harvesting your bird. Calling is secondary to being in the right spot and having no negative obstacles such as thickets, deadfalls, fences, or brushy ravines between you and the bird. Avoid the areas turkeys dislike, and your odds of success will shoot up dramatically.”
Here’s a rundown of some areas to avoid this May.
Thickets of young conifers or deciduous trees. Turkeys have keen long-range eyesight and incredible peripheral vision. They use it daily to detect danger from predators. If tree growth is too thick, they feel insecure and won’t use the area.
A few young trees, of course, are fine. The birds like varied habitat and vegetation. Just not a dense thicket of trees where they can’t see danger lurking in the form of a coyote, bobcat, or fox.
Wind-swept ridges. Turkeys dislike strong winds. They can’t hear hens, and it’s harder for hens to hear them. Predators can also approach more easily with the loud thrashing bushes covering their movement.
Drop down to the first bench, knoll, or protected area, and you’ll likely find your gobbler there. If it’s really blustery, they may fly all the way down into valleys to escape the breezes.
Old clear cuts. Young clear cuts offer great turkey habitat. They have plenty of newly emerging food available and the birds can watch for approaching predators. But after these grow up for 3-5 years, they become too thick for the birds to see danger or move easily.
Unharvested grain fields. Fields of wheat and oats would seem to be attractive to turkeys. But if they are uncut, they offer too much cover for predators to approach. It’s hard for the birds to see over the tall cereal grains that can reach 3-4 feet heights.
Water holes with thick cover. Turkeys need to drink daily. But they won’t visit water holes or creeks with thick weeds, brush and cover that could hide a predator. Find ponds or creeks with open or semi-open vegetation around them that’s mostly low enough that a gobbler can watch for danger.
Deep draws and ravines. Toms don’t care for this type of terrain. Maybe they feel claustrophobic or trapped. Whatever the reason, avoid these steep dark hollows. If they’re thick and brushy, they hate them even more.
Focus instead on the side hills, knolls, and benches above these ravines. Your calls will be heard better from there, and that’s likely where most birds will be.
Storm-damaged woods and blowdowns. These are obstacles turkeys usually try to avoid. The storm-damaged areas with lots of fallen trees are hard for them to travel through. Even a single blowdown from a large tree is a detour they must travel around and could conceal a lurking bobcat or fox planning an ambush.
Find out where these obstacles are and use it in planning your strategy for where to search for birds and call from. Knowing they will detour around these obstacles helps “steer” the birds towards a certain route, where you can be waiting for them.
DRAW A MAP
For help in keeping tabs on the location of these potential turkey turn-offs, draw a map of your hunting area or print out a satellite image of the property. Using felt tip markers, color code areas that can clearly be identified as negative. This will help you visualize the big picture and highlight areas to avoid spending your time in. To improve its value further, also identify positive areas such as strutting zones, roosts, favorite feed fields, dusting spots and open water holes.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.