So, Your Season Sucks

salvaging your turkey season

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There’s No Way To Sugarcoat It

I know, I know. I’ve heard it, and I’ve said it – A bad day in the woods is better than a good day in the office. But nobody wants to hear that in the middle of a bad season. We can go back to those cute little bumper sticker phrases after we skewer a longbeard, but until then, what we need are actionable steps. How can we turn this thing around? Let’s say we have two weekends left. Where do we go from here?

Start With What We Know

Those who overcome adversity – a.k.a. every bowhunter who has ever found success – know how to use failure as a textbook for reaching their goals. Every “unsuccessful” hunt tells you something. You just have to decipher the language of failure. You may not have seen a turkey, or gotten one in range, but you saw what didn’t work. You saw the setup that spooked them. You saw the calling that didn’t bring them in. You saw how the weather affected them. You saw how they reacted to your decoys. You saw that they didn’t want what was in your neck of the woods and instead stayed somewhere else all day. Some days you see a lot. Some days you see a little. But you always see something. And every single thing you recognize needs to be immediately followed by the question, “Why?” There is no greater path to success in the turkey woods than asking that one simple question. Consistently asking it can cut your learning curve down by years. It’s the first step to finding your starting point for salvaging a flailing season. 

Develop a New Approach

If your season is a good case study for this article, I’d say it’s pretty safe to assume that it is in fact sucking. So, obviously what you’re doing isn’t working. It may have worked every season since you started turkey hunting, but if it isn’t working now, who cares? Let’s create a new approach. I’m a big fan of setting up where they should be and holding tight, but if you’re several hunts in and you’re not seeing – or at least hearing – anything, it’s time to get mobile. Been running n’ gunning, getting close, then bumping them? Maybe it’s time to just get set up and put a full day’s sit in. Do you keep setting up in the wrong place, only to see or hear them off in the distance? Maybe it’s time to grab a hunting partner, put two brains on the situation, and attack it together. Two hunters making a game plan, then attacking together can sometimes get it done a lot faster than one hunter scratching his head and guessing. Oftentimes, what works with two hunters is having one set up close to a gobbling turkey, while the other sets up some distance behind them. In doing so, the unsuspecting gobbler walks straight towards the closer hunter without ever getting close enough to the caller to start getting wary. And if that doesn’t work . . . 

Get Creative

My dad likes to tell the story of how he outsmarted a public land longbeard by using an unorthodox approach to calling. By now you’ve probably seen it done on YouTube, but at the time when my dad was still hunting public land, there was no such thing as YouTube, so this was really more creative than it may sound in 2022. The story goes something like this. There was a particular longbeard living around this one ridge on a tract of public that my dad liked hunting. He’d hunted him several times, and no matter how well he’d set up or how well he’d call, that longbeard would simply gobble back, never coming a foot closer. On each occasion, that gobbler would eventually head in the opposite direction. You see, this old tom that sits mounted full-strut in my dad’s shop had probably heard hunters calling to him for several years, and simply knew better than to run in to every “hen” that cut and yelped. So, Dad put on his thinking cap and came up with a different way to mimic the sounds of a turkey – something that an educated public land longbeard might not be wary of. He got in early, waited until daylight, and started scratching in the leaves. Not a single yelp from a call. Just scratching. That longbeard fired off every time he scratched in those leaves, and he eventually came right in. You see, Dad started thinking outside the box. He didn’t keep doing the same thing, hoping for different results. He got creative and got it done. You can do the same.

Mid-Season Scouting

Sometimes, like what I’ve witnessed this year, the turkeys just change their desired roosting and feeding locations. There are many variables to blame for such a shift, such as food, pressure, and/or nesting habitat. But for whatever reason, they just leave. Maybe a lone turkey shows up on camera every once in a while, but the bulk of the flock has moved on. What do you do then? Well, you’ve got two options, aside from just hoping they’ll come back. You can scout private land from the road, asking permission to hunt when you locate turkeys, or you can scout public for sign, gobbling, and people. Yes, people. To a turkey, the word hunter is synonymous with pressure. The birds that reside near consistent pressure will gobble less, as shown by studies conducted by Dr. Mike Chamberlain, and will be much warier of conventional turkey hunting tactics. If you choose to move on to new public lands, go all in. Be there before daylight to listen for gobbling and look for sign as you walk. Once you hear gobbling, you need to get in close. Remember, you’re trying to get it done before the season ends, and you’re also competing against other hunters. So, act accordingly. Private land can yield a bird much easier if and only if you can find them, you get permission, and they haven’t been pestered by anyone else. If they have, you’re in essence hunting a pressured public land bird. It can be done, but not easily. Whichever route you go, just have a clear game plan in mind.

The Season Is Only So Long

There are only so many days in the season, and like most turkey hunters, you probably aren’t traveling to hunt other states when yours ends. That means you’ve only got so many opportunities to get it done. So, make the best of those opportunities by stepping away from the strategies that aren’t working. Don’t wait for the season closer to start thinking about what you could’ve done differentlyFigure that out right now while you’ve still got time. Don’t ever count yourself out. There are turkeys out there on private and public lands. You’ve just got to put a plan together that’s going to put one within bow range. Birds disappeared from your property? Go scouting. Birds on your property not responding to your calls? Find them at fly-up and set up under them the next morning. Can’t figure out the best course of action? Double-team those turkeys with a friend, or at least ask someone in a Facebook group, Instagram page, or forum for a little advice. There is a solution out there somewhere for relieving yourself of that tag. You just have to keep grinding until you find it. Good luck! 


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