Either I win or I learn

That is a mantra I have repeated my entire life and it is the perfect illustration for hunting wild turkeys. I do not fancy myself an expert, but I do have a streak going. How long you ask? I can’t remember the last time I did not tag a bird, but what has eluded me is personally tagging a bird on my northern Missouri property.

The North 40 is my project. I have worked with both the Missouri Department of Conservation and the US Fish and Game to make it the best hunting property it can be. I bought it four years ago with visions of turkeys running rampant and was shocked to hear ghosts answer my calls that first spring. There simply were no turkeys which is a problem many hunters are experiencing throughout much of the turkey’s range, but after a few years and a lot of sweat equity, there are a few more birds to chase and it appears the flock is trending up.

The property is a square comprised of mostly timber, a creek, and three food plots that range in size from .25 to two acres. The timber surrounds it all and the property is bookended by row crops to the north and CRP to the south. Visually, it is perfect with logging roads that make travel for humans and turkeys a cinch. If only the birds moved that way.

My favorite setup is to climb into an old fence row on the north end of my two-acre clover plot and that is where I was opening day of 2022. The birds tend to roost over the creek on the south end of this plot and they were hammering off the limb as the sun came up. Then silence fell over an empty clover field. They went in another direction which dumbfounded me. Shooting hours came and went and it was time to try something new. For whatever reason, the birds had moved east to an old fescue field vs. strutting in the clover I had lovingly planted for them.

The next day, I waited until they gobbled before setting up for my hunt. The toms had roosted further up the ridge and I was within 100 yards. They were interested and then I saw a hen pitch out of a tree and take off at a dead sprint to the gobbler. He still answered my calls but he wasn’t moving. It was time to move.

We are working to improve the North 40 to attract more turkeys

Using his gobbles for positioning and every available bit of cover, I crept to a little rise in the timber and set up. I called, he HAMMERED.  He was right there. I turned on my GoPro and could hear his footsteps just below the rise. I mounted my shotgun, heard the raspy cut of the hen just below the tom, and literally heard him turn in the leaves and walk back to her. From that point, every gobble that rang out was just a little further away. He had been only a step or two from cresting the hill. That rascal had beaten me again.

Having had enough, I went to a different piece of dirt with my youngest son and ended up tagging a Southeast Missouri bird on a last-second Hail Mary with shooting time waning. Now it was time to get the boys on some birds and I figured let’s give the northern dirt another try.

I put Jack on the ridge-top clover plot and Justin and I went to the big clover plot to the north of the farm. Logically, one of us would see birds; it just depended on their mood and what direction they wanted to go.

Before the sun even thought of showing itself, multiple toms were HAMMERING off the roost and within a matter of minutes, there were five or six hens in the field followed by a long beard. And he read the script. The hens worked towards us and into an area I had burned in March. The gobbler followed them right up the field edge but broke off to inspect our decoys. He spit and drummed to the spot where Justin dropped him at 10 yards. The bird weighed 24 pounds. The very next day we set in the same blind and called another long beard within range. My oldest missed him but quickly followed up to drop a jake.

What was the difference? Why did the birds not respond when I was hunting them opening day but come on a rope the second weekend? There are a couple of things.

Build it and they will come: This farm had been nothing but fallow fields and timber filled with invasive plants like bush honeysuckle for decades. I believe these rascals have been doing the same thing for generations and even though I have trail cam pics of birds using the field, they still prefer to leave for parts unknown. My job is to continue making this piece of dirt sexy for turkeys which also makes it awesome for deer, rabbits, pollinators, etc.

Turkeys are just being turkeys: Had I stuck with the Northern Missouri turkeys vs. taking off to chase southern birds, it is likely I would have tagged in the same spot using the same tactics as we did the mornings my boys tagged their birds. For reasons unknown, turkeys do weird things. One day they will run from your decoys and the next day, will suplex your jake decoy into submission.

Strategic calling: I gave enough to let the gobblers know I was there but not enough to draw the wrath of the boss hen. It is possible that she led the gobblers away with overly aggressive calling earlier in the week vs. doing what I envisioned the flock doing; pitching into the clover and ultimately, feeding my way.

So by me losing the chess match on the first few hunts, the boys won the tournament. Keep this in mind because even on the days you fail to fire a shot, you should be learning something.

As you head to the woods, keep these things in mind. If you are setting up in the best areas on your farm, have patience and hunt smart, you will fill more tags. Do not let one or two days of unfilled tags color your enthusiasm. Keep on those birds because sooner or later, a tom being overly confident may be the character flaw that results in him landing in your deep fryer.

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Good luck this season!

PS I intend to smack a gobbler on that North 40 in 2023!