With the arrival of spring, many people look forward to nice weather and to getting outside. To a hunter, spring is all about the sound of a gobbling turkey, or the vision of a tom in full strut approaching your decoy. In Colorado, over-the-counter turkey hunting licenses are easily purchased and affordable, public access and hunting grounds are readily available, and the adrenaline rush of hearing a turkey gobble is second to none.
As a hunter, you find yourself always trying new tactics, pushing the envelope to create the most successful tactics. Here are a few tips that you can use to create a successful hunt this spring.
In reality, if you have turkeys near you, the rest is fairly easy. The biggest mistake is not being near turkeys. However, many hunters spend days in the field calling and have amazing blind and decoy sets and yet go home empty-handed. A lot of hunters even blame themselves for things like having the wrong set or being bad at calling turkeys. But, in my opinion, the first and most important step is locating birds and making sure you are on birds before any type of approach or move is made.
The ideal hunt would start the evening before your first day out in the field – important time spent scouting, finding turkeys and roosting them (pinpointing where they are roosting for the night). That way the next morning you know exactly where to go. If scouting and locating birds the day before is not an option for you, then locating birds early in the morning while the birds are still in their roost is the next best option.
Turkeys tend to be very vocal from the comfort of their roost early in the morning. When hunting, I tend to cover ground as fast as possible in the key hours of the morning when these birds are talking from their roost. I will hike, ride an ATV or cover ground in my vehicle until I locate birds. Generally speaking, I hope to hear them talking without encouragement. But if they are not freely talking, then I can gobble to these birds. It’s kind of funny, but to do this I literally put my finger in my mouth and make a gobble sound. More times then not, they answer back and reveal their location. On turkeys that are pressured and/or not quite talking yet, these birds might need a reaction to cause a shock gobble. My favorite technique for this is using an air horn. Yep, you read that right! I blow an air horn with short bursts and turkeys, out of reaction, will gobble back and give up their location.
Three Options for Setting Up Your Hunt
Let’s talk about your approach when deciding where to set up. There are three options when planning a setup.
If you know where birds are roosting, begin approaching the roost prior to sunrise. Set up a decoy and conceal yourself as close to the roosting area as possible. Stealth is the name of the game with this approach.
If you’re hunting on flatter ground or farmed fields, turkeys tend to build great patterns as to where they feed daily. If you have a pattern on turkeys in a feeding area, then this is a great way to create success. Set up a blind or hide in these areas where the birds are feeding daily. And simply wait. Again, getting into these areas undetected is key. Try to be in these areas at least an hour or two before you expect the birds to show up.
The run and gun approach! I tend to really prefer this technique when hunting mountain birds simply because their daily patterns are not as consistent as birds in flatter country. When I say run and gun, I am typically calling to the turkeys and when they respond, I am approaching them. The biggest mistake made with this approach is when hunters hear a turkey, they typically set up immediately and expect the turkey to cover all the ground and come right to them.
Well…turkey hunting can be thought of like a relationship. If each member of the relationship gives at least 50% of their energy and commitment to the other member, then it is a healthy strong relationship and generally thrives. But, if one member is putting in 90% (the turkey) and the other 10% (the hunter), then it is rarely a successful relationship. Back to turkeys… Many hunters find birds whether hearing or seeing them and immediately set up. And when you actually think about this, it’s the exact situation of the hunter putting in 10% and expecting the turkey to put in 90% and cover the majority of the ground to come into the hunter. I’m not saying it doesn’t work but there are many occasions that it doesn’t. When I hear a bird calling, I will head towards the turkey and cut the distance down. I continue towards the turkey until I am 100% confident that the bird can hear me and or that I have the turkey’s attention and it’s moving to me. Once I know the bird is committed, then I set up.
The best way to prevent an accident in the field is to use a safe hunting strategy. As you prepare for the hunt, consider these ten tactics and incorporate them into your safe hunting plan:
1. Avoid wearing clothing that has the same colors as a turkey. Red, white, and blue are the colors found in wild birds.
2. Protect your back. Find a tree or rock outcropping to back up against and protect your backside. This may protect you from the pellets fired by another hunter as well as provide cover for the area you cannot easily see if another hunter is approaching your location.
3. Camouflage from head to toe. Not only will this aid in your attempt to remain unseen by an approaching gobbler, but it will keep you hidden from another hunter who is walking in your area. If another hunter is approaching your position, remain still and call to the hunter in a clear voice. Do not whistle or use a call. Announce your presence without movement.
4. Place decoys in a location that you can see the gobbler approaching to your “gun side” to prevent having to move to make a shot. This placement also prevents you from being in a direct line with the decoy if an unseen hunter attempts to shoot your decoy.
5. When traveling to a hunting location, transporting decoys or a harvested bird, wear hunter orange (a vest or hat). Place the harvested bird in a game bag or wrap the bird in an orange vest. DO NOT sling a harvested bird over your shoulder and walk out of your hunting area.
6. Always look beyond your target to ensure the area is safe. Do not shoot sky-lined birds, not even with a shotgun.
7. Clearly identify your target as a legal bird. In the spring turkey season, a bird must have a visible beard. Do not shoot at movement in the brush, even if you hear a gobble.
8. Do not carry a loaded firearm in your vehicle. Completely unload the firearm before traveling.
9. Inspect your ammunition before your hunt. Ensure you are carrying the correct gauge of ammunition for the shotgun you are carrying. Remember, you will typically be loading your firearm in the dark.
10. Never stalk a wild turkey. The enjoyment of the spring season is calling the bird to you. With the number of realistic decoys in the field today, what you are stalking may just be another hunter.
Planning Your Days in the Field
The last thing I want to cover is when you hunt during the season. The excitement of the average hunter is at a boiling point on opening day. And many hunters either tag out on opening day or hunt extremely hard for a few days and end up giving up before the peak of the season hits. At the beginning of the season, it can be common that the hens are not at a breeding state yet. Therefore, calling and working birds is slightly tougher. As the season progresses, the breeding season peaks and the birds become far more responsive. Again, a lot of hunters give up before the peak hits. With that said, my favorite portion of the season is the end. By the last few days of the season, a majority of the hens are on their nests and the gobblers are extremely frustrated that there are fewer and fewer hens. When this happens, they become more vocal and cover more ground daily looking for breedable hens.
Stay safe and enjoy the season!
Colorado counties, municipalities, and land management agencies continue to update their COVID-19 guidance including travel restrictions, road closures, and access limitations on a regular basis. Colorado Parks and Wildlife reminds anglers, hunters, and all other outdoor recreationists that it is your responsibility to research and understand the specific guidance, ordinances and restrictions in place for any planned local recreation – know before you go. For COVID-19 updates, please visit the COVID-19 Information page on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.
Nate Zelinsky is a professional Walleye Angler and all species guide based in Colorado and has guided and tournament fished all across the country. Nate is on his 19th year as owner of Tightline Outdoors Colorado’s Premier outlet for multi-species guiding, tournaments, TV, Digital Content, TV, Radio, and Writing! Some of these experiences can be seen on In-Fisherman, Jarrett Edwards Outdoors, Denver’s 7News, 9News, and WFN. You can also listen to Nate on Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. on The Fan Outdoors with Terry Wickstrom. Nate’s daily goal is to educate anglers to create success every time they go on the water. More on Nate can be found at www.tightlineoutdoors.com.