It takes a lot of effort, mixed with a little good luck, to get a turkey to break your way, but that’s only half the battle. That bird oftentimes still has to be finessed into shooting range once it gets close, and that’s where proper setup comes into play. Getting busted by an approaching longbeard is one of the most gut-wrenching feelings a turkey hunter will face. It happens to us all, but there are things we can do to make it as infrequent as possible.
Start With Terrain
Oftentimes, if you’ve sung just the right notes and have got a turkey coming in on a rope, he’ll do just that until he gets to where he should be able to see you, the hen. For example, if you’re on a ridgetop, and you’ve called a gobbler out of a bottom, he might come charging up that hillside until he gets to where he can see across the top. But then what happens? All of a sudden, he hits the brakes and starts extended his neck up in the air, moving with a lot of caution and uncertainty. He’s gotten to where he can see, and he doesn’t see the hen that called him over. If he isn’t in range by that point, that’s usually all she wrote.
Starting to set up by looking at the terrain can usually prevent situations like this. In the scenario we just laid out, setting up 50 yards or so from the edge would have ensured that he was in range by the time he could see far enough to know he’d been duped. What about when hunting in ag country? Tucking back 10-15 yards behind the first row of brush on a field edge can force an out-of-range longbeard to cross a field in search of a hen that he believes is feeding just inside the timber. And placing decoys right at the field edge can aid in bringing him into range, while keeping his attention off of you. What about hunting an open creek/river bottom? Usually, in riparian zones, there’s a lot of grown-up vegetation that can be used as something of a barrier to keep a searching longbeard from seeing far enough ahead, forcing him to get within range.
Running ‘n gunning is no different. When you’ve struck up a bird and know it’s time to get set up, look to the terrain for clues on where to sit. Is there an obstruction he’ll likely come around? What about a dip in the landscape he won’t be able to see over without crossing? Making sure he has to get to 20, 30, 40 yards out – whatever your max effective range is – is critical. If he can see there’s no hen from 70 yards out, there’s a good chance he won’t come any closer, especially on public land.
Cover, Cover, Cover
We all know that turkeys have impeccable vision, but how good is it really? Well, Scientific American reports that a turkey’s vision is 3x greater than that of a human who has 20/20 vision. And with a 270-degree field of view, it’s easy to see how we get picked off by a bird whose number one priority is staying alive. If you’ve ever been picked off just sitting against a pine tree, you know how important cover is. Head-to-toe camo is always a great idea, but leafy camo is even better because it breaks up your outline and offers a more natural, 3D image. But whenever possible, having some type of cover between you and an approaching turkey is going to offer the best concealment. When cover isn’t available, such as in a pine forest, making sure to choose a tree wider than your shoulders is important because it makes movement much less obvious. And we typically have to move, at least a little, to reposition for a shot.
Decoys Can Make or Break a Hunt
Because I primarily bow hunt turkeys, I need them close – 30 yards and in – so I like using decoys. I’ve had some of the best shows put on for me by fired up longbeards who didn’t appreciate an Avian-X half-strut Jake decoy courting a hen. However, I’ve also had longbeards come in, hang up at 50 or 60 yards, stare down my decoys for 15 minutes, and leave. Decoys can be your best friend or your worst enemy, depending on the turkeys you’re chasing and your chosen setup. If you’re hunting unpressured private land where the turkeys aren’t used to decoys or hunting pressure, you could have one of the most exciting hunts of your career. On the flip side, if you’re hunting public land or birds that have been decoyed before, you could be in for quite the emotional roller coaster.
Quick story – last year, my wife and I called in three jakes to a decoy setup. We watched for 45 minutes as those three jakes wore out my half strut decoy at 15 yards. It was an amazing show and made for a great video. Fast forward to opening day of this year, which was two days ago at the time of this writing. I called in three longbeards on the same unpressured private land who were as skeptical of my setup as any birds could be. It didn’t matter that five hens carelessly fed all around my decoys after running into the setup. The longbeards kept their distance, routinely coming out of full strut to raise their heads and stare down the decoys. They never got in range. I believe they were the same three turkeys that were decoyed last year. I called hens in four different times that day, and they never gave a second thought to feeding right up against my decoys. But those longbeards knew something was up.
I’ll continue using decoys, but not on those birds. When decoys are the right choice, they do a great job of keeping attention off you, allowing for slight movements when needed. You just have to decide whether to use them or not based on your knowledge of the birds you’re hunting. Nonetheless, another piece of the setup that needs to be addressed.
If you’ve scouted well and know where you need to sit, planning your setup should be pretty easy because you have ample time to do so before the day of. However, if you’re planning on setting up based on where the gobbles take you, you may only have minutes to figure it out when the time comes. So, thinking through the possibilities now will go a long way in helping you get set up quickly when you’ve got a fired up bird on his way. Think through the way the terrain might roll through the area you’re hunting, the tree size you need, sitting in the shade with the sun at your back, having some type of cover to break up your outline. Plan out your ideal setup so that when the time comes, you’re quick on your feet, so you can knock him off his.
Written by Alex Killman at Southeastern Bowhunting