How to Hunt Pressured Public Land Toms
Like a lot of others, most of my time in the turkey woods is spent on public land. Hunting public land can be a great option and typically provides a hunter with a large amount of space to roam as well as an increased number of harvestable birds. Or does it? Hunting birds on public land comes with many difficulties including that these birds tend to face a lot of hunting pressure. This means that toms are quick to wise-up and therefor become much more difficult to harvest. Difficult, but not impossible. Learn how to hunt tom turkeys on pressured public land with these expert tips.
Live on the Edge
When I first moved to northeast Ohio about 5 years ago, I found myself having to identify new areas to hunt with terrain that starkly contrasted where I had previously spent all of my adult hunting life. Despite the differences, turkeys will be turkeys and their overall requirements for living a comfortable life on a piece of land remains the same. Finding water, the right cover, and food all in one location is a must, but if you find yourself hunting heavily pressured birds, you need to become more specific in narrowing down potential tom hotspots.
Hunting the edges of public land can be extremely rewarding and is often overlooked as many hunters feel that it is impossible to pull a bird off of private land and onto public land. Some hunters, myself included at times, believe that the birds know the boundary lines and even when the end of shooting light is and will wait it out just out of reach until that time comes. Nevertheless, when I am looking to harvest a public land bird, I head straight to the property boundary. Birds that spend the day on private land typically face less harassment throughout the season than others, which makes them ripe for the picking. I have pulled more birds out of open private land fields once their hens have walked off than I can count, so don’t discount any tom living it up in Farmer Al’s field.Want MORE ‘Must Read’ Hunting Blogs? CLICK HERE
Find the Funnels
When hunting the edges doesn’t work it’s time to pull your topo map out for a little added guidance. If you have spent any time in the woods, you have probably experienced walking along a path with no real sense of where you are going only to later discover that you have wandered onto a game trail. Just like us and any other animal, turkeys too tend to follow the path of least resistance. When you are able to identify natural funnels or choke points, you can begin to understand just how a turkey moves across a specific piece of ground. It is similar to watching sports, if you are always watching the ball you will miss out on all of the subtle intricacies of movements that are happening off the ball that allow space to be exploited and big plays to happen.
Because of this, after I have identified the pieces of a property that I am interested in and have found wooded edges that butt up against open fields, my next step is to find the funnels. I look for depressions or openings in the landscape that make for easy walking. I will also pinpoint small stands of timber that make up tree lines along field edges that might help funnel birds in a certain direction. Once these spaces have been identified there is just the matter of finding the right tree to sit at and wait for your moment to cut off an escaping gobbler.
Switch up your calling
A major mistake that all turkey hunters make is having the same boring cadences when calling. You have practiced that same 7-note yelp in preparation for the season and it is something that you feel confident in. But real turkeys don’t have a script that they stick to and often you will hear hens that sound like someone who has never used a box call in their life. Switching up your cadence and matching the level of the turkeys around you is crucial if you want to convince a heavily pressured tom to come and have a look-see.
First, be able to switch between soft and aggressive calling. Nine times out of ten soft calling is what is going to bring a gobbler into the kill zone, but sometimes a heavier hand is needed. If birds are blowing off your soft purrs, get aggressive and throw everything you have at them. Don’t be afraid to cut a screaming gobbler off to really get his blood flowing. Lastly, add more realism to your calling by switching up the calls that you do. Intermix some cuts within your yelps and switch the number of yelps you are doing in a row. By switching your calls and fluctuating your tone, you can make yourself sound more realistic to any hung-up tom.
Too often we turkey hunters have a playbook that we run that causes our abilities to lack any thread of organic essence. Remember that while you may have had success doing X last year, that doesn’t guarantee that the same will work the next. Be adaptable and learn to read what the birds and the land is telling you on a given day. Doing so will help you bag more birds and leave your friends believing that you are the gray man of public land birds.