Nothing announces the coming of spring more jubilantly than the thunderous gobble of a Tom turkey. And few things in the hunting world make a hunter’s heart pound harder with anticipation than hearing that sound coming closer as they sit with their back against a tree, calling back to one. But as the season wears on, more hens are bred and more hunters hit the woods. Big Toms become less and less responsive to hunters’ calls. Eventually, those shrill hoots used so successfully in the early season to target a Tom’s location just stop working. Those Toms who strutted so willingly into decoy setups with a few soft yelps stop showing up. This is when turkey hunting becomes truly challenging, and hunters must rise to the challenge. If they want to fill their spring turkey tag, sometimes they have to put the decoys and camo blinds away, and take a page out of their other big game book—spotting and stalking.
Spotting and stalking turkeys is possibly the most challenging method of turkey hunting. This is because it goes against one of the primary turkey hunting rules: Don’t move. A wild turkey’s vision is uncannily keen—up to three times better than 20/20—and it boasts a 270-degree field of vision. Unlike deer, elk, and other big-game animals that hunters stalk, vision is the turkey’s primary defense. While a hunter can get away with a little movement around those other animals, if a big Tom sees any kind of unnatural movement in that wide field of vision, he’ll bolt faster than a fat kid after an ice cream truck.
Hunters using this technique have to first plan their approach, and never go directly toward the bird. Instead, proper turkey stalking relies on using the land to a hunter’s advantage. Slipping through tree lines, staying low along canyons, and even belly crawling in ditches while briefly poking your head up are all good ways to shield your approach.
Often enough, turkeys will be spotted in open glades and fields, where getting within shotgun range is nearly impossible. So the hunter must adjust their strategy and concentrate on getting to a good ambush point. Turkeys, like most other animals, use the easiest route they can find to get to places. They are often habitual, using the same routes to get to and from their feeding areas. Spot-and-stalk hunters search for game trails, large gaps in the trees, and thick brush lines that enable turkeys to quickly access cover as they leave an area. Set up under camouflage, waiting for the turkeys to leave the field. Often, this is where calling to the birds can come back into play. While the loud yelps of the early season are negated during this time, gentle clucks and soft purrs are often worth trying at this point. They can be the very thing to draw a Tom your way.
Spotting turkeys using this strategy can often be doubly challenging. While glassing, the hunter not only has to spot birds, but also has to glass out the best way to approach them. Start glassing for birds in the late morning when they have come down from their roost and have begun to move into more open feeding areas. Search the fringes of tree lines and thicker brushy areas. Try to spot the birds as they first emerge, which gives you a good point of approach. To aid in this strategy, it’s best to get a lot of pre- and mid-season scouting under your belt. Explore the woods around the areas you plan on hunting, finding roosting trees and feeding areas the birds frequent. Having two or three known locations where birds roost and feed gives you several options for glassing and planning your stalk.
Being a successful hunter often means breaking away from the standard and thinking outside the box. With turkey hunting, this sometimes means if you’re doing what everyone else is doing, you’re lowering your odds of success. So when the birds stop answering your calls, or if you simply like a challenge, spotting and stalking turkeys is a great way to fill your tag this coming season.