The mere mention of trying to go after a wild turkey on public land scares off most turkey hunters, even the veterans.

Mark Boyd of Brandon is the exception. He has been turkey hunting on public land all his life. In the process, he has learned many of the best practices for taking down public, pressured gobblers.

There is no denying that special hunting tricks and talents are required to be consistently successful at bagging gobblers on public land. In most cases, the process is no simple task - but it can be done if hunters are smart and apply some of the tactics mentioned here that are proven to work.

Boyd, who works for Mississippi Sportsman, makes them work repeatedly.

 

Preseason scouting behaviors

"Scouting on public forestland is simple," Boyd said. "Just stay out of the woods before the season starts. Learn the terrain during deer, squirrel or some other hunting season, or during the off season.

"Before turkey hunting season starts, confine your scouting behaviors to listening from high ridges and roads. I never go in to the woods before the season cranks up. I sure don't want to bump those already-wise birds."

And he certainly doesn't want to educate them with preseason calling.

"No matter how much or how many toms I hear, I will not call to them or try to sneak up on them," Boyd said. "The worst thing a hunter can do is practice calling before the season and further educate the turkeys earlier than need be."

Boyd added that the best characteristic of a good public-land turkey hunter is being patient and allowing Mother Nature to take her course.

 

Daybreak through midday

Your early morning setup is crucial, this veteran hunter said.

"You want to get close, but not too close," he explained. "In early season, the birds can see much farther in the woods than later on after the spring green-up. Don't risk bumping the flock. Some try to bust up the flock, but I think that is a weak tactic.

"It only makes the birds more educated.

The operative term is caution.

"If you know the land and can get close to roosted birds before daybreak, then do so in a cautious, slow, methodical manner," Boyd said. "Slow is better early in the season. Later, after the woods green-up has begun, you can usually get closer to a tom by using the thick foliage as cover to maneuver into position.

"If you hear no gobbling, then set up and just wait and listen."

If the morning hunt doesn't pan out, then follow these midday tips.

"Midmorning turkey hunts can be the best," he said. "Midmorning hours after the gobblers have done their thing with the hens is a prime time. You will be surprised how many toms you can get on after most of the other hunters leave the woods.

"I may run to grab a biscuit, but I get right back in the woods and hunt for a couple more hours. This is a very productive time on public lands for nailing a gobbler."

 

Afternoon strategies

According to Boyd, afternoon or late evening hunting can be very slow and discouraging for public forestland turkey hunters.

"The difference between a good hunter and a great hunter is patience, persistence and knowing how turkeys think," he said. "Some late-evening hunts can be quick if you are in the right spot. However, for the most part, late-evening hunts are usually for me just for prospecting, sitting and listening.

"If I hear a tom gobbling way off, then I go ahead and start planning my next morning setup. I try to figure out and pinpoint where the gobbler is located; then I wait him out until roost time."

 

Public-venue calling cautions

What is Boyd's position on calling on public lands?

"Calling is what everyone loves to do," he said. "I have made many mistakes by trying to be loud and aggressive on public forestlands. You can call too much to any bird and have them gobble over and over, but sooner or later the gig is up. He is gone."

Or is he?

"When a tom gobbles back then goes silent, he may be playing tricks on you," Boyd said. "Often this causes a hunter to move or make another mistake - you stand up, and see the gobbler run off. My advice is to sit tight, call soft and very little. Scratch in the leaves with a stick or a turkey wing. Self-control defeats many a wily wild turkey."

Indeed, on public land the wild turkey is typically highly pressured. They have heard every fake call in the book - and often. They get shy to the whole affair, so loud, aggressive calling rarely works on birds that are hunted hard all day, every day. Call soft; call seldom.

 

Fake 'em out

It is highly debated whether or not to use turkey decoys on public lands. For one thing, it can be dangerous, like making gobbler calls. These actions can draw in other hunters to your position, which is something you want to avoid at all costs.

"Most of the time I don't even pull my decoy out of my vest," Boyd said. "I will use it from time to time if I feel it could seal the deal.

"Most of my experience is that everyone has a decoy or two, and most use them all the time. Public-land gobblers get smart at an early age. Lots of times gobblers or hens will come in and see your decoy, then tuck their wing and go the other way. Experienced turkeys have learned that decoys exist and to be very wary of them."

Boyd said that if you are going to use a decoy, don't put it right in your lap. Move it out a distance that will allow the gobbler to spot it away from a line of vision to your setup.

Be careful, too, for gobblers that sneak in from behind or out of thick cover. Smart, wary gobblers can pop out anywhere at any time.

"The best advice on turkey hunting public lands is not to call too often or too loud," said Boyd. "The main lessons to learn are to be patient, don't move and always be listening."