Turkey tactics, strategies and methods of hunting have come and gone over the years. One can still hear heated debates around the campfire during deer season about how to best hunt a wild turkey gobbler. Some say to use this call or that, hunt morning roosted birds or afternoon lovesick toms, use decoys, and so forth.
Some tactics have proven pretty successful over time, while others have played themselves out. Here is one I think should have been shelved long ago.
The run-and-gun not fun
I can recall not so fondly the days of the turkey hunting “run-and-gun” movement. I was on a guided turkey hunt with a guy named George out of Macon. George was a tall, sturdy, long legged turkey running son-of-a-gun. His turkey hunting emphasis was on running.
One morning just at dawn’s early light, we stood on the edge of a wooded turkey mecca after a forced march from the truck. I could barely see the trail leading off the forest road into the thicket of turkey-dom.
Heck, I could barely see George.
At the first gobble, George took off. I tried earnestly to keep pace, but that was a joke. I had no idea what we were doing or why, as George just tore off down the trail without so much as a word of guide guidance. Fairly soon I found myself standing alone on the trail with my guide nowhere in sight. I could still hear the gobbler every so often, but he was way off.
Almost like a vision appearing out of the mist, I finally saw George emerging from the dark woods. I cannot put into print the words he shared with me, but the gist of it was this: “What in the ---- are you doing?”
I replied with the exact same question, then I gave him a moment to catch his breath. (I bet a million bucks his face was as red as a beet, but I couldn’t tell in the shadows of first light.)
“The idea here John is to run ahead of that gobbler and get into position in case he comes down out of the roost tree in our direction,” George choked.
I said, ”What good would that do if your hunter is 100 yards behind where you left him? And besides, it would be helpful if you had told me that before you bolted off into the woods.”
My idea was for the guide to put me in position to hunt the bird, not run my rear-end ragged in the first minutes of the hunt, making a bunch of racket in the woods and having me too out of breath to even settle into a shot. We later came to a full understanding of my expectations for him as the guide.
In three days of hunting with me and other hunters did George’s style of run-and-gun ever yield a turkey gobbler dead on the ground? I suppose maybe when he hunted on his own he had some success with that strategy, but I’m not sure. What I wondered was if he would tell the truth about it.
Let me get this straight
“OK, conceptually, the idea behind the run-and-gun tactic sounds pretty reasonable. The idea is to beat a path ahead of a gobbling tom moving in some known direction to set up for when he crosses the ambush spot elected by the hunter(s),” said long-time turkey hunter Beau Starkey of Jackson. “I have used this trick many times with moderate success, but it can fool you.
“Just when you think you’ve got the upper-hand on him, you might find yourself right in the middle of it and bust him completely out of the woods. Also, it is darn hard to run ahead of a turkey gobbler on a steady move; he’s moving in a more-or-less straight line, and the hunter has to zigzag through the woods to gain enough ground to get in front. (The turkey’s) distance is shorter, and he has the advantage. Often run and-gun gobblers just disappear, especially if they quit gobbling.”
I’ve tried this, too, and I am convinced a hunter is just as likely to run-and-gun too close to where the gobbler is moving, and either he hears you or sees you.
Either way, he shuts up and most likely turns to slip out the back door.
On more than one occasion I have even tried to quietly slip ahead of a bird that was gobbling but seemed to be holding still. I can’t tell you how many times I have ended up poking my head out into an open plot, field, trail, power line or whatever, and he’s standing there looking at me.
As they say, “That was the end of that.”
Far and ahead of running and rarely gunning, still-hunting seems to work best with a solid setup, meaningful calling and a wait-and-see approach. If your scouting tells you where a bird is roosted, or where he is likely to go after he pitches down from the roost, then your best bet is to already be set up there in a ground blind or against a big tree with knees up and gun poised.
Your best bet is to call that bird to the gun instead of trying to run him down.
Rest in peace, run-and-gun.