From the Field

Connecting YOU with Wildlife – Pennsylvania Game Commission

How, When, and Where to Take Pressured Public Land Gobblers

by Matt Morrett

Matt Mickey

A beautiful gobbler taken by Pennsylvania hunter Matt Mickey during the 2017 season, with a muzzleloading shotgun.

My dad was a big-time turkey hunter in Pennsylvania, when I was growing up. During my younger years, turkey hunting was all the talk where I lived. Because I was born in Pennsylvania, I always knew about deer hunting. But my dad got bit by the turkey bug. It streamed through his veins, and he put that same love of turkey hunting into me and my blood. I can’t remember a time I haven’t gone turkey hunting with my dad.

We had a big outdoor show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, every year that was called the Eastern Sportsman Outdoors Show. I saw and heard some of the legends of turkey hunting there like Dick Kirby from Orchard Park, New York, Paul Butski, another Mossy Oak pro and a legend in turkey calling, Ernie Calandrelli, Ben Rodgers Lee from Coffeeville, Alabama, and Harold Knight and David Hale from Kentucky. These men were my idols. When I was a youngster, I didn’t really care much for football players or baseball players. But the men who could talk to turkeys and get those wily birds to come within shotgun range were people I was pretty sure could walk on water.

Setting the Stage for a Turkey Hunting Career

The population of turkeys in central Pennsylvania where I grew up was not nearly as large as it is today. But through the efforts of the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) we now have a large population of gobblers in my home state. When I was growing up, anyone who harvested a wild turkey had to work hard to get one of those gobbling bronze barons. Because everybody in the county where I lived was trying to take any turkey that could be heard gobbling, I learned at a young age that if I wanted to take a turkey gobbler, I had to go into the woods deeper and farther than most other hunters would hunt and find a gobbling bird that no one else had heard. I also learned that the better I could call to turkeys, the better my odds were for taking a turkey.

But I learned at an early age to never give-up on turkeys. Pennsylvania hosts a large number of turkeys, a lot of public land and good road systems throughout that public land. So, I decided the best place to find a turkey that I could call in and take was a turkey that couldn’t be heard gobbling from the road. Most public-land hunters drive down the road, stop and listen for a turkey to gobble. If a turkey gobbles, the hunter will park his truck and make a beeline toward the turkey. So, I assumed that the turkeys that could be heard from any road on public land were the turkeys that would receive the most hunting pressure. The turkeys that couldn’t be heard from the road would get the least amount of hunting pressure. So, I chose to hunt the turkeys that couldn’t be hunted from the road. Because we have so many hills in Pennsylvania, I might only have to hunt 200-yards away from the road. However, in some areas, I might have to hunt two miles away from public access.

Something else I learned from hunting public lands was that most hunters would leave the woods by 8:00 or 9:00 am. Perhaps they’d read books and magazine articles about taking turkeys off the roost. But I learned, if I didn’t get to the woods until 9:00 or 10:00 am, I’d have a better chance of bagging a gobbler than the early hunters would.

Another misconception is, “I want to hunt the first 2 weeks of the season, because that’s when my chances are best for taking a gobbler.” But I don’t believe that’s a fair assessment of public-land hunting. I’ve learned that I can take more turkeys later in the season than I can at the beginning of the season when everyone else is pressuring the gobblers.

Gene Bakner

Gene Bakner connected with a crossbow on this mature gobbler during the Spring 2017 Pennsylvania Turkey Season. 

Hunting the Late Season for Turkeys

The more you know about the average public-land turkey hunter, the better your odds are for bagging a gobbler on public lands. The average public-land turkey hunter is willing to get up before daylight, possibly for the first 2 weeks of turkey season, however, after that, whether they’ve bagged a bird or not, they’ve had enough of that getting up before daylight.

Later in the year, as the leaves come out on the trees, those leaves muffle the sound of a turkey’s gobble. Therefore, when I’m hunting in the late season, usually later in the morning if I hear a turkey gobble, I’ll sit down as quickly as I can. I don’t try to move closer to the gobbler, because I know he’s

close enough to call, if I can hear him gobble through the foliage. Most of the time, if you try to close the distance and get closer to the gobbler, you’ll find the gobbler is closer than you think, and you’ll spook him. As long as that turkey is gobbling to you when you call to him, then more than likely he’ll continue looking for you. Because you’re hunting later in the season, most of the hens already will have gone to the nest or be on the way to their nests. So the gobbler coming to you is less likely to find a hen before he comes to where you’re calling.

Since the leaves are out in the late season, and you can’t hear the turkey gobble at longer distances, remember that the turkey can’t hear you either, until you’re closer to him. However, if you find a turkey that will gobble later in the morning and later during the season than he has at the first of the season, your chances for taking that turkey are much better than they are at the first of the season.

Hunters always talk about patience being one of the key attributes of a good turkey hunter. We usually mean having enough patience to wait for a turkey to gobble and then having enough patience to wait on that turkey to show-up. However, I think more patience is required to wait until 8:00 or 9:00 am to hunt turkeys, when all your buddies have been in the woods at daylight. You want to wait until your buddies have quit hunting turkeys, before you really start hunting hard.

Matt Morrett works for Zink Calls and Avian X Decoys. Matt won the Junior and Senior Grand National Turkey Calling contests, and the World Friction Turkey Calling Championships five times. Reprinted with permission of the author.

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