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Turkey Hunting on Your Own Terms



I’ve hunted a lot of days over the past two turkey seasons, and I’ve done that hunting in three different states: Pennsylvania, California, and Nebraska. For all my effort, I’ve killed two birds – one last March in California and one this May in Pennsylvania. Considering the amount I’ve hunted, many turkey hunters would expect me to kill more than I have. But for me, it’s not about killing a turkey; it’s about killing a turkey the way I want to.

I want to run and gun them. I want to call them in and kill them without decoys.

That’s exactly how I killed my California bird. We called from a hill above a cow pasture and got a gobbler to answer. Then my buddy Todd and I sprinted to set up against a tree and some deadfall while dad hung back farther to call and pull him in. A stout Rio crested a rise and I cleanly put him down. I was ecstatic. It was how I wanted to kill my Rio.

I have the expectation, the need, to kill a bird that way because of how I grew up hunting them. My dad, brother, and I hunt the Appalachian ridges of Central Pennsylvania. There’s lots of timber, a lot of draws and hollows; there’s lots of crests and rises. The combination of timber and topography makes it possible, and makes it fun, to run and gun hunt with nothing but a call, a gun, and a turkey vest. California’s Sierra Nevada foothills sponsor the same type of turkey hunting. Nebraska’s plains, however, do not.

There’s a lot I can say about this year’s trip to Nebraska. The first thing I must say is that our guide worked his ass off. He did everything he could to put us on birds, and he did it tirelessly. I’m grateful for that. I must also say that I didn’t manage my expectations well, and I didn’t adapt to the circumstances as well as I could have. It boils down to me not doing my homework.

Folks in Nebraska hunt turkeys differently than folks in Appalachia. Where we have timber and topography, they have high winds and open country. Calling doesn’t work the same way. Sometimes decoys are necessary. And other times you just have to deer-hunt ambush them. The attitude is different, too. For them, it’s more, “Well, there’s a gobbler. Let’s go kill him.” For me, and turkey hunters like me, it’s more about romancing a bird into range and tricking him into believing that there’s a lady ready for him, when in reality he’s looking for love in all the wrong places. 

I came home and put solid effort into the Pennsylvania season. I killed a bird with my dad and had a lot of other close calls. I’m sure I would have filled my second tag had I set up a blind at a field edge and put out some decoys. But that’s not how I hunt. Killing a bird that way would have felt like hell to me. To be clear, I’m not judging anyone that likes to hunt that way. It’s just not for me.

Doing it how I want to do it is more valuable than just doing it. It’s important to sort out what we value about turkey hunting, and hunting in general. It helps us set our expectations and create the experiences we want to have. 

And once we understand what we want, we must be diligent and do our homework.