Hunting Heavily Pressured Turkeys

A Turkey Hunting Story About Persistence Paying Off 

By Will Bowen | PUBLISHED April 27th, 2023

As a hunter, I’ve made many mistakes. I’ve missed animals, made bad shots, picked the wrong areas, used the wrong calls, the list could go on and on. If you are a hunter, you know exactly what I’m talking about, and if you don’t you must be new to this because it happens to all of us. One thing I’ve learned through making all of these mistakes is that persistence is key. Persistence is one of the few things that we as hunters can control. Weather, animals, and other hunters are all game-changing factors that go into a hunt, but the only thing that can affect your persistence and mental toughness is your own mind. 

As I settled into the long drive to Oklahoma all I could think about was the failures of last year’s turkey hunt. Hunting pressure, low bird populations, and rough storms hindered the hunt. But something that stood out to me was the missed opportunities because of lack of effort. Calling it early, not scouting new spots, and not being patient were all symptoms of poor persistence. My father joined me on last year’s hunt and we decided this year would be different. Hunt harder and stay after them, that’s the goal. My father-in-law and brother-in-law joined us this year and would provide extra eyes and ears as well. I had a feeling that with a little luck, this year will be different. 

The first day of the hunt was a tough one. A long, uneventful morning hunt followed by tedious scouting and glassing drained me. A bite to eat at lunch and a brief snooze allowed us to dive back in for an afternoon hunt (legal to hunt all day in Oklahoma). Around 4:00 pm we glassed a gobbler on a public field. A long, brutal crawl into what I thought was adequate shooting range ended in disaster. After the shot rang out, all I could see was the sight of the big Tom as he ran the other way. No luck on this day. Working hard doesn’t always pay, well not immediately.

On the second morning, the plan was to dive into the north boundary of public piece and listen for any birds south of us. Shortly after 6:00 am, the first gobble of the morning sounded southeast of us. The bird was several hundred yards away, but the thunderous gobble was definitely owned by a big turkey. My dad and I maneuvered into position and made an initial setup on the gobbler. My heart pounded as gobble after gobble poured out of him, then we heard one of the single worst sounds you can hear as a turkey hunter, a living, breathing hen. 

To make a long story short, he flew down and started to follow the hen. We followed the bird and set up on him several more times and felt like we had several close calls, but we just couldn’t pull him away from his hens. We finally ended up on small woodline near a public field bordered by a county road. A text from my borther-in-law, who was driving roads glassing for birds, let me know that the bird had made his way down into the field. They snuck around the west side of the field and ended up in the same woodline as us. We met up and made a plan to make a move on this bird. 

They conceded the first chance at the bird to my dad and I, citing the effort we had put in on him for the last three hours. They would stay back and glass the bird as we snuck down a perpendicular treeline to close some distance. We made it good ways down the treeline and even got eyes on the birds about 70 yards out when I got text from my father-in-law. “Two hunters just stepped into top side of the field”. This was bad news and sure enough, for some unforeseen reasons the birds turned and sprinted towards the other hunters who appeared to be carrying a full strut decoy. The birds eventually spotted them and dove into the road ditch for cover. We were deflated. 

The other hunters left as we stood around and pondered our decisions and more so their decisions. It was now 10:00 am and the bird that we had been chasing all morning seemed like a lost cause now. “Well, that really sucked”. All the sudden something caught my father-in-law’s eye. “Gobbler at the intersection crossing the county road”. Sure enough there he and a single hen stood, right in the tire tracks of the other hunters’ truck. Fortunately for us they crossed onto another piece of public land. Nothing left to do now but split up and give the gobbler another go. We had a sighting and a possible line of travel. We felt like we would be able to get out in front of him and make something happen, but in the turkey woods, nothing is a guarantee. 

We switched up partners and my brother-in-law, Tucker, and I hopped in the truck and made the short drive to the property south of the birds. We assumed the birds would be working their way south through this particular piece of public due to the nice mix of cover and fields. We parked and studied the map thoroughly yet quickly before we started making our way to the bird. We eased our way through two open fields without spotting the bird. Finally, we made it to the top-side of the property not far from where we saw the bird previously. If he was still on this property, he wouldn’t be too far from us. 

We stepped out of the field into a long gap in the treeline. It was a beautiful spot, probably 20 yards wide, 75 yards long, and had short grass and deadfall. “Looks like a spot they would call a gobbler up on TV”. Before we decided to go any further, I took out my slate call to attempt to strike the bird. Two short calling sequences were met with a loud gobble. We scrambled to find a good hiding spot and ended up setting up in some old dead cedar tree. It felt like the perfect setup. I handed the slate call off to Tucker so I could focus on the shot. 

Another two short calling sequences were met by two even closer gobbles. “He’s coming” I said. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Tucker set the call on the ground. We both thought the same thing, “this is going to happen”. A couple minutes passed and then I saw a red head break the opening about 75 yards away. The big gobbler bobbed his way to us, strutting and showing his immense color along the way. Tucker couldn’t see from his vantage point, so I had the privilege of narrating the encounter. “60 yards, 50 yards, 35 yards, as soon as he steps around this dead tree, I’ll have him”. As if he was reading a script he stepped and stuck his head up in the air making an easy target. I fired my shot and the game was over. “I can’t believe that just happened!”

There is a ton of luck involved with any successful turkey harvest, but like I said earlier, there is one factor you can control that often determines the success of the hunt. We could have easily packed it in after the other hunters spooked the bird but we didn’t. We bet on our persistence and the payout on this day is a fan on the wall and turkey nuggets in the fryer!

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