The 2011 turkey season has been a tough one in my part of Indiana, fields have been consistently flooded, we have had fluctuating temperatures (20’s to 80’s), rain and wind on nearly every day my college and work schedule allow me to hunt. Needless to say, it’s been a rather uncooperative year. However, with hard hunting comes good lessons, 2011 has been exactly that. The following covers a number of lessons I have learned over the past three weeks of hunting, I’m sure some of you have already learned these lessons, but for those who haven’t, I hope you can improve your hunting based off of my experience.
1.) Here comes the rain: The Putnam county area averages 3.61 inches of rain in the month of April. This year, we received over 10 inches of rain in some areas, which was more than enough to “water the garden”. I have never run into the flooding issue before, so I went in open-minded to my new hunting scenario. This turned out to be the main lesson I learned this year. Going into season, I wasn’t too worried about the floods; I figured turkeys would simply utilize any dry spots in the fields that were still available. Unfortunately, it seemed as though the floods carried the turkeys with them, wherever that was. The first few days of season we didn’t even hear a gobble! Keep in mind this wasn’t consistent throughout the county, but rather at my few hunting locations located on the flooded creek. After a few days, the water started receding, but still, no turkeys. Only after the fields had dried up a little bit did we start to see birds coming down from the higher grounds. The lesson here is to weigh your options. It seems one would have a higher chance of finding turkeys in higher elevation fields when lower fields are soft and muddy, not to mention the roar of the creek may have impeded their hearing. Not only with flooding, but with any change in conditions- assess your spots, maybe even use some security monitoring, and try to determine which spot will give you the best opportunity for the conditions.
Lesson learned: don’t bank on one spot being perfect for every scenario.
2.) Have back-up property: Since all of my hunting grounds here at school are low lying fields, I was forced to hunt flooded fields, which as I discussed earlier isn’t very effective. Looking back, my freshman year I should have tried gaining access to more properties, to allow for some diversity and options. I found such a good spot right off the bat I assumed I was all set; my 4 years of college were to be spent in 3 fields next to a creek. Little did I know that would come back to get me this year. When scoping out property, make it your goal to get a little bit of everything, because you never know when you might need to switch it up.
Lesson learned: tie down more spots than you need.
3.) Utilize Ridges: This year the mature toms seemed to stick to the hilltops in my area, simply working high-rise strutting zones. It was difficult to call them down off their “thrones”, so instead of trying the fields I started out on the ridge tops, above the birds and waited. I let out a few soft tree yelps before light, but my main tactic was to wait in an area that I knew a tom might use as his strut zone. It also was easier to call birds uphill than down, if at all possible, get above the gobbler and see if you can pull him up that hill into his strut zone, otherwise known as his comfort zone.
Lesson learned: Attack the throne!
4.) Be Aggressive: When I realized how fragile the birds had become this year, I felt as though I had to change my calling strategies from last year. I became a timid caller; simply letting the Toms know “hey, I’m over here”. This is an effective method and many will argue that playing it safe is the way to go. However, sometimes you have to get up in his kitchen and get aggressive. Phillip Vanderpool of Hunter’s Specialties suggests really talking to them in the early morning. “If you think a bird is by himself, its fine to simply let him know where you are, give him a few soft tree yelps while on the roost. However, if there’s any indication that he’s with hens, get aggressive with your calls. What’s to loose? You need to give him a reason to walk your way, but if your timid about it the hens he’s with will most likely take him the other way, running from any possible competition”.
The last and possibly most important thing I learned this year came from my mentor Phillip Vanderpool. “The only predictable thing about turkeys is that they are unpredictable“. This has pretty much summed up my season, with only one kill on film this year, I’ve accepted that this is a year of growth in experience instead of harvest. In the end, isn’t that what hunting is about? Better understanding the woods and the animals that call it home? For me, getting off the concrete jungle of campus and into the woods is a win, and I won’t complain about this tough year anymore than I have to. Remember, keep your kids in the woods, and teach them the HuntingLife!