8 Ways To Beat The Public-Land Masses

By Jace Bauserman

tom turkey standing in the grass

According to data provided by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in a mid-September 2020 report, overall participation in deer hunting was up 26.97 percent that year. That’s a big jump. Even bigger is the 121.6 percent overall spike the state saw in terms of general hunting. Similar numbers can be found across much of the country, due in large part to the pandemic.

The influx of new blood is great news for the shooting sports, but it might make your spring gobbler missions a tad more difficult. Here’s how to beat the masses and emerge from the public turkey woods with a fan bobbing over your shoulder.

1. Have Multiple Spots

Digital mapping apps are better than ever and having one of these handy programs on your mobile device is essential. It’s important, whether you’re scouting from your couch or actually walking the woods, to drop pins and label multiple spots. Mark access points such as parking areas as well as in-the-woods spots. The public land turkey hunter must be flexible. If you show up at an area and a truck or two is already there, you need to adjust quickly and get to a new spot. When you have eight to 10 areas labeled, this process is easy.

When it comes to in-the-woods intel, things can change fast while on the hunt, but I recommend marking a number of likely roosting spots, long ridges as well as possible strut and feeding areas. Of course, hands-on scouting makes this process easier, but long map study sessions will reveal plenty of likely turkey haunts. Knowing where these areas are and how to access them will boost your chances of filling a tag.

Turkey tracks in the dry mud

2. Go Deep On Big Tracts

When hunting big tracts of public land, use your digital mapping app to find areas that require some work to get back into. Yes, a long walk is great, but also focus on distant areas that require some serious up or downhill. Multiple creek crossings and having to push through thick marshes and other areas of dense vegetation will also deter other hunters. If you’re willing to go the extra mile and put in some sweat equity, you can beat the masses and find public-land turkey nirvana.

3. Don’t Ignore Smaller Tracts

Years ago, while hunting public dirt in Nebraska, I noticed bigger tracts of land drew more human pressure. Many small tracts, especially those 60 acres or less, were ghost towns. Pay attention to lesser-sized tracts, especially those that border turkey-rich private land. Often, you’ll find a few honey holes you can return to time and time again.

4. Shoot To Kill

We all know you don’t go into the woods to miss, but have you given your all in preparing for the moment of truth? Have you patterned your shotgun at multiple distances? Have you fired shots from prone and sitting positions? Have you experimented with loads and chokes to find a combo that will jelly the head of a distant tom?

These are all important questions, and you need to answer each of them for yourself before heading into the woods this spring. You might only earn one shot. Make it a good one.

5. Call ’Em Up

So, you got a bird to fire and he seems hot. Great! Sadly, this is where lots of public-land turkey hunters screw up. If you’re toting decoys, you can be more flexible with your setup, but hunters running-and-gunning in thick cover often don’t tote or set decoys. This is fine. A tom that wanders into thick cover knows he’ll have to come looking for the hen. Just remember, he can pinpoint your calling down to the exact tree or bush you’re sitting by and when he reaches a point where he expects to see a hen and doesn’t, he will get nervous and retreat.

When possible, call turkeys up a ridge or rise. If you’re trying to call them downhill, they will often strut back-and-forth across the top while looking down into the timber. If they don’t see a hen, they will leave. When a tom believes the hen is up and over a rise, you can bust his dome the second he tops the hill. It works like a charm.

6. Call & Move

One of my favorite calling tactics to prevent a pressured tom from hanging up is to stand and call about 35 or 40 yards behind where I plan to setup. After making a few calls, especially if the tom answers, I press forward and find a location that offers a good hide and plenty of shadows. When the tom comes looking and gets weary, he’s already in range because you’re a good distance in front of the spot you made your last call.

Lady hunter using a turkey call

7. Listen More

Each year while doing turkey seminars I get asked the same two-part question: How much should I call and what hen sounds should I make?

The answer: It depends. Successful calling comes down to listening and paying attention to live hens and gobblers. Match their intensity. If you have a gobbler that is hot—responding each time you call—you can be a bit more aggressive. You can yelp hard and cut a bit. If gobblers in the area seem to have concrete beaks, try soft single yelps and purrs. Don’t call too often. If the woods are quiet, you should follow suit.

hunter holding up a dead turkey by it's legs

8. Make Some (Natural) Noise

Too many turkey hunters are too afraid of making noise. Don’t be one of them. The next time you’re in the woods, listen to a group of hens. They scratch in the leaves and chase each other around the woods. They create a serious ruckus. When you’re sitting, especially when things are quiet and you’re blind calling into the timber, don’t be afraid to use your hands and feet to rustle dried vegetation.

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