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By Jace Bauserman
I remember it vividly. I was young, and my turkey knowledge was nil. I figured the closer I could get to roosted birds, the easier they’d be kill. My morning plan went something like this: Listen for gobbles. Move in close. Decide I was too far away. Move closer. Hit an owl or crow call a few times to hear birds gobble. Move one more time. Watch the birds fly off the roost in the opposite direction.
If you’re new to the game, let me ease the learning curve for you. Many turkey subspecies, especially the Rio Grande and Eastern, will often roost in the same general area, if not the same tree, if left undisturbed during nap time. Blow the roost, however, and birds may move to a neighboring property or disappear from the woods you’re hunting.
Rather than putting a full-court press on the roost, spend a day—preseason is great for this—watching and listening to birds once they leave the treetops. Hens will gravitate toward a food source, and toms will seek open ridges, pastures, meadows and the like where they can puff up and be seen by girls from a distance. Of course, morning ag fields also make great tom spots. Turkey patterns can be very predictable, and if you can pinpoint areas birds like to work toward, you can setup in these spots and leave the roost alone.
The same holds true for evening hunts. If you know where birds are likely to roost, you have the option of pressing in really close. Some hunters like to setup under the exact tree they believe birds will fly up into.
But here’s what typically happens to those who go for an all-or-nothing evening roost invasion. The birds use a ridge, hilltop or other terrain feature to launch into the roost from a distance. Others get a running start on flat ground and fly 40 or 50 yards into their nightly perch. Turkeys are big-bodied birds and can’t shoot straight up into a tree. Most often, hunters sitting close to a roost get no shot, and are then faced with the daunting task of not alarming roosted birds while trying to slip out of the area.
Something else to remember—if you know where birds are roosted, leave your locator calls in your turkey vest. Yes, it’s awesome to hear them gobble. However, every time you hit a locator call, you’re giving away your position to the birds. Crow and owl sounds are natural, but if you’re hitting these calls during morning’s first glow, roosted birds will be looking in your direction and can easily pick you off. Turkeys have incredible eyesight, and from an elevated vantage point, don’t miss much.
What boosted my turkey success was simply backing off the roost. My goal, depending on cover and the terrain, is to get within 150 yards of the roost during morning hunts. If this isn’t possible, I don’t press the issue. There’s nothing wrong with being setup 300 or 400 yards from a roost. Again, the setup shouldn’t be random. If you did your scouting, you should have some known haunts in mind that birds head to after fly down. Focus on these areas.
The same holds true for evening hunts. Pay attention to how birds work back to the roost. Is there an isolated ag field they like to hit or the corner of a pasture they cut across? What about a long ridgeline they like to walk down? Know where these areas are and be set up and waiting when the birds work back toward their sleeping grounds. Most often, I like to try and stay at least 200 yards off the roost during evening hunts.
If you leave the roost alone, even if you bump birds while hunting them during the day, you won’t typically run them off their roost. Remember, the desire to get closer and closer is always going to be there. Resist it.