Turkey Plans Fail! Then What?

Spring turkey hunting is far from predictable. Often, Plan A fails. Be ready when it does. Don’t throw in the towel when a morning roost hunt goes awry. You’ll bag more birds if you have the right gear, some turkey savvy, and a no-quit attitude.

by Jace Bauserman

Sometimes, I strike a tom in the timber, get the sun at my back, and squiggle into a good hide. I have time to get my shotgun on a set of shooting sticks or propped on my knee. The boy bird comes in, and the shotgun thunders. 

Sometimes, my roost plan leads to roasting. The birds pitch down, get vocal, respond to my calls, see my imposters, and come on a string. 

Sometimes, though — and this is often the case for me —things go the opposite of the plan.

When the plan crumbles, it doesn’t mean you can’t kill turkeys. Never quit. You must readjust and have the confidence and gear to jelly a head. 

I will take you through my most recent shotgun turkey hunt. I will give you the plan, tell you how it went down, and mention the tactics and gear that led to success. 

Colorado Ranching For Wildlife Turkey Opener – April 1, 2024

My buddy, Jay Waring, owns and operates Purgatoire Outfitters. Over the years, I have hunted with Jay a lot and helped him with some of his mountain lion clients. He gets me a Ranching For Wildlife voucher each year and cuts me loose on one of his leases. 

The ranch is gorgeous. A cottonwood-dotted creek snakes through a steep, gnarly, hard-rock canyon sprinkled with cedars, pinyon, and ponderosa pine. It’s the perfect Merriam turkey habitat and one of my most cherished locales on planet Earth.

Jay and I scouted the property four days before the opener. The drive from my house to the ranch is 90 miles, so making nightly and morning scouting trips is out of the question. 

We didn’t see or hear a roosted bird that morning. However, after driving the main two-track through a chunk of the property, gobbles tickled our ears as we returned to the ranch house. When I stopped the Chevy to investigate a section of the creek, a pair of toms boomed. For the next several minutes, tom’s, hens, and jake’s made music for us. 

Still trying to figure out where the birds would be roosting, my buddy and cameraman Lane Farris and I arrived at the property an hour and a half before sunrise. 

The Plan: Stand in pre-dawn’s inky black, listen for gobbles, and then make a move. 

We heard plenty of gobbles. However, at least two longbeards, a pile of jakes, and multiple hens made morning turkey talk from a pair of cottonwoods less than 50 yards from where we parked. Another tom — at least one, but there may have been more — gobbled in the primary roost where I find birds every year. 

My typical morning off-the-roost location was compromised. I couldn’t get to it without bumping the birds in the close cottonwoods; cottonwoods that neither Jay nor I had ever seen them use. 

Lane and I backed up, worked our way around the birds, crossed the creek, and got between both sets of birds. Arriving early is always a good thing. 

The first hen hit the big opening and marched to our decoys before legal shooting light. I’d never seen a turkey pitch down so early in all my turkey years. More hens followed, and by the time the rising sun cast a red glow on the landscape, a passel of hens and three jakes stood in the decoys

The toms, however, stayed on the two-track road, strutting and spinning while keeping an eye on their ladies. Before long, the main mob joined with the other flock, and just like that, our morning roost hunt was over. 

How It Ended: We moved, used the creek for cover, and went full-on run-and-gun.

By 8:30 a.m., the birds hadn’t moved much. They were still pecking at bits of green and playing chase toward the bottom of the big opening near their favorite roost. 

Using the creek, Lane and I looped around. The goal was to get in front of the birds, set out the decoys, and give them another look. That didn’t happen. When we ran out of cover, and the birds were on the move. Our only hope was for me to crawl up the steep creek bank a few yards into the opening, set the decoys, and slither into the cedars. 

It worked. I didn’t get busted. I got a jake and a hen decoy out, but the decoys were only three yards from us. Moving back wasn’t an option. If we did, we would slide off the bank and be 20 feet below the birds, unable to see the decoys. 

After settling into the cedar, I got on my favorite mouth diaphragm, Slayer’s Center Cut Triple Turkey Call. I hoped to piss off a hen or two and get them to work up the edge of the opening. From my location, I could see the top of a tom fan, three hens, and one longbeard that spied the decoys before I even started calling. 

It took 20 minutes, but finally, after getting into a squawking match with a hen, three jakes and the bossy lady decided to break and come. Their approach put more strain on the tom than he could bear. He tucked in behind the jake and hen and walked our way. 

The problem was my angle. I had one foot dangling over the creek bank and the other tucked under my butt. It was the only way to sit, glass, and stay still without sliding back down the bank. There was no way I could get my gun up and stay ready. 

The jakes came to the boy imposter. They were three yards from me and five yards from Lane. It was intense and incredible. Thank God for giant cedars and top-tier camo. The hen moved past us, and the longbeard tried to follow. When the sea of jakes parted, I threw down quickly, like I would on a flushing pheasant. When I did, I started to slide down the bank. I shot. The boy bird rolled but regained his feet and started running. Calmly and fluidly, I swung like I would on a flying left-to-right dove and squeezed. 

It was a rodeo, but the morning ended with Lane and I hooping, hugging, and high-fiving. The second shot crushed him. Damn, do I love spring turkey hunting!

Gear That Made It Work: The right gear makes all the difference in the turkey woods. 

Browning Silver Field Camo FDE

Just meat and potatoes, this humpback receiver shotgun promises immediate eye-to-barrel-to-bead alignment. It’s out-of-the-box ready, and after spending two days patterning the Invector-Plus non-extended Full Choke that comes with the gun, I was overly impressed. The shotgun shoulders like a dream and allows for instinctive pointing. Three weeks after back surgery, the self-adjusting Active Valve Gas System cycled my 2-3/4-inch reduced recoil (more to come on these) shotshells like a dream. I applaud the non-shine Cerakote Flat Dark Earth finish on the barrel and receiver, the single brass bead front sight, and the AURIC camo on the synthetic stock and forearm. 

As I do before any turkey hunt, I pattern my shotgun of choice off a bench or from shooting sticks and shoot it offhand. I shoot crossing clays at the gun club until I’m blue in the face. I want a maneuverable shotgun that allows me to make quick shots and immediate follow-up shots.

Hevi-Shot Hevi-18 Turkey 12-Gauge 9 Shot Reduced Recoil: This is a TSS load that does the job without abusing the shoulder.

My back surgeon told me I could shoot at three weeks but said he was concerned about recoil. After crushing a Nebraska tom in late May of 2023 at 60-plus yards with this ammo and experiencing virtually no recoil, I opted for it again. 

A 2-3/4-inch shotshell with a muzzle velocity of only 1,090 fps, the Hevi-18 Reduced Recoil sports a 1-1/4-ounce payload of 18 g/cc Tungsten Super Shot #9s. It doesn’t abuse the shoulder — my 11-year-old shoots it — and it’s lethal on turkeys. 

Another important thing to mention about the load is that the reduced recoil allows me to make a quick follow-up shot if needed.

ALPS OutdoorZ Ambush Sling Pack: This slim over-the-shoulder pouch holds everything you need while keeping weight down and boosting in-the-field maneuverability.

I’m a take-everything-and-the-kitchen-sink turkey hunter. However, I’ve learned over the years, especially as much as I like to run and gun, that a minimalist vest/pack option is best for me.

I find this in ALPS’ Ambush Sling Pack. The pack has an ambidextrous multi-position shoulder strap and MOLLE webbing attachment points. It will hold your ammo, a pair of pot-and-peg calls, a box call, diaphragms, a ThermaCell, and more. 

This pack doesn’t take up much room on the body, moves with the hunter, and it’s durable. I also applaud the price point.

Remember, turkey hunting is far from cut and dry. This season, stay flexible, step outside of established turkey norms, go off your gut, and you’ll bag more birds. 

 

New Whitetail Property! Now What?
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