Public-Land Etiquette for Turkey Hunters

By Darron McDougalMay 5, 20211 Comment

When I pulled into a parking area of J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area in Central Florida for the Osceola opener, I wasn’t the only early bird. I knew that opening day would be busy, but with six other vehicles already parked and hunters readying their gear, I had a feeling that all of the spots I’d picked out during a pre-hunt scouting mission would be occupied. I wrestled with what to do, but went forward with plan A. As I readied my own gear, more vehicles arrived.

The reasons I didn’t hunt elsewhere were twofold. First, a biologist had told me that the locations turkeys frequent on the WMA would have numerous hunters. Secondly, the Corbett encompasses more than 60,000 acres. In theory, there’s room for everyone, but when I bumped into other hunters multiple times a mile from the truck, I knew I should’ve picked another spot to hunt or perhaps another WMA. This was turkey-hunting pressure like I’d never witnessed before. I’m not complaining about the other hunters; all had the equal right I did to be there. But, I can’t stand competing for a turkey.

Public Land Etiquette
How do you handle other hunters when turkey hunting on public land?

If you reside in the East, South or even in the Midwest, I’m sure other turkey hunters have foiled your hunts a time or several. Maybe you’ve even screwed up hunts for other hunters. The problem is that many turkey hunters look at hunting on public lands the same way deer hunters do: there’s enough room for everyone. But, due to the nature of turkey hunting, I don’t believe a given parcel can support the same number of turkey hunters as it can deer hunters. Here’s why.

Hunting Style

Most archery deer hunters assume a stationary setup, usually in a treestand 20 yards from deer trails. When two hunters on an 80-acre parcel are settled in, they won’t bump into one another. In contrast, when two or more hunters go turkey hunting on that same 80-acre parcel, they’re both attempting to move in on a gobbling tom, possibly moving between locations throughout the day. The more you move, the more likely you’ll interfere with one another’s hunts.

Deer hunting is different in that two hunters could setup 300-400 yards apart on that 80-acre parcel and see completely different deer. It’s possible, depending on the terrain and wind, that you’ll hear one another if you rattle, but you’ll also be able to reach different bucks than one another. You’re blind calling, where with turkey hunting, the goal is to move in on a gobbling tom. If you both do that, you’ll be competing for one group of birds or even just one tom.

Public Land Etiquette
It takes a lot more ground to support multiple turkey hunters than it does deer hunters.

Supply and Demand

While an 80-acre parcel might seem like it can hold enough turkeys for two or three hunters, suppose that turkeys utilize only 10 percent of the parcel and then spend the rest of their time on adjacent private lands. Or, you’re in an area with a low turkey density. In this case, hunting the property when another vehicle is already in the parking area is inconsiderate.

If you’ve scouted and know that only one tom has been gobbling on that parcel, you’ll be hunting the same bird as anyone else already parked there. You’d be upset if someone else arrived later than you and moved in on the same bird you’re going after, so don’t do it to them. It’s senseless and inconsiderate to move in on the only gobbling tom on the property when another hunter arrived first. Tip your hat and drive to another property.

When working with a larger-acreage parcel, maybe 300 acres, don’t sweat if two other vehicles are already parked there. 300 acres make up a big chunk of ground and should support three hunters if the entire property is turkey habitat. It’s possible to bump into one another, but that’s just the nature of public-land hunting. You can’t avoid it 100 percent of the time. If there are multiple parking areas, maybe check the other ones. If empty, this will enable you to come in from a different angle.

If you pull up to the parking area of a 200-acre parcel and three vehicles are already there, go hunt another property. You’ll very likely jeopardize the others’ hunts if you go in there. Remember, everyone will be moving around and calling. Likewise, if you pull up to a 20- to 40-acre parcel and one vehicle is already there, go for plan B and hunt another property.

Public Land Etiquette
A little courtesy and common sense goes a long way when it comes to making decisions about hunting crowded public lands.

Discuss Game Plans With Other Hunters

If you arrive at a parking area at the same time, before or slightly after another hunter, be courteous, walk over and introduce yourself. Don’t pose aggressively. Be polite. Explain your game plan and the area you plan to head for, and if it conflicts with the other hunter’s game plan, someone will have to bow out. If you arrived after the other hunter, that’s your cue to go with plan B.

I know this piece is about turkey hunting on public land, though I can’t help but reminisce on a Wyoming antelope hunt where I arrived to a pre-determined parcel first and began sneaking from hay bale to hay bale toward some goats. Suddenly, a vehicle slowed down and stopped along the road. My vehicle was plainly visible in the designated parking area, plus I was wearing blaze orange. 

The other hunters knew I was hunting the group of antelope, but they got their gear and started doing the same thing I was anyway. I almost couldn’t believe it. Don’t be like those ridiculous hunters. If someone else beats you to a spot, don’t try to kill an animal out from under them. Choose another location to hunt so that we all have breathing room.

Closing Thoughts

The option to hunt on public lands is incredible since so much private land is being leased. In general, you’ll work harder to kill birds, but I’ve pulled enough toms off public lands to know that great opportunities exist. But, we all must take into account the fact that other hunters depend on the same public lands we do for their own hunting opportunities.

If we all do our parts to be courteous and not crowd public parcels, everyone will enjoy far better turkey hunting. We won’t bump into one another as often, plus the turkeys will act right when hunters aren’t coming at them from every angle. In my opinion, every public-land turkey hunter should have that goal.

Darron McDougal
Darron McDougal is a full-time freelance outdoor writer/editor who lives in Antigo, WI with his bride, Becca. He's hunted in 12 states and successfully taken elk, bear, hogs, turkeys, pronghorn, whitetails, and mule deer, most with archery equipment on DIY hunts. The McDougals enjoy all things hunting and shooting. They believe in God and love to travel.
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