“Have boots, will travel for toms” could be a slogan for some of the most successful public land turkey hunters I know.
Sure, hunters can kill a lot of nice birds from ground blinds on private farm tracts and leases (and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that), but of Pennsylvania’s more than 200,000 spring gobbler hunters- particularly public land hunters- those willing to put on the most miles are often rewarded for their efforts.
Biking for birds is one of the stealthiest ways to cover lots of ground.
On properties where hunting pressure increases the closer one gets to a parking lot, it pays to be willing to cover some ground. Looking back on past seasons, the majority of times when I’ve separated myself from the crowds, I’ve resultantly gotten into birds. Though killing a gobbler is not always the case, it does seem the further one ventures from the truck, the better the odds are of locating a tom that hasn’t already heard and seen it all.
Having a good awareness of hunting properties is beneficial, so topographic maps, Google earth/maps, and even an assortment of GPS-driven smart phone apps can turn out to be a hunter’s best friend. I like to stick to large State Game Land tracts with an abundance of seasonal maintenance roads, gas lines or other trails that provide easy navigation without worry of getting lost. These roads are typically gated but grant food and cover crews, timber cutters, and agency personnel special access to remote regions of the property when needed.
Though closed to motorized vehicles, most of these maintenance roads permit travel by foot, horseback, or mountain bike. The trails are almost always visible via satellite imagery, which perfectly lends them to a mobile run-and-gun style hunting approach. Stopping every couple hundred yards to try for a response with a locator call of choice is the ticket. When a gobbler sounds off, quickly get into position, preferably uphill from the bird, in the nearest clearing available. In a pinch, I’ve even staked out a lightweight decoy right in the middle of the path, ducked into the roadside cover and killed the gobbler minutes later. Don’t waste more time setting up than necessary, as unpressured birds will be eager to respond to calling in no time and could already be approaching.
Hunters with intentions of covering ground should seriously consider downsizing their gear load. While it’s nice to have an assortment of calls, I like to stick with one pot-style friction call, two strikers and a few diaphragm mouth calls to lighten the load. Dress for mobility, even if the weather is a little chilly at first light. As soon as the sun comes up, the temperatures will warm and shedding layers only adds weight to one’s hunting vest. Wear moisture wicking, breathable clothing and a hat with a vented back so heat can escape as needed. A comfortable, lightweight pair of boots should also be placed at the top of the priority list. Don’t underestimate the importance of having plenty of water to stay hydrated, and stash a few high-energy snacks, such as granola bars or apples, in your pockets to help stave off midmorning hunger.
Pack light and go in deep to find unpressured gobblers.
A sling provides comfortable transport of your hunting weapon, while maintaining hands-free functionality for working calls, steering a mountain bike or lugging that big-bearded strutter three miles back to the truck.
There’s no doubt that venturing off the beaten path for reclusive toms is a surefire way to get into more birds than hunters who stick close to the parking lot. You may discover a new favorite hunting area, you’ll have less competition to deal with, and you’ll be well on your way to getting in shape for summer beach season. Who knows, you just might kill the biggest gobbler of your life too! It’s a win-win all around.