Let’s face it. A thick-bearded gobbler strutting across a lush, green river bottom is about the best sight there is to a spring turkey hunter. I’m fired up just thinking about it.
Because of that, turkey hunting is one of America’s greatest pastimes. Millions of hunters take to the woods every spring in pursuit of a longbeard. Some of them are successful. Some of them aren’t. But those who are tend to exhibit a few traits that unsuccessful turkey hunters don’t always have.
I went on a turkey hunt a few years ago with some great friends and fellow outdoor communicators. I was in camp with Phillip Vanderpool, host of The Virtue, Jay Jackson, cohost of The Virtue, Brandon Butler, executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri, and Brandon’s father. We were hunting Arkansas public land turkeys.
As a matter of fact, we were staying on a houseboat on Bull Shoals Lake courtesy of the Bull Shoals Boat Dock and Marina. And let me tell you, that hunt tested our character. It rained for two and a half days of the three-day hunt. Good friend Brandon Butler managed to knock one down in the rain early in the hunt. The rest of us didn’t fare so well, even when the sun finally popped out for the few hours that it did.
All of that aside, we had a great hunt and a great time. The facilities were nice. The hunting was fun even though it was difficult. And the camaraderie was outstanding. It was turkey camp in its greatest form. And while we didn’t kill a bird, you better believe these eight traits were exhibited by each and every one of us.
Here’s a rundown on the 8 virtues of a successful turkey hunter…
A true turkey hunter is a prepared turkey hunter. Scouting for turkeys. Patterning a shotgun. Prepping gear. All of that prepares someone for the hunt.
Make a checklist. Know what you need to do well before the season opens. Have a list of gear you need to repair or replace.
Have a list of goals. Remember those goals, and work toward them. That’s all part of the preparedness concept, too.
Practice your craft. Make it your personal project to learn a new turkey call each spring. Learn how to use a diaphragm call. It takes practice, which falls right in line with preparedness.
A good turkey hunter is also an aware turkey hunter. You can’t be successful if you don’t know what’s going on. Know what’s happening around you.
Be mindful of surroundings. Did you hear that faint gobble way off in the distance? Or were you too busy looking at your phone? Keep your senses—mainly sight and hearing—in tune.
Pay attention to detail. It’s the little things that often seal the deal. Look for sign while scouting and hunting. You won’t see that line of strut marks in the soil unless you’re paying close attention. Tracks will go unnoticed unless you keep a serious eye out. Keep your eyes peeled.
Most hunters don’t kill a turkey on their first hunt. As a matter of fact, most hunters don’t kill one in their first season. But it can be done with a little determination.
This trait is the one that will drive most of the others. Preparedness, awareness, wisdom, and patience are all hard to develop without determination. But if a hunter has determination, and stays determined throughout the season, the odds of success increase significantly.
A good turkey hunter is smart. But a great turkey hunter has true wisdom. It’s not easy to obtain, especially without spending a great number of years in the turkey woods. Wisdom is something that is earned, not given. And the only way to earn it is by getting out there, making mistakes, and doing things different ways.
Wisdom is what helps turkey hunters to make tough decisions. As mentioned, true wisdom comes from experience. Wise turkey hunters know how to react in certain situations. That offers a big leg up.
Hunting is all about patience. You can’t hunt if you aren’t patient. Just about every hunt I go on results in
Patience will sooner or later pay off in a turkey for the table.the game I’m after getting away. Do I fill my tags? Yes. Sure do. But it usually takes time. At times you can go out and kill one on opening day. Sometimes it takes a week or two before you punch a tag. Other times it takes a whole season or longer. That’s hunting.
If you don’t stay patient, you may not capitalize when an opportunity finally does present itself. Stay focused. Keep cool. Keep that anxiety under control. Don’t allow your ADD and ADHD to get the best of you, and the moment of truth will prove deadly for that turkey.
This is another extremely important virtue to exhibit as a turkey hunter. One particular tom comes to mind. I’d been hunting a gobbler all day. We played cat and mouse, back and forth, or whatever else you want to call it for hours. It wasn’t until the fifth or sixth setup that I finally connected with that longbeard. Keep going…even when the going gets tough.
Stay up even when everything is looking down. That’s the message for everyone. Employ a glass-half-full thought process. Not a glass-half-empty outlook. Stay optimistic, and it will be much more fun. People gravitate to that type of behavior. Remember what you’re there for. Hunting is supposed to be fun. Don’t allow the pressure of filling a tag to become the sole focus.
So you finally score on a longbeard. You shoot that big-bearded gobbler, and he weighs upward of 28 pounds, has 1½-inch spurs, and sports an 11-inch beard. That’s a trophy tom no doubt. But don’t let it go to your head. Stay humble and kind. Keep humility at the forefront.
THE BIG MESSAGE
It’s important to remember that—just like on my Arkansas trip—good turkey hunters don’t always kill a bird. Phillip Vanderpool and Jay Jackson are great turkey hunters. I’ve killed a couple in my day, too. But none of us took one home. So remember, just because you don’t kill a bird doesn’t mean you aren’t a good turkey hunter. But good, successful turkey hunters—who consistently kill turkeys—definitely exhibit these eight character traits.