Hit the Road for Spring Gobblers

Spring competes with fall as one of bowhunting’s most special times. Everything seems to come alive once the snow melts and temperatures subside. The liveliest of them all are undeniably spring gobblers. Their boisterous gobbles and spit-and-drum sequences practically shake the ground. The sounds never get old.

While I absolutely love bowhunting for strutting toms near my hometown in Wisconsin, I’ve found road trips offer chances to expand my spring season and see new country I otherwise wouldn’t.

If you’re considering a turkey road trip, I highly recommend it. Let’s review some logistics and considerations before you go hit the road for spring gobblers.

McDougal cruises dirt roads near public land to scout for bird habitat during a recent road-trip turkey hunt.

McDougal cruises dirt roads near public land to scout for bird habitat during a recent road-trip turkey hunt.

Choose a State

First, you must choose a destination. States where you must apply for permits have long conducted their drawings.

Author Darron McDougal arrowed this boss gobbler from a well-placed ground blind in South Dakota.

However, many states offer over-the-counter turkey tags at reasonable prices. Do some research and assemble a list of states offering OTC tags, then begin eliminating places you’re less interested in hunting.

If you’re from the East or Midwest, I’d recommend a road trip for Merriam’s turkeys out West or Rio Grande turkeys in Texas. These birds are quite visible, and they’re more call-responsive than the Eastern subspecies. I’ve hunted Merriam’s and Hybrids in South Dakota and Nebraska with outstanding success.

Wherever you choose, make the trip dual purpose. For example, consider tapping a new part of the country you’ve never seen, choose somewhere to also see a friend or relative, or hunt a place you’ve considered as a potential whitetail destination. These are all ways to kill two birds with one stone.

Public Land, Private Land or Guided

Once you’ve selected a state or perhaps a couple states, there’s more to consider before you launch your mission. A guided turkey hunt is spendy as compared to a public-land DIY hunt. However, if money isn’t an issue, guided hunts obviously boost your chances or even guarantee a shot opportunity, especially if you have only a few days to hunt.

Of course, tapping on doors to gain hunting access is a real possibility, too. Landowners typically grant access more willingly for turkeys than for big game. I did this in Nebraska when public lands weren’t producing, and within three knocks, I had a 13-acre parcel at my disposal that held at least two toms, several jakes and a hen mob. I flattened one of the toms during my first morning hunt there.

Personally, though, I thrive on challenges. I love taking a state, narrowing down an area, mapping out public lands, and studying aerial imagery. I love the freedom of making my own choices. Plus, I like to explore new areas every chance I get. This is a great way to turn over new whitetail hotspots and even choose stand locations so you can be more effective when you return for whitetails in the fall.

When hunting public lands, I hunt as far from large towns as possible. Automatically, that means I deal with less pressure from other hunters. I also try to hunt on weekdays as much as possible to avoid the weekend horde.

This photo exemplifies that you must know what habitat to look for when hunting gobblers away from home. Ask yourself this question: “Would I have hunted a place like this?”

This photo exemplifies that you must know what habitat to look for when hunting gobblers away from home. Ask yourself this question: “Would I have hunted a place like this?”

Lodging

Where you lodge depends upon the weather and your budget. In the South, tent camping is great for penny-pinchers. Or, a camper equipped with a working furnace is a viable option just about anywhere. Depending on where you hunt, tent camping can be dicey with spring’s uncertain conditions. In Wisconsin, for example, we’ve had white-out blizzard conditions in May. Your stay could become more adventurous than you bargained for.

My wife and I lodged at an inexpensive motel during a recent Nebraska hunt. If you forget hotels with pools, hot tubs and full breakfasts, you can save a lot of money. Of course, you’ll want to choose one with good reviews and a friendly staff.

Behind and to the right of the author are the trees where this gobbler and his flock roosted while McDougal and wife Rebecca plotted an ambush. They’re the only roosting trees within a ½ mile.

Behind and to the right of the author are the trees where this gobbler and his flock roosted while McDougal and wife Rebecca plotted an ambush. They’re the only roosting trees within a ½ mile.

Find the Birds and Hunt Wisely

Hunting new turf can be challenging. First, you cannot kill gobblers where they don’t exist. You must know what type of habitat turkeys occupy in your newfound hunting spot. Generally, solid bets are anywhere with tree-lined river bottoms, farm fields or pine plantations.

In South Dakota, I found birds on an area most people overlook by heeding a tip from my brother. The public parcel has a cattail marsh, maybe a dozen colossal cottonwood trees and a couple blocks of smaller trees. It also has a long dyke. You can see across the property from every direction; that’s how treeless it is. I guarantee people drive past it all the time.

My wife and I rolled up to the parcel one evening just before dark. Sure enough, one of the giant dead cottonwoods was lined with dark puffs. We returned before dawn the following morning, quietly popped our blind 175 yards from the birds atop the dyke, and plugged decoys into the soil.

At dawn, the birds pitched off the roost, and hens soon surrounded our decoys. The boss tom followed, and I arrowed him as he flogged my Dave Smith Jake Decoy 4 yards away. The lesson: know what habitat to look for. If you’re unsure, talk with locals and learn about the birds and their habits. Finding turkeys on public land is not as difficult as some people make it.

Another South Dakota gobbler taken by McDougal during his road-trip bowhunt.

Another South Dakota gobbler taken by McDougal during his road-trip bowhunt.

Why You Should Road Trip for Turkeys This Spring

A spring-gobbler road trip is an exciting way to see new country and expand your hunting season. It’s also a great way to discover new whitetail destinations before committing to an expensive buck or either-sex deer tag.

With the considerations I’ve presented here, you still have plenty of time to embark on a turkey road trip this spring. If you’ve never done it before, I’m sure you’ll become hooked. And, if you succeed earlier than planned, have another state lined up so you can border-hop and keep hunting.

 

Darron McDougal

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.
Darron McDougal

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