Done right, “running and gunning” offers more reward than risk. Done wrong, and ‘ol Tommy Three Toes will drag his beard laughing all the way as he disappears through the brush. Knowing the difference and when to employ the right tactic is the difference between a turkey dinner and a long hike through the woods with a decoy.
My friends and I would play “war” and “cowboys and Indians” when we were kids. We’d act out scenes from our favorite movies and television shows and sometimes adopt the names of our favorite characters. We ran around the neighborhood hiding in the bushes and behind trees—crawling on our bellies to stay low so our “enemies” wouldn’t see us while we tried to set-up a good ambush.
By Jay Anglin
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, the evasion and covert skills I learned playing in the backyard would serve me well in the future. I play the same game today when I turkey hunt.
While hunting from a static position—such as from a ground blind—has increased in popularity over the years; there are still plenty of hunters who prefer to make things happen by covering a lot of ground while “running and gunning.” Don’t get the wrong impression, this turkey-hunting tactic doesn’t typically require actual running, and if all goes well, you’ll only have to fire one shot. It does, however, require stealth, tact, and patience.
Running and Gunning Basics
There are certain situations when mobile hunting tactics are neither feasible or advisable, such as when restricted to a small parcel of land or hunting around others on public ground. Consider whether your mobility could push birds off the property on which you have permission to hunt, jeopardize your safety or the safety of nearby hunters, or negatively impact someone else’s hunt. If so, sit tight or keep your movements to a smaller scale. Also consider any physical limitations you may have.
When moving through a property, avoid obstacles such as deadfalls, thorn bushes and deep water. Stay away from heavily forested areas on quiet, dry days, as they are often covered with crunchy leaf litter and twigs that snap underfoot. Land with a patchwork of lanes and trails are ideal, allowing hunters to carefully move along by foot or with an electric UTV to strike-up a gobbler.
Keep in mind; while these trails and lanes offer good visibility for the hunter, they also expose the hunter to the birds. Move slowly and quietly. Stay close to the edges, and use your binocular regularly to glass ahead of and behind your position. On windy days, use a louder call and call more often, but listen carefully, as the wind can obscure even the loudest gobbles. If it’s quiet, call less frequently and consider using a call with less volume. Always tailor your style to the conditions.
Turkeys can pinpoint sounds with great accuracy from surprisingly long distances. More often than not, when a bird answers he’ll be ready to work. However, that doesn’t mean he’s going to run right in.
When a gobbler is “hung-up,” he is essentially throwing the ball back in the hunter’s court. He’s waiting for a physical response. In other words, toms expect the hen to approach them. There are ways to deal with this situation.
Hens often scratch and poke around a given area for extended periods of time while foraging, so changing sound angles by using your hand or body to direct sound and project volume is a trick most experienced turkey hunters take advantage of to simulate a loafing or traveling hen. Move forward or backward 15 to 30 yards to change the call location. Move in a small circle from tree to tree. Scrape the leaf litter with a small branch or your hand to simulate a hen’s natural scratching sounds. If the terrain allows, try a flanking procedure by moving laterally 50 to 100 yards. Always have a realistic hen turkey decoy in your vest ready for rapid deployment to help finish a responsive gobbler.
Multiple callers yelping back and forth adds extra dimension to the calling presentation and the very same principals apply to solo hunting. A lone hunter can add a lot of realism and stack the odds in their favor by making even the slightest move on a bird.
When working through a property, always assess the immediate area before calling to solicit a response from a gobbler. Be sure sufficient cover is nearby such as a good tree to lean against and be sure to have a game plan in case a bird answers. Sometimes they do come running, and anybody who has witnessed a long-legged gobbler kick it into high gear knows they can cover a lot of ground in a hurry.
Specialized gear can help. High tech turkey vests are self-supporting with spring-loaded legs or some other system allowing the hunter to quickly and comfortably set-up on an approaching gobbler almost anywhere. Even tall grass, short shrubs, or small blow-downs will provide plenty of cover—no tree required.
Running and Gunning Tips
- Know the territory. Walk the property prior the season, study maps, and use satellite overheads such as the Google Earth smart-phone app.
- Plan an efficient route. Cover the greatest amount of territory in the least amount of time.
- Be cognizant of property lines and other nearby hunters.
- Travel light. Shed excess weight and bulk; wear clothing that allows for ease of movement, as well as comfortable, waterproof boots.
- Carry the appropriate locating calls, such as a loud box call and a crow call, as well as finishing calls such as diaphragms and pot calls.
- Use good binoculars and always scan for birds before moving. Gobblers don’t always vocalize, so always assume there is one watching and looking for the source of your calls.
- Avoid moving in the open when possible. Use heavy vegetation, creeks and ditches to mask your movement.
- Don’t move too quickly unless you have to cross an open area.
- Choose calling locations that provide a good vantage point with good listening potential. Avoid noisy creeks or windblown pines.
- Stay in the shadows while moving and calling whenever possible.
- When hunting with others, walk in a way that offers the least amount of profile, single-file or side-to-side, depending on where the birds are.
- Plan for physical exertion. Carry an energy bar and some water.
- Be sure your cell phone is fully charged before leaving your vehicle.
Set up close to the roost, get lucky with the fly-down, and you may never need to leave your hunting spot. But waiting out ol’ tom while napping in the shade of the hardwood isn’t always a turkey hunter’s best bet. Sure, going mobile has its risks and requires the right property—as well as some woodsmanship and tactical planning. But at the end of the hunt, you’re more likely to feel like you accomplished something—which just might include wrapping your tag around an old gobbler’s leg.