It was the third morning in a row I'd gotten up three hours before first light to drive from southeastern Minnesota to southwestern Wisconsin. A late-season turkey tag in my pocket was my motivation, and the Tiffany Wildlife Area was my destination. The 13,000-acre public property, which sits in in the heart of big buck country, also plays host to plenty of eastern gobblers.
My problem was that those gobblers had been hunted for weeks already. And that the bottoms for the most part, looked more like a suitable fishing spot than a place to whack a last-minute turkey. May rain showers had swelled the Chippewa River and most of the low-lying turkey spots were under water.
I'd waded through floodwaters and sat through the rain nearly nonstop for two days already and was edging closer to giving up on my tag entirely when I parked in the predawn darkness and consulted my maps and aerial photography. There was a private field bordering a high ridge on the public that looked awful tempting, but I knew getting there meant I'd need to wade. I also knew that no one else had probably made the attempt, at least within the last couple of weeks.
As soon as it was light enough to see, I slipped down into the ditch and then into the water. I wasn't worried about making too much noise because the rain was coming down hard enough to where the sound of it was general and it drowned out my own measured sloshing. After half of an hour, I made it to the spot I'd marked on my photos and climbed up the ridge. Through the trees I could see the distant alfalfa field, and knew it would take something special to get a bird to cross from that private buffet to the public rain-soaked ridge on which I settled in.
I'd been calling to those public-land birds for two days, and while I'd heard a few courtesy gobbles, that was about it. I was thinking about that less-than-stellar track record when after my first calling sequence a red head popped out of the foliage not 25 yards from me. I knew he was a jake, but unfortunately for him I don't trophy hunt turkeys. I'll admit it felt pretty satisfying to carry that bird back through the flooded slough to my truck, the whole time thinking that it would have never happened without being able to access some lightly pressured, hard-to-get-to ground.
Turkeys By The Deer Playbook
Public-land deer hunters understand that all of the good stuff happens where people are less likely to go. This is true in the turkey woods as well, but isn't nearly as common of a hunting strategy. Maybe it's because most hunters don't want to work as hard for a bird. Generally speaking though, if it requires a serious hike, a climb, or involves a bit of wading, most turkey hunters won't do it.
This is good news for you if you're willing to put in a little extra effort. My general rules when I'm hunting pressured ground — especially public land — is to study aerial photography and figure out where most hunters are likely to spend their time. Easy access, field edges, and normal turkey-looking spots like meadows and clearings, are all off my list.
Take a look at the hills you could climb, or the rivers you might be able to cross to start narrowing down less-pressured areas. If you have to go straight up for a while, or wade a stream or a river, you'll leave an awful lot of competition behind. Don't worry if the ridgetop doesn't have a dreamy two-acre meadow, or the chunk of woods across the stream doesn't also border a picked cornfield. Once the woods have started to green up, turkeys can find food just about anywhere, so calories alone won't be the driving force — but safety will.
They'll naturally migrate to places where people aren't constantly trying to shoot them in the face with a shotgun, and that's where you should go as well. But be prepared, you'll need the right gear to get there.
Treat your deep-woods turkey hunt more like a day-excursion for elk. Layer up, carry the right pack, and think about exactly what you really need for a day of hunting. Plan accordingly with decoys and bulky gear to streamline your setup. And then, take a look at your feet.
Many of us only consider wearing specific boots for turkeys when we're down south where we might step on a venomous snake. In this case, LaCrosse Footwear's Venom Snake Boot in Mossy Oak NWTF Obsession is a good choice, of course. For the rest of the country, it is very hard to beat the Alphaburly Pro.
These are my go-to public-land boots for a few reasons. The first is that they are the only knee-highs I'm comfortable hiking all day while wearing. That means I can wade through plenty of water without getting soaked, and can hike up bluffs without getting blisters. The secret to this is a combination of scent-free rubber and insulating neoprene along with a cushioning and highly comfortable EVA Midsole. Alphaburly Pros also feature an adjustable rear gusset so you can cinch them up for a perfect fit and don't have that annoying calf-slapping thing going on with most poor-fitting knee-highs.
These boots weigh less than five pounds per pair, and are offered in a non-insulated version, which is usually the best way to go for turkey season (for deer season I opt for the 1000G or 1600G versions depending on the timing of the season). If you're not into buying a pair solely for turkey season, opt for a mid-level insulation boot to have the best of both worlds throughout the entire year from spring turkey hunts to November mornings on deer stand.
The reality for many of us is we're hunting places where the easy animals don't exist. That means we've got to work to get to where the best hunting is, and that often means pulling on a pair of knee-highs and covering enough ground to leave the competition behind. If that's sound about right, outfit yourself with boots that you'll want to wear all day long while getting to where others won't go.