Even though hub-style blinds have started taking over in the turkey woods, there are still plenty of folks who like to slip along and put their back to a tree whenever — and wherever — the mood strikes. There’s nothing quite like a day spent running and gunning spring longbeards, and honestly, it’s a pretty simple proposition.
That doesn’t mean the strategy is fool-proof, however. Spend enough time running and gunning and you’ll realize that there are some mistakes that will cost you a gobbler.
Following are the three most common, and how you can avoid them.
All Run, No Gun
There’s a freedom to loading up a daypack, grabbing a decoy or two, and just going. The mobile mindset is a good one right up until the point where you want to keep covering ground when you should be taking a seat. It’s important to remember that the goal isn’t to just cover seven miles of turkey ground, but instead to sneak through as much cover as it takes to get inside a longbeard’s comfort zone.
This means that you should set out with a rough plan in mind. Know where you’ll park, where you want to hike, and why turkeys might be along your route. Naturally, a single gobbler can alter your direction at any moment, but that’s okay. If you don’t get derailed by a random tom, you still have a route that will take you along ridges, close to potential food sources, and maybe along a series of meadows. Not only is that a good idea so that if the action isn’t nonstop you’re still in the game, but it also gives you confidence to set up and wait when you should be doing exactly that.
There is no rule on how quickly a tom might respond, but if you can develop a run-and-gun route before the sun rises, you can plan to run through a series of 30- to 45-minute sits in prime spots. Enough of those, done correctly, will get you close enough to a gobbler to allow the conversation to start up. And hopefully, he’ll swipe right and strut in.
A few years ago I was hunting with a first-timer in the turkey woods. We got a mid-morning tom to gobble and so we slipped into the edge of the timber and I put my partner where I thought the bird would approach.
As I was calling, it was clear that I’d made a mistake because he was facing the wrong direction. I knew better, but didn’t really think through out setup and instead just plopped him down in a terrible spot in our haste to get set up. That Minnesota tom strutted into range, looked around, and left without either one of us taking our safety off because neither one of us was set up to shoot in the most likely approach direction.
When you do sit down, whether for a blind calling sequence or because a bird has sounded off, think about how he will likely approach and whether you can make the shot happen. If you have decoys out, imagine a bird giving you a drive-by without committing. Will he give you a shot or is the brush too thick? Can you move the shotgun 18 inches to your left if he hangs up, or get the barrel past the fallen log your tucked up into?
The worst situation for this mistake is when a bird gobbles close and it’s a scramble to sit anywhere, but remember, you’ve probably got more time than you think. Give yourself a chance by taking an extra 30 seconds to eyeball your situation and set up to shoot.
If possible, scratch away all of the dead leaves and branches in your chosen spot as well. Get down to bare dirt so if you need to pivot somehow to shoot, you can do it without sounding like you’re sitting on a bag of potato chips. The sounds of scratching leaves won’t spook nearby birds, and once in a while, puts them right into your lap without you even having to call.
Four years ago a buddy and I were getting our butts kicked during a May public-land hunt in Nebraska. A severe cold front had shut down the turkey activity and we could scarcely buy a gobble or a sighting.
Days into the trip, I hiked into a deep valley that is bisected by a small trout stream thinking I’d run and gun until the clock ran out at sunset. During my first setup, a bird hammered as soon as I called and within a minute I could see two stud toms working through the brush. After struggling so hard to see a bird for days, I panicked when those longbeards got within range and shot at the nearest one without waiting for the encounter to unfold.
The brush soaked up my shot and the nearest birds split, with one going away and the other turning right toward me. He strutted into the decoys, offering me a mulligan. It was a dumb, rushed shot involving a dumb bird and dumb luck, that ended up in a long hike out with a beautiful longbeard over my shoulder.
Unless a bird is putting and obviously spooked, take your time when one struts into range. If you’ve got a decoy out, you almost always have more time than it seems. Give yourself the chance to take a high odds shot as the encounter unfolds, because the worst thing you can do is rush it.
This is also a good reminder to keep paying attention during every setup. More than one run-and-gunner has been caught off guard by a silent approach, and the last thing you want to do is look up from your smartphone to see a red head staring in your direction at 30 yards. When he spooks, you’ll be tempted to swing and shoot, which is a great way to kill pheasants and grouse, but not turkeys.