My 5 Phase Plan For Wild Turkey Hunting

COLUMN-HEAD Sponsored by: Robinson OutdoorsTree Spider ScentBlocker Products

By: Jason Herbert
By: Jason Herbert

After 6 hours in a new turkey hunting location it was 11:00 am and my game bag was empty.  Many hunters would have left the woods already but, not me. I was sticking to my 5-Phase turkey hunting plan. Only 25 minutes later my plan came together.  Three longbeard gobblers responded to my sweet calls and they approached like they had read my plan.  By 11:30 am, I slung one giant Tom over my shoulder and walked back to the truck. Success!

As much as I love to hunt wild turkeys, sitting through uneventful hours is a challenge. When I began hunting wild turkeys, I hunted the same spot until nine o’clock and then returned home. On the way, I often saw Toms strutting. Because of my observations, I soon realized something was wrong with my turkey hunting process. After this time of “enlightenment”, I developed a solid plan to hunt turkeys … in phases. My 5 Phase Plan has worked very well for me, and I think it will work for you too!

Turkey down and it's time to head for home.
The gobbler is down and it’s time to head for home.

The key to my plan is each phase of the hunt focuses on the times of the day that typically corresponds to certain turkey behaviors. I hate wearing a watch, but when I am executing my hunting plan, I use the clock on my cellphone to keep me on track, work my hunting phases and remain disciplined. If I get bored or distracted, hunting time seems to move very slowly, and the clock keeps me honest.  Before leaving for a turkey hunt, I make sure I have supplies, food, and water … because I don’t plan to come home until a gobbler is down or it’s dark.

Always check local hunting regulations any time you are in a new area. In my area hunting is permitted all day, however, in some states, you may not be able to do so. Either way, maximize your time in the field and invest your time wisely.

I have a dedicated process for preparing for the hunt.  I usually dress in Scent Blocker Merino wool base layers, followed up with my Recon pants or Spider Web Recon safety bibs. On top, I’ll wear the Trinity 1.5 Performance shirt and one of my ScentBlocker hoodies. Scent control doesn’t matter for turkeys, but I like to use it in the spring anyway for a few reasons. First, I don’t want to spook any deer! Spooked Deer will alarm any nearby turkeys and send them running.  Secondly, I like to shoot coyotes whenever possible, and they are very active in the spring. Being scent free is crucial for bagging a coyote.

Biting bugs like mosquitoes and ticks come out in full force as the weather gets warmer through the Spring season. Not only are biting bugs annoying, but the can also be dangerous! New bacteria and viruses are introduced to us each year, I do not desire to become an all-you-can-eat buffet for the local insects! To keep biting bugs away, I rely on Scent Blocker’s Bug Blocker Insect Repellent for Mosquitos and Bug Blocker Insect Repellent for Ticks to keep me safe and comfortable.

US Army vet adn friend Varren Davis poses with Author with a bird he guided him on. Congratulations and thank you go out to Varren.
Author poses with BugBlaster and a his Eastern gobbler.

When I scout or hunt wild turkeys I always have my Torched Turkey hunting vest. I love this vest for several reasons. First and foremost, it is comfortable. I can either sit on a short stool and use the folding pad as a backrest, or flip it down and sit on the pad.

I’m really unorganized, and this vest has pockets everywhere. I might not always know exactly where I put something, but I can guarantee it’s in the Torched Turkey vest. I like the ability to sit as still as possible while scavenging through my vest for the perfect call. And when the hunt is over, the Torched Turkey vest has a huge bright orange safety flag that folds out of the back for a safe carry of a gobbler through the woods on the way to the truck.

Phase One – Roost Sites

Now back to my detailed plan. The first phase of the plan is the hunt at first light before the song birds start chirping. When the birds start to chirp, the turkeys wake up. If possible, sneaking in before they are awake decreases my chances of getting busted. At this early point, I like to get as close to roosting areas as possible. The idea is to be as close when the gobblers fly down and start to gather their hens. Hopefully, my decoys and soft calling will catch their attention and bring them into range.

After the turkeys fly down, this area will be my key area to hunt for several hours.  The birds will mill around, feed, flock together and eventually head off to other areas.  If I have not killed a Tom in phase one, I switch to phase two around 9:00 am.

Phase Two – Strut Zones

Phase two consists of moving to pre-scouted strutting zone. A strutting zone is an open area where a tom can strut and be seen showing off from far away. I prefer to hunt field edges during this portion of my hunt. If you do not have access to fields, try open ridge tops or flat river bottoms. When I move to a new spot, I get to stretch, re-charge my batteries and re-focus. I quickly get set up and start calling. Sometimes I use a decoy if the terrain works for its use.  Around mid-morning, the hens leave the toms and return to their nests to tend their eggs.

At this point, the lonely toms will try to find and swoon more lonely hens. Usually, they will head to a strut zone to show off a bit, hoping to find a new girl. I like to beat them there. These strutting toms are usually pretty cooperative to calling efforts. I have found, hunting the strut zones till about noon or shortly after works very well.

Depending on conditions and if birds respond, I now make a crucial decision to stay or go.

I am blessed with access to many small tracts of property for wild turkey hunting. Frequently, I am ready for a change so I often drive to another property. When I get to the new property, I head straight to a strut zone. This can be a difficult, as I am arriving at the new location, during midday, and the toms might’ve already beaten me to the fields. This situation is fine, but be careful approaching the area so you don’t spook any turkeys. I’ll just set up as close as possible and start working them. If there are no birds in the strut zone, then I quickly and quietly get set up, because the birds will not be far away. One memorable hunt occurred on a high point in a hayfield, yielding a perfect strut zone. The toms came in on a string as I started calling, because, at that point in the day, their hens were on nests, and this new “girl” in town caught their attention. I am quite sure, if I had been in that spot all morning, calling the entire time, the birds would not have responded.

If the second strut zone doesn’t pay off after a few hours, hop back in the truck and drive to a third, fourth, and fifth area. Keep checking all of your known strut zones at this time.  I have called in several nice gobblers into range late in the afternoon and early evening hours by setting up in these areas. I have noticed at this time of day, they don’t gobble as much, so keep your eyes peeled. A gobbler may come in very quietly.

A Trick For You

If you can’t go to another property, I have a trick for you. Pretend like you left your hunting area.  By now, every turkey in the area has heard your calls, so take a break. This is hard to do for a lot of turkey hunters, but it is important the calling stops for a while.

Pnase Three – Dust Bowl

Around 1 PM, I move and set up near a dust bowl. Turkeys need to dust frequently to rid themselves of irritating mites, and dust bowls are a wild turkey’s midday social gathering spot. If an active dust bowl is accessible, sit by it for a few hours in the early afternoon. Be patient because eventually birds will show up.

Phase Four – Run And Gun

Around 3:00 pm my next phase of hunting kicks in as I change strategies and tactics.  I’ll start “running and gunning”. I wander around the property slowly, taking cover where possible, calling the entire time. On the run and gun I change calls and mix up the cadence as well.

Turkey calls tend to lose their effectiveness each time they are used,
so a fresh set of calls and a new style can really change your luck.

Walk to all of your old spots, calling and listening. Keep it up till you find a Tom to work or until it gets to be evening.

Another successful day with Varren and author pose with a nice gobbler.
Another successful day with  US Army vet and friend Varren Davis and author as they pose with a nice gobbler.

Phase Five – LastCall

On my final phase, late afternoon or early evening, I return to where the day’s hunt began.  The hunt has come full circle, and I’m back to the roosting area. The turkeys will need to come back to roost eventually, so this is a great time to set up. Be very patient near a roost area, I do not call or use a decoy.

If you do not kill a gobbler this way, listen for roost gobbling because if you hear it, this is tomorrow mornings new starting point. Toms will typically gobble quite a bit before dark, trying to gather an inventory of hens into the roost area.

By having a plan, managing time and exercising some self-discipline, I have become a much better wild turkey hunter, maximizing my efforts to hunt the area’s turkeys throughout the day.  Many of the toms that I’ve harvested, were taken after 10:00 am and may have been on the second or third tract of property I hunted in a single day.  For the greatest success afield, it’s best to hunt where the wild turkeys go through their daily routine. Stick to your plan to be there when they are. It will pay off big!

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