Hunting Public Land Turkeys

turkey hunting

public land gobbler

Tips for Fooling Public Land Turkeys

  • Lots of scouting- Find where the public land gobblers are hanging out
  • Locate less pressured gobblers- There are areas on public land, that has less pressure
  • Plan your hunt- Planning your hunt before opening morning can make all the difference
  • Locate more than one roost tree- Having a few roosting areas increases your chances when hunting public land gobblers

Hunting Public Land Gobblers

There are two definitions of longbeard and it might take both to describe the longbeard turkey.

1.) longbeard A tom turkey with an exceptionally long beard. I guess this holds true but I’ve dealt with some pretty wise old toms without exceptionally long beards. This leads us to definition #2
2.) longbeard An older man who may or may not be wise, but has plenty of wisdom to share. Wise for sure. I’ve yet to meet a public land longbeard that didn’t have plenty of wisdom to share.

Public land usually gets a bad rap as horror stories have been told for generations now. I have plenty of drama and spoiled hunts on private ground even on my own ground. Public land can be frustrating. With other hunters setting up on the same turkey. They usually booger a bird after you’ve spent the morning working it into your area. That’s longbeards on public land. These are just a couple scenarios that have happened to me when hunting public land turkeys. There are a few others as well. You can either compete with the other hunters for the longbeards affections or use the other hunters calling to bring the turkey to you.

This tactic is determined by the location of the other hunters. If they are setup and calling between you and the gobbler then sit tight and don’t call. Many times you are at an advantage, especially with public land gobblers, when the turkey hears some hens beyond your location and feels less cautious as it makes its way past you on his way to the distant calls. However, when there are 3 or 4 other turkey hunters in the area you never know what might happen and usually it the opposite of what you think.

Longbeards on Public Land
2019 Turkey camp. Ken McBroom
My turkey hunt takes place on public land that I have enjoyed hunting for many years. I know there are lots of turkeys but like the deer they can be challenging to fool. As a bowhunter I am no stranger to challenges and accept them with open arms. This particular hunt was a quota hunt that I was fortunate enough to draw. I decided to take my new to me truck camper and camp a few days before the opener. I had planned to use my jon boat to access an oak grove across the lake where I struck a gobbler a few days prior while crappie fishing/ turkey scouting. When I arrived the small primitive campground was slap full and looked like turkey hunters too. I knew if anyone got up early enough they would hear that gobbler across the lake so I switched gears.

Switching Gears On Public Land Turkeys

I remembered a turkey that I saw while squirrel hunting our spring squirrel season hear in Kentucky and made my way there and set up camp along the roadside. I was sure there was at least one turkey in the area but the next morning at sunrise as I sneaked up an old dry creek bed I began to hear gobblers everywhere. You’re not allowed to call leading up to the opener. That didn’t matter. The turkeys were talking and I was smack in the middle of them. I was excited for the hunt. I knew that I wouldn’t be alone in pursuing these birds, but there seemed to be enough to go around as I counted no less than 10 gobblers within a mile of camp and I actually saw 6 all of which were shooters.
It wasn’t long until I was called upon by a couple public land hunters that planned to hunt these turkeys. I told them there was plenty in here to just park by my truck and head in opening morning. They insisted they had plenty other places to hunt and that they were just there to keep the turkeys “scared back” as he called it. He would drive back and forth along the gravel road at a high rate of speed every evening to keep the turkeys that crossed right where my camp was sitting of course. So they did every day and they stopped to talk every day. A lot of drama not going to go there here.

The Night Before My Public Land Turkey Hunt

The night before opening morning there was a pack of coyotes hunting all around the camper. They were very loud and I wondered if they would have the turkeys boogered for the hunt. That morning I rose well before daylight and dressed to the sounds of my percolator on the camper stove. I enjoyed a cup of coffee surprised that no one had came yet to hunt these birds. I thought maybe I was in luck as I hadn’t seen anyone other than the couple that drove up and down the road to “scare back” the turkeys. The morning was quiet and anticipation was high.

The Morning Of The Turkey Hunt

I finally started my way up the loose stones in the dry creek bed, the perfect way to access an area to hunt by the way. It was still an hour before daylight. I wanted to get back there early to beat other hunters which I found out later you can’t really do that especially when you have a turkey gobbling its head off well before sun up. I passed two gobblers that were on the roost only because I knew that anyone coming in would surely stop on those birds. So I went deeper and soon heard the most vocal gobbler I’ve ever witnessed. One reason was some hens cackling behind me even before daylight then at least 3 other hunters moved in on the gobbler and started calling. I never called to him in hopes that he would make his way to the real hens cackling behind me.

Finally after 3 hours the turkey flew down. Keep in mind I could actually see the gobbler the whole time once the sun came up and the fog cleared. One of the hunters was calling literally every couple minutes and I was afraid it might stay roosted trying to get the hens to come to him and that’s what happened. The bird finally flew down and of course went away from any of the calling probably because he knew that the real hens had already hit the ridges and this hen over by the creek bed wasn’t real or it would have came over to him or at least moved a little in the 3 hours it was calling. Never over-call to a roosted gobbler if you want him to fly down before lunch time.

Fooling Public Land Gobblers
Let’s Dance Ken McBroom

Making A Move On A Public Land Turkey Before Daylight

I decided when the gobbler left the area of his roost to make a move to try and intercept him. I was successful in getting in its path. It was still gobbling in my direction but finally shut up and he was gone. He was close so maybe he saw me. I only called once and he responded and I shut up because he was coming. Maybe I should have hit the call one more time but he was so close I didn’t want to move.
I eased around the ridgeline calling every 100 yards or so but could not strike the old tom again. I kept moving and calling. By now it was 11:30 am and the wind was starting to rustle the branches above. They were just beginning to bud and the temps were nice and comfortable. The wind was going to make it more difficult to hear a gobbler but I marched on. Now at least 2 miles in I started to walk the ridges. I was hunting a cutover and knew that I would be exposed if I did strike a turkey. It would have to be the perfect or almost perfect situation to get a shot. It wasn’t long before that almost perfect situation presented itself to me on a barren ridge top with little cover.

Striking A Gobbler On Public Land

I struck a gobbler that was over on the next ridge. He answered quick and deliberate and within a couple minutes and another gobble I knew he was coming. He shut up for several minutes and I didn’t dare call unless I had to. The wait was agonizing for fear that he was moving off but finally he gobbled and he was close. I am so glad I didn’t call to him. He either was walking from the other ridge to mine or he had flown over and was slowly getting to where he knew he heard a hen.

Finally I got a glimpse of the gobbler. I could see its glowing red head as it strutted below me about 70 yards away. The woods he was in was old growth and open but he was reluctant to move into the cutover even though it had more under story. I believe he knew he was exposed to hawks and eagles. In the cutover, with the sun high in the sky, visibility was excellent when looking from above. The tom finally eased up the spur to within 50 yards. Still to far away for an ethical shot with my 20 ga Mossberg. I could hear him spitting and drumming as he tried his best to lure the hen he thought was in the cutover.

The Turkey Would Not Get Any Closer

The old gobbler would not come any closer and I knew that I would have to do something because I was way to exposed to move and my mouth calls just are not good enough to call this close. I just can’t keep the pitch low enough when I use a diaphragm even though I used it to get him this close I didn’t dare use it now. I decided I would risk it and let him move away so I could move. This is risky and knowing that he could just keep going or get nervous I had no choice. It was my only chance at killing the gobbler. I needed him to come another 10 yards at least. I would prefer 15 yards closer to feel more comfortable with taking the shot. The gobbler finally had enough of the hen in the cutover and moved down the spur.

When it was just out of sight I planned my 10 yard belly crawl. I just had to make it to a dead tree to set up and try and get him back. It wasn’t much of a move, but it was all the cover I had. If he came back to where he was I would be in range for the 20 gauge. I was able to get to the dead tree and even set up with my back against it.

This was a comfortable position after belly crawling with the fancy new turkey vest that has the frame inside. That was the first thing to go when I got home. It works great if you know where you’re going to sit. The frame kept me from looking up once I was on my belly. I felt claustrophobic as the frame stayed in my neck making the 10 yard crawl more difficult.

Calling The Gobbler Back

When I was set up I eased the box call out of its pocket and struck it lightly. I still couldn’t see that far into the big woods. My set up was about 10 yards from the edge of the cutover. I prayed the gobbler was just out of sight, as planned. When I hit the box call the gobbler responded almost instantly cutting me off at one yelp. I sat the box call next to me and readied the shotgun.

The gobbler was very close. I knew that my plan had worked perfectly to this point now to finish off the best turkey hunt of my life was at hand. I knew if the gobbler came to where he last strutted he would be in range but I hoped for a few more steps. Without anyone calling behind me I knew the turkey would probably stop where he stopped before which would be about 40 yards and within range.

The gobbler put on a show all the way back up that spur. He was convinced that the hen up there found him irresistible. He gobbled, strutted and spit and drummed every few steps. It was awesome and added to the hunt and the memories of it. Finally the gobbler made it as far as before and began to do his thing around the same small tree. I was ready for a shot but wanted him to come up that spur a few more steps. The increase in elevation would expose his jelly head perfectly as well as closing the distance just a little more. This wasn’t to be. To close for me to move to get my box call and way to close for me to use the diaphram in the roof of my mouth I finally decided to take the shot when I saw what might have been a bit of nervousness from the tom.
fooling public land gobblers
Cooling off after chasing longbeards on public land Ken McBroom
I found a small opening in the thicket that surrounded me. But, I had to hope he would put his head within that opening. Giving me a shot. By now the gobbler wanted to hear his girlfriend again. He was figuring out that this playing hard to get ain’t for me. I could hear him thinking this as he tucked his plumage tight to his body and stretched his head looking for the hen. The gobbler bobbed and weaved picking apart the thicket looking for the caller. I knew he was close to being done with this charade. Finally I saw that red head clearly fill that small opening just a few yards from my station and I lined up both beads and pulled the trigger.

The End To The Best Public Land Turkey Hunt Ever

I ran down the hill to grab my public land turkey. It had a 9 inch beard and maybe 3/4 inch spurs. Plenty good for me. A mature tom on public land. It was a good trek in to get it done. I always try to get away from the crowds. It was just hard to pass up 3 turkeys gobbling on the roost that morning. I am guessing the area is well known because as I said I only saw one couple scouting on the road. However that  opening morning the trucks came in heavy with multiple hunters per vehicle. I could see each one as I made it back to that first gobbler. The head start helped but they caught up to me. I had to get out of there to make it happen.

The hike out was tough and hot with no leaves to shade the woods. I’ve killed several good gobblers over the years but this was my first mature gobbler on public land. It proved, like many public land hunts, to be at the top of my list of favorite all time hunts.

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About Ken McBroom 218 Articles
Ken McBroom is an accomplished outdoor writer and photographer. Growing up in Lynchburg Tennessee allowed him many opportunities afield as a boy and young man. Later in life, after Desert Storm, Ken’s wanderlust took him to Alaska to live and work and experience the last frontier. Married now with two beautiful children, Ken now calls Kentucky home where he continues to communicate our American outdoor traditions and the lifestyle it offers.

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