The best turkey hunters on the planet have a few things in common, including: an insatiable desire to find, hunt and kill turkeys, a never-say-die attitude that pushes them to put beaks in the dirt no matter what—the best of the best always get their birds and they put in way more work than the average hunter. Simply put, turkey hunting is a lifestyle.
Don’t quote me on the specifics here, but a recent study I read indicated that fewer than 30% of turkey hunters nationwide are successful each season. Despite how accurate the stat may or may not be—I believe it—that number just reinforces how tough the birds are to hunt. Ultimately, that’s the allure for me and many others.
I’ve hunted turkeys for 25 years across 14 different states with a pretty reasonable success rate. However, I’ve had to eat quite a few tags and learned a lot of lessons the hard way. If I had a dollar for every hunt I messed up, I’d be pretty well off. But I continue to learn from those mistakes. In fact, I almost like making a mistake because it means I’m going to learn something new. You’ve got to have that sort of mindset.
I’ve succeeded mostly because I’m stubborn and willing to do things most hunters are not, such as hike miles into public land, wade knee-deep swamps or knock on countless doors asking for landowner permission. It’s critical to adopt a relentless mindset.
Regardless of the path to success, the process is what I love—especially when it ends up with a longbeard doing the upside-down bicycle.
Over the years, I’ve learned to take my father’s advice and “work smarter not harder.” Don’t ever assume that approach will negate the demand for good old-fashioned hard work. You can put forth maximum effort into all elements of the hunt, but there is no guaranteed outcome. Ever.
I guess that’s largely why we love it so much.
Don’t think for a minute you’ll be a successful turkey hunter without burning up boot leather, truck tires, gasoline, hours behind quality glass and countless trail camera batteries. We’re going to talk about of those components and why they are a critical prelude to filled tags.
On top of all that, I’ll promise you one thing: The satisfaction that comes with killing a turkey after all that work and effort is immeasurable.
Let’s briefly discuss acquiring land access. There’s no doubt it can be scary, or at least uncomfortable, walking up to an unfamiliar residence, knocking the door and facing a likely “no.” But that’s what you have to do. I’m an odds man, and I figure that if I knock on two dozen doors, I’ll get a two to or three yeses.
First, download OnX to your phone and live by it. In my opinion, there has been no greater tool than immediate access to landowner information and property boundaries. Spend the money, you’ll not regret it.
Let me be clear about one thing here: You’re asking to hunt, but don’t ever make a landowner feel less than awesome—because they are awesome for simply considering letting you on their property. You’re absolutely asking a stranger to trust you, and you need to find a way to convey that trust within your first few seconds of the introduction. Be friendly, don’t wear camo, if you’re going to wear a hat, don’t have it pulled down over your eyes, don’t overdress, but dress nicely, smile and when you do indeed hear “no,” say “thank you anyways,” and go to the next place.
Assure them you unequivocally hunt ethically and do not bend or break any established or unwritten rules, such as setting up on property boundaries or near livestock and certain structures. Most landowners will mention these areas up front.
Play by their rules. Period.
Also, consider the timeframe at which you visit. Don’t go too early in the day, don’t go during mealtimes, don’t go too late when they be chilling out in their living room enjoying a day-ending beer. Just be courteous. Personally, I avoid weekdays altogether unless a unique opportunity arises to make a visit and request permission. Trust me on this, I’ve blown hunting opportunities by asking at the wrong times.
I’ve built some fine relationships with landowners over the years, and I’m proud of that. Sure, my initial objective was to garner permission, but it’s usually turns into more than that. I’ve always been very grateful for the good folks I get to meet. Invest in the people, they are truly the best part of turkey hunting.
Let’s take a step back here. The time you put in scouting is paramount but do some of that work before you plan to knock on doors. In other words, seek out and isolate the best and most turkey-pregnant ground and setup your door-knocking schedule from there. I say this because it may be easy to gain permission to hunt turkeys where turkeys don’t live—and that won’t do you any good. Perform ample preliminary scouting and have multiple groups of birds located so you have backups to your backup.
You may end up with more ground to hunt than you know what to do with, but that’s a good problem to have. At least by applying all the knowledge you’ve gained in advance, you can knock on a door with confidence knowing that if you acquire permission, you’ll at least have turkeys to hunt.
Now that you have access, refine your scouting efforts to the clock. Since we all know turkeys tend to make the most noise in the morning, that means set your alarm, get out of bed early and be out there regularly just as the sun rises. I know that most of us work, but this level of scouting can be accomplished before daily demands set in—maybe with enough time for a second pot of coffee and some breakfast.
During your scouting runs, take note as to where and when you are hearing and seeing gobblers. I’d also suggest making runs at different times of the day during the weeks leading up to the season so you can establish a travel pattern and daily routine. But also keep in mind that those patterns will evolve as the season wanes on, and the groups of birds break up.
Then get out and walk the property as thoroughly as possible without messing up your hunt before it ever starts. There is no substitute for boots on the ground, but when you can accomplish much of the same data collection from the driver’s seat of your pickup with a quality set of binoculars, do it.
I could go on and on here, and I’m sure some of you are rolling your eyes with this level of time commitment—there are plenty of excuses to not spend this kind of time. Honestly, I don’t blame you. Consistently successful turkey hunting demands effort and investment. But you have to determine what a successful spring is worth to you.
And once it’s all over, be sure to go out of your way to thank them. Never give them money because that would cheapen their generosity. A card with some pictures, perhaps a gift card to a local favorite restaurant, but be thoughtful. These are relationships you are building, remember that.
I don’t like losing. At all. So, I arm myself with commitment, availability and the tools to accent the time investment. And I hate buying things twice—I expect my gear to hold up.
I buy premium fuel and good tires. I believe in Danner boots, I believe in Energizer AA batteries for my Moultrie trail cameras, I believe in Leupold binoculars for the long-range work, I believe in hot, black coffee and Casey’s breakfast pizza to get me through each morning.
Spend your money on quality—the best you can afford, and you won’t go wrong.
There are times when walking through a place isn’t the best idea, and there are also properties that can’t be seen or effectively watched from the road. A cell camera is your best friend—portable glass you can depend on, your eyes when you can’t see. I’ve been through several brands, and I’ve had the best luck with Moultrie and SpyPoint. I judge quality on battery life and trigger speed, both brands fit the bill.
In my experience, Verizon data plans for cell cameras are the most reliable for rural areas. Take that for what it’s worth.
Spend the time clearing any brush from the front side of the camera and select a tree big enough that won’t sway excessively in the wind. Nothing is more frustrating than dead batteries and a full SD card loaded with pictures of blowing brush. I prefer Wicked Tree Gear handsaw and pruners.
I’ve spent a lot of money on what I thought were quality binoculars over the years. And until recently, all have disappointed. The eye cups break, the skin tears or can be easily manipulated, the built-in clips where the next strap attaches breaks, lenses become permanently foggy or blurry—you name it.
I’m done with cheap-ass binoculars.
Leupold Optics have changed how I look for turkeys. Literally. They are well engineered, very durable, totally eliminate eye fatigue and they’re ergonomically friendly. I keep a Leupold Santiam 15X56 in the truck for long-distance viewing and sometimes I’ll take them to the field. For most hunting situations I prefer a Leupold Santiam 12X50. (LINK 15x56 review above)
After hundreds of hours scouting for turkeys this season, and 12 birds dead between my family and a few close friends, I’m confident Leupold builds a product I can rely upon day in and day out. I’m a customer for life.
A few more pieces of gear worth mentioning that made our awesome season possible are as follows.
Since I film most of my hunts and include my wife and two kids, we often hunt out of a blind—they are bulky but make life easier. I love and deeply believe in Primos Double Bull blinds, more specifically the Double Bull Deluxe Go and the new Double Bull SurroundView 360.
You don’t have to brush them in, you don’t have to conceal them—turkeys don’t care about blinds. So don’t waste the effort trying to hide the blind. You can literally pop it up in the middle of a field the morning of your hunt. Trust me on this.
I love shooting turkeys any way that I can: Spot-and-stalk, run-and-gun and especially reaping. Talk about an exciting way to kill a turkey! In fact, check out this video of a turkey we reaped this spring in Iowa.
Over the past two seasons, I’ve exclusively used a Benelli M2 20 gauge paired with a Burris FastFire 2 red dot sight and Boss Tom tungsten turkey loads. And I can assure you beyond the shadow of a doubt, this combination is flat-out lethal. It’s the best turkey combo I’ve ever owned. I killed several turkeys during the 2020 season at 50 yards—with a 20 gauge.
Here’s the bottom line: Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time using gear that is gimmicky, flimsy and incapable of standing up to season-after-season of use and abuse. Now, I’ve streamlined my gear package and I don’t have a need to upgrade—at all. I feel like what I’m using right now, I’ll be using for years to come, and that’s pure confidence.
I hope you can shorten your learning curve and jump right to quality products (and decisions) to make your next turkey season a success. They’re out there just waiting to get shot, all you have to do is go find them.
This is how you kill turkeys. ~ Tom H.
Tom Harrison is lifelong Midwesterner and a 25-year veteran angler, whitetail and turkey hunter. His experience extends from the bass rich waters of Mexico well into northern Canada, he's successfully hunted turkeys in 13 states, whitetails in five states and one Canadian province. Harrison has been producing instructional content, speaking at tradeshows and outdoor talk radio/podcasts and creating videos for two decades regarding both the hunting and fishing in an undying effort to help others be the best they can be in the outdoors. His overall goal is to make success commonplace on the water or in the woods through hard work and a strong desire to learn.