Tips for tagging Midwestern public turkeys

Column by Brandon Butler

Public land is often overlooked by serious turkey hunters in the Midwest. Many believe public hunting is reserved for those unfortunate souls who lack private property to hunt. This is a mistake. The truth is, millions of acres of public lands across the Midwest produce thousands upon thousands of turkeys every spring.

Public land is typically managed for wildlife by state or federal agencies, so it’s often the best habitat around. Turkeys don’t know if the property they inhabit is public or private. What they know is when pressure is applied, they must retreat to the most remote areas around. Turkeys that learn to avoid hunters survive to reach maturity. If you want to tag a public land turkey, then you have to know where to start.

Get Away from the Roads

Leave the road and say goodbye to the crowd. Statistics show the majority of public hunters won’t walk more than 200 yards from their vehicle to hunt. If you want to regularly encounter turkeys on public property, you must put some distance between yourself and the crowds.

Using maps or aerial photography, identify areas of the public property you’re hunting that are the furthest from a road or access point. Then, figure out how to get into those areas without spooking the birds.

Approach by Water

One way to slip into hard to access areas on public property is by water. Many public properties surround a large lake or run along a river. Few hunters are going to put in the effort of loading into a boat before dawn to motor or paddle their way to a turkey spot.

Remember, the typical public land hunter is only going to walk a couple of hundred yards. When they do this, they are going to pressure birds back into more remote areas. If you slip into a spot from the waters edge, then you can be set up and on the hunt in one of these remote areas that aren’t easily accessible from the road.

Stay Awhile

There are large expanses of public land in the Midwest where you can load a backpack with everything you need for a spike camp, while spending a few days in a wilderness area. Over the years, I’ve had many Midwestern hunters tell me how they someday hope to go out west on a backpack style hunt. They seem so surprised when I tell them they can do the same thing in Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Michigan and most other states in the Midwest.

National forests, state forests and wildlife refuges often consist of tens-of-thousands, even hundreds-of-thousands, of acres of public property. Hiking in a few miles to hunt may not be feasible for a morning, but it works just fine for a weekend. Plan on making a few trips to get to know your area.

Think Outside the Box

Turkeys are smarter than they look, especially on public land. Old gobblers have lived to maturity by making good decisions. Some of those decisions would likely surprise you. Turkeys find places to hide where hunters don’t look. You have to find these spots if you’re going to start tagging turkeys on public lands.

The key is to get away from the crowd, and in most cases, this means getting as far from other people as possible. But there are exceptions to the rule. If you can identify dense cover or wide-open spaces others are avoiding close to buildings or near high traffic areas, be sure to consider giving these spots a once over. If you realized no one is hunting there, an old boss gobbler may have figured it out, too.

See you down the trail…




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