Today I have a post from my friend Dan. He submitted this article, which makes me feel much better about my lack of success in the turkey woods. Dan describes why turkeys pretty much have the advantage and check out the articles he’s linked to as well great info on turkey biology! -Will
This spring thousands of hunters will slip into the woods in pursuit of one of nature’s most elusive game animals: the tom turkey. These bearded birds have so many advantages over us — better hearing, more perceptive vision, and instinctive knowledge of the woods — it’s not terribly surprising how often hunters come home empty-handed. Shotguns, turkey calls, camouflage, and other gear don’t quite even the odds.
Birds in general have the most complex retina of all vertebrates. The wild turkey has outstanding perceptive vision, as much as 3 times better than 20/20. His retina has a special photoreceptor that lets a turkey see ultraviolet light (UVA). This is trouble for hunters who wash their camo with modern laundry detergent, which contains artificial brighteners (phosphates) that glow like a bright blue neon sign on the UV spectrum.
The turkey’s peripheral vision is another advantage. Like many prey animals, his eyes are on the sides of the head, giving them a 270 degree field of vision compared to our 180. They can also rotate their neck completely for a 360-degree view. Interestingly, the eye position offers little in the way of 3D perception. This is why turkeys bob their heads forward and back; it provides some depth perception.
Even if the vision weren’t enough, the turkey’s sense of hearing is extraordinary. The consensus is that he can pinpoint a sound a mile away. Ask most hunters, and they’ll tell you it’s probably farther than that. A tom relies on his hearing both to avoid predators and to communicate with other birds in the woods. We know this intuitively because a few clucks or yelps will often bring a tom from a long distance right into shotgun range.
That’s an impressive feat in the woodlands where most turkeys roam. Sometimes I have trouble just finding my way back to the parking lot.
The bottom line is this: you’re not going to sneak up on a turkey. Most of the time, they see you first, and you’re made aware of this unfortunate fact by the panic-yelp of a spooked bird. Turkeys can run 20 miles per hour and do about 55 in the air. Once they notice you, they’re gone.
One thing you don’t read often about turkeys is that they’re quiet. When not yelping or gobbling, they tend to move in silence through the woods. One day last year, I set up near a small clearing where I’d previously seen a tom strutting for his hens. All morning I neither saw nor heard the flock of birds I expected. I started heading home for lunch. By chance I glanced over my shoulder back toward the clearing as I was walking out, and saw five or six birds slipping silently out of it, heading the other direction. They’d somehow been there, quiet and out of sight, for some part of the morning.
Despite all of these advantages, the turkey does have a vulnerability. The tom turkey in spring has one thing on his mind: breeding. To do this, he must find hens, strut for them, and fend off any interlopers. This creates a window of opportunity for the spring turkey hunter, who can try to lure a tom with a hen’s plaintive calls.
The fall turkey season offers a different weakness: the bond between a hen and her poults. Running and gunning — a technique where hunters startle a flock of birds to split them up, then set an ambush for when they try to reunite — is a popular (not to mention fun) way to exploit this.
Even with knowledge of these weaknesses, even with high-tech equipment and head-to-toe camouflage, I still feel like the turkeys have the edge. My success rates would certainly support that. And there’s a reason they don’t call them the hunter’s woods, but the turkey woods.
About the Author
Dan Koboldt has been seen, heard, and outrun by countless turkeys in his hunting career. When not in the woods, he writes at In Search of Whitetails about hunting deer and turkey in the midwest. Read his latest article on spring turkey hunting tips.