Last year, I tried fall turkey hunting for the first time. I had read a lot about it, but never had tried it. Sounds easy. Just find a bunch, run wildly into the flock and try to flush them in all directions, then set up and call them back.
Not as easy as it sounds. I found two flocks of old gobblers, ran at them, hollering like a wild Indian, and they finally flushed — but they never came back.
I'm not used to flushing game on purpose — not big game anyway. I have spent years, sneaking, stalking and sitting quietly. Didn't seem right to scare game on purpose. I'm sure it works, especially with turkey poults. It may work on big gobblers, too, but it didn't that day.
People who don't hunt often tell me they don't understand what the big deal is. From their experience, game doesn't seem spooky. To them, hunting game would be too easy, and thus unfair.
Actually, I can see how they would arrive at that conclusion. Who hasn't taken a summertime stroll in the woods and seen squirrels, deer and even turkeys walk away? If they are alarmed at all, it's only mildly.
Ducks and geese on a refuge will let you walk right by without flushing. But take a gun and start sneaking around, and they become as nervous as a politician on election night.
Actually, gunshots don't seem to spook game most of the time (ducks and geese are exceptions). I have watched deer and turkeys both during fairly close gunshots. Often, they don't even raise their heads. I have shot turkeys and seen their companions flog the downed bird. I don't even think the presence of a gun has an effect.
So, what makes hunters scare game? I believe it's the “predator attitude” of the hunter that scares them. It's the sneaking hunter, the staring hunter that puts them on alert. In fact, I've discovered while bowhunting deer, that when one walks close under you, you'd better not stare or you'll put it on alert.
Even when a deer is not looking at you, staring at it — if it's close — will often make it tense and look up at you.
Some of you readers may think I'm nuts, but I believe there “may be” brainwaves transmitted from the predator's eye to the prey's eye.
Regardless what the mechanism, eye-to-eye contact is not good, and staring at game close to you is not going to put meat in the freezer. So, what do I do? I slightly turn my head, close my eyes slightly and watch them through peripheral vision.
When the animal turns its head so I can't see its eye, then I line up for the shot. Beyond preventing the “brainwaves” (maybe), the animal doesn't see me draw the bow.
Speaking of predator attitude, I have discovered when stalking game from a distance, if you have to move across an open field (or prairie out west), it's best not to walk directly toward the quarry. Get closer by walking at an angle until you can get into a ditch, behind a hill, or into a treeline.
When out of sight, then close the distance taking the most direct route. Likewise, I have passed game while driving a woods road. As long as the vehicle or horse is moving by them they often seem content to let you pass by fairly close.
When you get out of sight — and better, out of hearing if you're in a vehicle — get out and sneak back.
And if you have to walk through dry leaves, it's best to walk at the cadence game normally does, not like a sneaking bobcat, coyote, or cougar. It so happens that turkeys often walk at the same cadence as a predator.