|Which is Smarter, You or the Turkey?|
With senses of hearing and sight many times greater than ours, it may seem like the wild turkey is smart. In reality, the wild turkey is as dumb as a rock. However, it’s been said by some "if a turkey’s sense of smell was anything like its hearing or sight we would never get close to them." Combine that, with common turkey hunting "hang-ups," and the way turkeys behave simply because of natural turkey biology and some hunters may think they were an incredibly intelligent bird. There’s no doubt the wild turkey is a wily rival in the springtime woods. What can we do to combat these common "hang-ups," extraordinary senses and things turkeys do just because they’re turkeys?
First, we need to learn about the bird and their habits. Turkeys have eyes seated at the sides of their heads. Because of this, they see a much wider field of view than humans. They can see over 240 degrees. That alone is amazing, but if you think about the fact they have perception, or focus, of the ENTIRE AREA —- that’s mind-blowing! Humans can catch movement out of our peripheral vision, but can only focus on the area we are directly looking at. A turkey has focus of their entire field of view! Now, add in they can see color. In fact, they discern color many times better than we do and their eyesight for picking up movement is also better than ours. To get close, you must keep movement to a minimum and blend into your surroundings.
Their hearing is easier to fool than their sight. However, it’s been said by some experts that a turkey can pinpoint a sound a mile away. I tend to think even further than that. The instruments making their hearing so phenomenal must be located inside their head. Because, unlike whitetails, which have two large cone-shaped radar funnels for ears, turkeys only have two small holes in their head. I guess we don’t need to know how they hear so well, we just need to know its extraordinary - period.
There are several things we can do to fool these two extraordinary senses. First, camouflage - and I mean camo from head to toe. Remember, turkeys see color so pick a camo that breaks up your human form and also has colors that blend into your background. I don’t believe there is one perfect camo for all conditions. Maybe you’re hunting during early season on an oak ridge, combating late season when there is thick vegetation everywhere or possibly hunting out West in more open terrain - it depends upon when and where you are hunting as to which camo will work the best.
Expert turkey hunter Toxey Haas, inventor of Mossy Oak Camouflage, thought "blending in" was so important he brought actual leaves, dirt and forest matter with him to the textile manufacturer when he first developed his original "Bottomland" pattern. Now they (Mossy Oak) have a number of different patterns so hunters are able to blend into basically any surroundings.
When I say camo from head to toe, that’s exactly what I mean. Cover up your face, your hands and anywhere there’s exposed skin. Human skin is like neon to a turkey. I don’t care for face paint so I usually opt for a face mask. If you wear glasses, pull the brim of your hat low enough to prevent glare.
Several years ago, I was guiding a fellow. He was a good hunter, but had never hunted turkey before. We set up and I called in two different toms (male turkeys) this particular morning. Both of them, when they reached about 50 yards from us, popped their heads up and turned from a brilliant red color to pale white as they did the "turkey trot" in the opposite direction. I was dumbfounded and couldn’t figure out why. I walked out and stood near our decoys to ponder what had spooked the two long-beards. When I looked back at the hunter I noticed two bright, white and red tube-socks revealed when he sat down and his pant legs rose up. That’s why I say from head to "toe." We fixed the problem and harvested the next bird that responded to the call.
If you need to move, make it slow and steady. Try and do any repositioning when the bird goes behind a tree or other cover. Remember turkeys are dumb, but they also seem paranoid. Any unnatural movement and they usually don’t stick around to see if everything’s going to be OK, they bolt.
When picking a spot to set up, one of the first things I look for are shadows. Pick a spot where you’re not right in direct sunlight. It’s also a good idea to find a large object like a tree trunk or a tree that has blown down to set up against to help break up your human form.
Their hearing is great, but if you do things right it can be fooled. To me the whole "essence" of turkey hunting is calling the gobbler into bow or shotgun range. When calling, you have to be able to make turkey sounds somewhat technically correct, but in my opinion, rhythm is the most important part of calling turkeys.
If you go to a calling contest and listen sometimes, these people sound so pristine, crisp and clear they actually sound better than a hen turkey. If you get a chance to listen to that ol’ hen sometime, her voice might be cracking and she may not make her yelp technically correct, but the rhythm is always on. The best teacher is to listen to a flock of hens and practice. In fact, when dealing with gobblers with hens, mimicking whatever an old hen sounds like can be a great way to call the entire flock to your position.
When walking in close proximity to turkeys, I really don’t worry about crunching leaves. A flock of turkeys makes a lot of noise when traveling through a dry forest floor. It’s the unnatural noises or ones typical to predators, like large branches snapping, brush slap-back on noisy fabric or human voices, that will do you in.
One way I try to deceive their ears is to make turkey sounds other than turkey vocalizations. Think about the sounds turkeys make other than yelps, clucks and the rest of their repertoire. Non-vocal turkey sounds can work when nothing else does. The sound of dry leaves when they’re walking or scratching for food, or maybe the sounds of wing-flaps as they fly down in the morning can add realism to your set-up. For these noises I carry a turkey wing. It works great for making all of the above sounds and I also use it when imitating a fight between two toms. In fact, I’ve used nothing but a wing to call in gobblers before.
Instincts and superior senses can sometimes make it seem like a turkey is smart. They’ve got a brain the size of your thumbnail; they’re not very smart at all. However, if you hunt turkey long enough, you’ll probably be humbled many times by these stupid birds. Persistence does pay off. If you find ways to get around their excellent hearing and exceptional sight, you can score on a tom this season.
Todd Amenrud is the Director of Public Relations, Territory Manager & Habitat Consultant for BioLogic.