How to Hunt Turkeys in the Backcountry

_ Photo: Bill Kinney_

Break out the backpack and camp out for a wilderness turkey this spring. The farther you go into the mountains or deep woods, the better your chances of not seeing other hunters--and of finding birds that have never been called. Here's how to plan an overnight hunt, what to bring, and tactics for finding a gullible gobbler.
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Plan Right**
Start with your state's wildlife agency website. Identify remote open-access areas with the best hatch counts and population estimates, and the lowest harvest statistics. Download a public-land map, then pick up the phone. Ask for the terrestrial biologist; once he realizes you're willing to do some literal legwork, he'll often help you pinpoint hotspots in the great sea of wilderness. I've even hung up the phone with GPS coordinates in hand.

Go Light
A weight-saving pair of inflatable decoys, your shotgun, a few shells, a bivvy sack, and a lightweight sleeping bag cover the basics. Ditch the stove and bring premade meals plus a water filter. Pack a reliable headlamp and a pair of lightweight 10x42 binoculars. Anything bigger is too much in the timber; anything smaller won't help much when you glass from high up. Pare down your call arsenal to just the favorites, but make sure you bring the loudest box call you can find and a shrill locator. I like a hawk screech, which carries well and few hunters use.

Get High
When you reach your chosen turkey spot, drop camp and climb a ridge, a hill, or any terrain feature that offers a good vantage. Just as you'd look and listen for elk at dark, put those binocs to work and open your ears. The birds will be talking as they head back to roost. If you don't hear or see birds, blow that locator. It may turn up a great starting point for your morning hunt.

Cover Ground
Should your roosted tom refuse to cooperate at first light, move and call--a lot. If the locator isn't producing, switch to your loudest turkey call. In windy conditions where it's hard to hear and be heard, I prefer a loud, raspy, oversize box call. Be stealthy but not slow. Keep moving and calling, covering as much ground as possible. Upon shocking a tom, sneak in close, set the fakes, and start talking sexy on your softer slate or diaphragm calls. The payoff for all the hiking you'll do is that these uneducated backcountry birds are apt to come running straight to the gun. If they don't, keep moving and calling. Roost another bird at sundown and repeat if necessary.