There are a lot of turkey hunters who have no problem with hunting the same decoy set all morning or even all day long. Staying planted has it’s positives, especially if you have a late morning pattern on some birds. However, I consider myself a “new school” turkey hunter. If my morning set doesn’t pan out and the turkey woods turn silent, I’m usually on my feet by eight o’clock.
Running & gunning is a tactic that is entirely different from classic turkey hunting techniques. First, you need to be organized. Pack light and get yourself a quality turkey vest. You need both hands available when working the woods. I’ve killed gobblers that I’ve walked right up on. It happens fast and you don’t have time to fiddle around with your gun. For this reason, going with open sights also helps the run & gun turkey hunter. Fast target acquisition can be the difference between a gobbler on the ground and watching the flock fly away.
Walking up on a flock happens, but it is a rare experience. Typically, you will do some calling as you sneak slowly through the woods. When hunting hill country, I like to walk just below the ridgeline. Be sure you’re not silhouetted on the skyline but stay in visual contact of the valley. Turkeys feed there because that’s where the most succulent grasses are. Walk slowly and yelp every 25 yards. If your yelps don’t get any response, don’t be afraid to crow call. Most toms can’t help but gobble back at a crow call. If you are hunting flat country, walk just inside available cover and watch both the clearing and the woods.
Once a turkey responds, try to judge it’s distance. If it’s outside of 150 yards and there is cover between you and him, try to close the distance by another 50 yards before getting down. Keep in mind that you won’t find the perfect set up when running & gunning. You may only have one or two good shooting lanes. Try to assess where your shots are while the turkeys are still working in. Once in position, give him a few more yelps to locate the gobbler again. If he responds and sounds closer, shut down the calling. Let him make the next move. If you were quick enough to set a decoy, let the decoy do the work for you. If he cools off, go back to calling, but tone it down. A few soft clucks and purrs will get him jazzed up again.
If you are hunting with a partner, have your partner do some calling as well. Let’s say he or she is twenty yards away. If you call together, you will sound like a pair of hens or a hen that’s feeding and moving around. If I get a turkey that is hung up 75 yards out, I’ve often moved twenty or thirty yards just to sound like I’m a turkey moving around. That change in location can be enough to close the deal on a unresponsive gobbler. It has also busted me a few times.
Running & gunning for turkeys is always a gamble. There are going to be moments when you mess up. But what makes it fun is that the next opportunity could be right around the next corner. My best advice is to call frequently and be on the move when you don’t know where the turkeys are. When you find gobblers, hunker down and tighten your lips. Let the turkey make the next move and be flexible enough to close the deal when the opportunity presents itself.