5 Tips for Turkey Hunting Etiquette
I was parked on the roadside, waiting for my hunting companion to arrive when I noticed headlights approaching and thinking it must be him, stepped out of the vehicle and started preparing for the morning hunt. The vehicle pulled in next to me and it wasn’t until they doused the headlights that I realized it was a stranger. We exchanged muffled greetings, then one of the other guys hesitantly asked, “Where do you plan on hunting?”
Not wanting to divulge too much info I briefly explained that I had built a ground blind in the back corner of a big field and would be setting up there. After a very brief pause, the other hunter replied, “Well, that’s where we’re hunting too.” The fact that I’d arrived there first didn’t seem to register with them and the conversation went downhill from there. As I was guiding a paying customer, I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and we simply went to a different location.
We all hopefully follow what’s written in the law books, but there’s another set of guidelines that go above and beyond that. There are certain rules of turkey hunting etiquette that we should also follow in order to ensure everyone has a safe and enjoyable hunt. Especially in these troubled times when you are likely to encounter more hunters than ever on your hunting ground, giving each other some "space" is the right call.
1) Don’t call birds before the season.
It’s tempting, fun and good practice. But over time you end up conditioning birds to become call shy. They come to the call and see nothing, or you get bored waiting for them to leave and scare them off. It won’t take too many negative interactions before they simply won’t respond to your calling, or that of another hunter. Or they may be more inclined to shut up and slink away. Save the serenade for the season.
2) The early bird gets the worm.
You did your due diligence, scouted a particular spot before the season and have the birds timed like clockwork. Opening day arrives and as you turn the last corner your headlights reflect off another vehicle already parked in your intended location. Too late. That’s now there spot and you should move on, far enough away that you cannot possibly end up hunting the same birds. It’s sometimes a bitter pill to swallow but it’s the right thing to do.
3) Don’t interfere with another hunter.
Even if you see no sign of other hunters around, it is still possible to cross paths with one. If you see decoys or hear another hunter calling, move on. Stick around and bad things are bound to happen. If you start calling in a vocal bird, the other hunter may also move in or try to cut it off, creating a potentially dangerous. The best case scenario here is that they end up bumping the bird. The worst case is that one hunter ends up in the other’s line of fire. It’s just a bird, and not worth the aggravation of an argument, or worse.
4) Make other hunters aware of your presence.
Even when we follow the unwritten rules to the best of our ability we still stumble across one another in the course of a turkey hunt, especially when the birds are gobbling. Your first reaction may be to get angry, but the other guy may be unaware you’re there. Give him the benefit of the doubt. You might start by calling loudly and awkwardly. The other guy should recognize you for what you are and move on, and the turkey may still stick around. Next, you could try a crow or woodpecker call or a whistle. If that doesn’t work, it’s time to speak up. Don’t shout or you may startle them. Speak in a loud, even tone, saying something like, “Hey, I’m over here.” Make sure they hear you before you move, otherwise they might mistake your movement for that of a turkey. Once they recognize you, they should move on. If they don’t, you may as well, before things get any worse.
5) Don’t hunt the roost.
This one’s a little different, and applies more to afternoon hunting. Setting up right under the roost can be a very effective tactic, but it’s pretty much a one-shot deal. Whether you make the shot or not, it’s a pretty safe bet the birds won’t return to that roost site and for anyone who has scouted the area and patterned the birds, it’s back to square one. If you’re the only one hunting the area and it’s a one bird limit, go ahead. But if you or others plan to continue hunting there, back off a little and hunt. That way if you’re not successful, you can always try again.
Much of turkey hunting etiquette boils down to common sense, ethics and politeness. They’re not “your” birds until you tie your tag on them. And it’s not “your” spot if somebody else got there first. Interfering with someone else’s hunt is unethical and unsafe. If we all give each other enough space, everyone can have a safe, enjoyable and hopefully successful hunt.