John F. Kennedy once said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” I find so much importance in Kennedy’s insinuation to focus on the future. I’m sure that I am not the only one who gets down on himself when a hunt does not go as planned. Looking back at my 2015 turkey hunting season, it became the season I learned so much from and there were so many things I could have done differently. Coping mentally with failure can be difficult and many people let failure drive them away from what they want to accomplish. I strongly believe that one can learn a lot from failure, however it is important not to dwell. Analyze the past and present with efforts to conquer the future. Here is what I learned from what I (and I am sure many others) would consider an “ugly” season of turkey hunting.
“Patience, Young Grasshopper”
This was definitely something I lacked one early morning on my way to set up on some roosted birds. I wanted to get as close as possible to several gobblers roosted in some oak trees. I had watched them the day before fly up, and I also thought that I had every bird accounted for. I positioned myself a good sixty yards out and could hear them gobbling their heads off. My mind was begging me to move closer for no other reason than to simply get a visual on the gobblers. I wanted so bad to watch them fly down, so I edged closer. Crawling on all four and in complete predator mode, I suddenly heard the sound of an alarming hen cluck. To my dismay I looked up in the tree right above me and there were, not one, but several hens peering down at me. I was busted. One hen flew off and the others started to warn the rest of the flock. Each bird flew down away from me and I desperately tried to call them in, but the gobbles grew more and more distant. Definitely a rookie move on my part, but I learned that I need to make patience a priority; especially when I think a hunt is going to be a “slam-dunk”.
I took on the challenge of hunting with a bow for the 2015 turkey season. With this in mind, I spent the majority of my mornings and afternoons hoping I would get your classic “7-yard strutter” that you see on TV all the time. Yeah…no. The blind hunting was not getting me in front of birds, as they always seemed to be visiting the part of the field I was not hunting. Personally, this was hard for me to break out of because I was seeing the birds, however I just wasn’t getting the shot opportunities. I kept telling myself, “They’ll come this way”. I tried a number of different decoying and calling tactics, but nothing seemed to work. Without violating the “be patient” rule I established for myself, I developed a plan to have multiple spots set up for different parts of the day and different scenarios. This was something that took A LOT of in season scouting. However, after it was done I knew exactly where the birds were going to be once the sun came up. Having alternative plans to hunt different flocks or individual birds puts the odds of success significantly in your favor. My morning field hunting spots were not working for me, so I had a plan to hunt a woods with more of a “run and gun” style approach. It took me two different locating attempts each in a separate woods, but I finally got on the birds. I had two gobblers strutting 30 yards behind me, but unfortunately they never presented a shot. Despite not being able to get a shot off, I was glad that I had done the hard work of speed scouting the day before to locate these birds. Without the effort there would have been no opportunity.
Be Optimistic and Visualize Success
My Michigan turkey tag eventually expired, and at this point in my season I had many close encounters, several rookie mistakes and one clean miss. As you can imagine at this point I was pretty disappointed. Not only had I had several opportunities to fill my tag, but I flat out missed in the moment of truth on a big tom turkey at twenty-three yards. I had seen this Tom walking down the middle of a cut-corn field about 350 yards away. I called at him once and he gobbled back immediately. I had his attention and my heart was pounding. He began to strut and that’s when I let out a quick cutting sequence, and suddenly he came running! Within 2 minutes he was practically in my lap gobbling repeatedly. I was positioned on top of a hill and I drew my bow as he moved over the rise. He did not present a good shot for me right away. I had drawn on him twice and on the second time he was moving to my right as I released the arrow. My heart sunk when I saw the arrow fly just over his back. It was unfortunate for me to have not filled my tag, but I knew that I had to stay positive for my future hunt with my buddy Vinny.
Shotgun in hand, Vinny listened intently after I let out a series of yelps into the quiet timber. Two thundering gobbles rang through the woods from a couple hundred yards away. At that moment I knew we needed to develop a plan to move closer and set up. We started to walk down a two-track towards the gobbler and I began visualizing how the rest of this hunt was going to play out. This is something that I do very often and it seems to work for me. I try to visualize what I need to do to draw the bird in and how we will be positioned for the shot. We continued down the two-track, and once I felt like we were in the right place, I let out a second yelping sequence and the gobblers cut me off half-way through. This time they sounded much closer. We set up just off the two-track and waited for the gobblers to come to us. Truthfully, I knew the birds were going to come right to us and we were set up in what seemed like the perfect spot. Vinny was tucked up against a big oak tree and I was nestled against a couple of smaller maples 5 yards off the two-track. Everything seemed to be going according to plan until I saw two big Toms fly up and off into the distance. Vinny had only a flash of a second to raise his gun, but could not make an ethical shot. Even though we were unsuccessful, once again, I learned a lot about myself as a hunter. Visualizing success, like so many times before, really helped me on this particular hunt.
If you have made it this far in the article as a reader you are probably doubting my credibility as a turkey hunter. I say this jokingly because I know that many of us, especially me, learn from our mistakes and failures. I think it is important to not only have a strategy in place when trying to overcome adversity, but it is equally important to have the right mentality. I know I learned a lot about turkey hunting and myself in the 2015 turkey season. Thankfully I have had a lot time to develop a plan for next year, and I know my results will improve. If you have had an experience that you learned from this past season please share it with us in the comments below. I personally love hearing other hunters’ stories because I learn from them. With that said, please share with us something you learned from this past turkey season.