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  • Writer's pictureSteve Sorensen

How to Fail at Turkey Hunting

Sometimes I say turkey hunting is as easy as falling off a log, or as hard as anything you'll ever do. It seems like there's no in-between. And more often than not, we fall flat on our faces in failure.

Failure can be important, and it was important to me in my early days of spring gobbler hunting (and my early days were way too long!) This week's column is about how you can benefit from your failures, and become a pretty good turkey hunter. (Above photo courtesy of Steve Sorensen)

My bi-weekly newspaper column, "The Everyday Hunter," appears in the Forest County News Journal (Tionesta, PA) and the Corry Journal (Corry, PA), both part of the Sample News Group. If you'd like to see "The Everyday Hunter" in your local newspaper, have your editor contact me.


To access more of my writing on hunting topics, go to the home page of my blog, Mission: Hunter.

How to Fail at Turkey Hunting

Steve Sorensen

Your hopes might be high at the beginning of the spring gobbler season, but too much caution can leave you on the last day full of what-if and why-didn’t-I. Face it. When you’ve hunted hard for a week or two without much action, it might mean you’re too cautious. If you’re too cautious, the future is likely to be the same as the past.


Caution seldom leads to a high level of success. Tom Brady doesn’t have seven Super Bowl rings because he was cautious. Michael Jordan isn’t the greatest basketball player because he was cautious. Babe Ruth was famous for his excesses, and when he pointed to the centerfield fence, he wasn’t being cautious. Turkey hunters can learn something here.


Turkey hunters often fear failure. We’re afraid we’ll mess up by getting too close, but we might mess up by not getting close enough. We’re afraid we’ll mess up if we change our calls, but we might mess up if we don’t change our calls. We think being cautious means we won’t mess up, but being cautious and messing up might be the same thing.


A turkey hunter who is too cautious usually isn’t successful, and if he stays cautious, he’ll probably stay unsuccessful. I’m not saying to throw caution to the wind. I’m not saying you should take long shots or sneak in on other hunters. Be ethical and play by the rules, but when you’re setting up on a roosted gobbler, don’t be afraid to get close.


I try to get as close as possible. My most successful early morning hunts have been when I got 50 yards from the roost tree, or even closer while it is still very dark, long before the sun peeks over the horizon. My least successful hunts were when I settled for a set-up 200 yards from the gobbler.


If you set up that far away from a gobbler, too much can go wrong. You increase the chances of a real hen intercepting him, a bobcat cutting him off, or another hunter moving in. You will also increase the chances of the gobbler hanging up.


Why? Because the game of calling in a gobbler is an attempt to reverse the natural pattern. It’s natural for the gobbler to strut and gobble, and for a hen to respond to those visual and auditory messages. If he’s coming to your call, and you’ve set up too far away from him, he’ll reach a spot where he knows he can be seen and heard. That’s where he’ll hang up, and he’ll expect the hen to come to him.


We think a hung-up gobbler stops at a fence line, a ravine, a creek, or even a log he doesn’t want to cross. More often, if we give the gobbler a long distance to come, he will arrive at a place where his thoughts are pretty simple. “This is far enough. She’s interested. She should see me. She’ll come to me here.”


That’s why he stops, and that’s where he struts and gobbles. It’s probably a place where he has met hens before. Think of how the hunt would have changed if you had reached that spot while he was still on the roost. Even if you can try getting a little closer without him seeing you, that will only assure him the hen is interested and she’s coming. If you were the gobbler, you’d stay put too.


So, my advice is to hunt turkeys as though you’re afraid to be cautious. If your turkey hunting style is too cautious, you’ve lost as soon as you enter the woods. You’re no more likely to win than a football quarterback who is committed to being conservative.


Looking back on my turkey hunting career, it took me too long to learn that too much caution contributed to my lack of success. Being cautious meant fewer gobblers walked in front of my shotgun. Don’t let that be your mistake. If you want to be successful in turkey hunting and in life, you must be willing to fail because to avoid failure is also to avoid success.


When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website,


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