By Tracy Breen
For the traveling turkey hunter, hunting out-of-state equals extreme fun – without breaking the bank!
I’ve never met a hunter who doesn’t dream of putting his familiar stomping ground in the rear view mirror and heading to a new state to hunt. Some dream of a whitetail adventure; others dream of bugling bulls or big bears. Of the critters I’ve chased in dozens of states, my favorite game to hunt away from home is the wild turkey.
Don’t get me wrong; I love chasing elk, deer and other big game, but chasing turkeys is a ton of hot action. Translation - extreme fun!
Going on a low budget turkey hunt out of state is surprisingly easy to do. In most states nonresident turkey tags aren’t expensive and turkeys can easily be found on public ground. Most out of state turkey hunts can be done for $500 to $1000; often less if you are willing to stay in a camper or a tent.
1. The first challenge in hunting away from home is figuring out where to hunt. When determining where to go, you must first determine your objective. Do you want to hunt another subspecies or just hunt another state? If you want to hunt another subspecies, you will likely have to travel several states away. When traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to hunt, I typically try to have at least a week to hunt. It’s best to have lots of time when going blind into anew area. It takes time to find a good place to hunt, locate birds and put all the pieces of the puzzle together. The more time you have, the better your odds will be of pulling the trigger.
2. When planning to hunt in unfamiliar territory, contact a biologist in that state. A biologist or state habitat manager isn’t likely to give away his favorite hunting area, but it’s in his interest to give you some good hunting locations on public land. Many are not afraid to share information about large tracts of national forest or state land. I always start by asking about large tracts of land where there are plenty of birds. From there, I ask questions about their turkey population, what kind of winter they had, and how much pressure hunters put on the birds.
3. Zero in on big properties. One of the main reasons I always ask about large tracts of public land is because large pieces of ground are a great place to locate birds even where the hunting pressure is high. Over the years, I’ve learned that most hunters never travel very far from any two-track road when hunting. As a result, birds that spend most of their life off the beaten path typically aren’t hunted as hard. Finding backwoods gobblers will take more work, but if you can find that needle in the haystack, odds are high you will be able to call him in.
4. Continue research by downloading aerial photographs and maps of the area. After I’m armed with a little information about a certain area, I use aerial photos and topographic maps to locate ridge lines, river bottoms and places where I think birds may roost. I like to find several potential roosting areas before I leave home, and check them out when I get there.
5. Plan for some time to scout. If you’re going for the season opener, arrive a day early to do some scouting. On any other day arrive early enough to look for roosting areas and strutting zones to hunt the next day. With advice from biologists and habitat managers, maps, aerial photos, and a good GPS, finding turkeys usually isn’t extremely difficult.
6. Cover as much territory as possible. When hunting on public land, my goal is always the same: cover as much ground as possible. If I have never hunted in area and have very limited information about the state I’m hunting, the only way I will tag a bird is by hunting long and hard. Each day I start hunting at daylight and hunt until dark if it is legal. If I don’t tag a bird at first light, I run and gun the rest of the day. It is not uncommon to walk five or more miles a day in search of longbeards. I will typically walk and call, walk and call all day in hopes that eventually I will find a hot, talkative tom.
Finally, some personal comments. My favorite away-from-home turkey hunts are in the West. A backcountry do-it-yourself hunt is easy and inexpensive in places like Colorado, or any state where public land is abundant and hunting pressure is minimal. Colorado is home to the Merriam’s subspecies, which is a beautiful bird.
I’ve talked mostly about public land, but don’t overlook private land—gaining access there can be surprisingly easy for turkey hunters. Ranchers often consider turkeys a nuisance and will grant access to hunters who knock on their door and politely introduce themselves. States like Nebraska are typically overrun with turkeys.
Finding turkeys in a far off land isn’t as difficult as finding a trophy buck or bull—and that’s one of the many reasons I like turkey hunting across the country. With a little luck, some hard work and a week’s vacation, almost anyone who knows how to work a turkey call can fill a tag or two without breaking the bank.
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