Strutting toms coming to a call is a dream scenario for wild turkey hunters. But these birds do not always react the way a hunter thinks they should, which makes experience a key characteristic for a hunter. Jami Linder/Star Tribune

Sometimes it seems the more we learn the less we know, and that especially applies to turkey hunting. The novice starts out wide-eyed, naive and eager to absorb knowledge. Books, magazines and, to a much lesser extent, social media may provide enough to get you started, but experience is the real teacher, and you can never get enough.

Optimistic and full of recently acquired information, the novice turkey hunter sets out in search of success. Sometimes it comes quickly, which can create a trap of false confidence. You yelp a few times on a box call, a suicidal turkey struts or runs in to its demise and you dub yourself a turkey hunter. Be forewarned that the next successful hunt may not be so easy, especially if you repeat the same steps. Every situation is different and even the same turkey may react differently on different days.

Somewhere between six and 10 successful hunts, a turkey hunter becomes an “expert.” They’re beaming with confidence and feel they’ve pretty much got these birds figured out. Defeats are shrugged off with rationalization: “The turkeys just weren’t cooperating today.” However, more time afield brings more defeats and at some point you fall into a slump. Confidence begins to falter, but it’s all part of the process. We learn as much, if not more, from the defeats.

The more you hunt, the more you run into what turkey hunters refer to as bad birds, turkeys that seem unkillable. It’s sometimes said that it takes three days to kill a tough tom: one to figure out his routine, one to make a mistake and one to put it all together. Occasionally it takes more, and targeting those birds is what will ultimately make you a true turkey hunter. They get under your skin, mess with your mind and cause you sleepless nights trying to figure out what you did wrong and what you could have done differently; that’s all part of the attraction.

The novice may work a bird and if it doesn’t cooperate, move on to greener pastures. It’s a logical strategy that can prove fruitful. We all want a quick conclusion but the bird you observe, call to and finesse for several hours will ultimately prove far more educational and rewarding than the one that sacrifices itself. The harder you have to work, the better hunter you become.

It’s somewhat analogous to archery practice. Become a proficient shooter out to 50 or 60 yards and those 30 yard shots will be almost automatic. The same is true for turkeys. If you can fool the wary ones, the easy birds become easier, sometimes. Even the easy ones prove more rewarding as you learn over the long run how few and far between they come. Never look a gift bird in the beak. They help re-build confidence and we all need a little positive reinforcement now and then.

Time goes by and you finally reach double digits; good for you. You’re well on your way to becoming a true turkey hunter. Be forewarned, as you start to creep up on triple digits you’ll realize how little you really know about the wild turkey. When you finally surpass that milestone you’ll begin to understand that in the school of the great outdoors, the lessons never end, and you still have a lot to learn.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

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