A wild turkey scoots across a road in Starks on March 21. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

When I finally crept within sight of the gobbler I’d been closing in on, the situation seemed hopeless. He was 100 yards away in a field with three hens, uphill and on the far side of a barbed wire fence. Between us lay a stand of bottomland swamp pocketed with puddles. I could get no closer, and my only option was to sit down and call. The bird’s reaction was unexpected but encouraging. He folded up his fan, left his harem and started my way, under the fence and through the soggy bottom. It shouldn’t have worked out, but it did.

Books on turkey tactics are filled with advice on what to do and what not to do in order to bag a bird. As the above anecdote illustrates, those are guidelines rather than rules. Odds are better when you follow them, but if the situation dictates, don’t be afraid to go off script and abandon conventional wisdom.

Never set up with an obstacle between you and the bird: There’s certainly some truth to this. Turkeys are more inclined to follow the path of least resistance, but if they’re of a mind to come your way, they’ll hop fences, fly across streams or do whatever it takes to get from location to destination. It’s better to hedge your bets, but if the only option puts a wall of shrubbery between you and the bird, make the most of what you have.

You can’t call a henned-up tom away from his flock: This, too, is true more often than not; but not always. The bird may be weary of unreceptive hens and opt for the bird in the bush rather than those at hand. Sometimes there are satellite toms in the flock, and while there’s no hope of outdueling the boss tom, they might be inclined to slip away for a little side action.

It’s harder to call a bird downhill: This may be the thinnest of the three. Toms do often seek high ground first thing in the morning to announce their presence and entice a mate, but they’re not the least bit reluctant to move downhill in search of company.

That also suggests one of the most common misperceptions about turkey hunting. I learned it early on, and for a long time was guilty of perpetuating the notion myself that hens always go to the toms, and trying to call a tom to a hen requires them to go against their nature. If that were true, we’d rarely bag them. Through thousands of hours observing turkeys, I’ve seen that toms regularly approach hens rather than holding their ground and waiting for the hens to approach them.

Though not directly hunting related, there’s another myth that, like Rasputin, just won’t die. Turkeys drive deer off and outcompete them for food. No, and no. Both species have coexisted for millennia, and still do. A flock of noisy birds might discourage a deer from a particular location at a specific time and place, but a group of deer might do the same to the turkeys. As for food, turkeys only feed during the day, but deer can and do feed 24/7. While there is some overlap, they also have different diets, and there’s always plenty available for both.

If you’re new to the sport, it’s always wise to seek out the wisdom and advice of more-experienced hunters, but it doesn’t hurt to be a little skeptical, especially if something seems illogical. In addressing the oft-repeated notion that deer only travel into the wind, Gene Wensel said, “If that were true, they’d all eventually end up in the Pacific Ocean.

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

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