OUTDOORS: Public land offers opportunity, challenge

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

With turkey season and the pursuit of the nation’s favorite game bird swiftly approaching, locating places to hunt looms large in the minds of all of those so addicted. While private and hunting club land opportunities have flourished in recent years, there’s no need to overlook the thousands of acres of turkey-bearing public ground right at our fingertips.
Often scorned as over- hunted and over-pressured, these acres are carefully managed by the state and offer a wonderful chance to practice woodsmanship and hunting skills on birds that belong to us all. Finding the right place begins with maps and ends with boot prints, and neither one is more critical than the other. As a starting point, hunters may find information about state wildlife management areas online at mdwfp.com or by visiting the local district office at Elvis Presley Lake.
Do the leg work
Maps and most recent information obtained here can be a great way to get the ball rolling. What areas have been logged and thus no longer look like the photos on Google Earth? What areas have had a prescribed burn in late winter and thus offer the open forest floor and brand-new growth so attractive to turkeys?
With an area pinpointed, the next step is to take the first steps out of the truck, then follow those with lots more. The primary reason turkeys on public land are knocked as call-shy and hard to hunt is they’ve been yelped to and cut at from countless passers-by who do so while standing in the open door of their vehicle. The turkeys are out there, and they’re much more apt to respond and certainly more likely to work to a call if the sounds they’re hearing are coming from somewhere hens are likely to be, and from a direction they’ve not been taught hunters are given to use.
As you’re walking the woods, look for turkey tracks in muddy places and leaf piles where turkeys have worked their way through searching for food. Hoot and crow call as you like, but be wary of much excited calling. You’re looking for areas turkeys are using instead of trying to show them where you are.
Silence is golden
Bob Walker, a longtime guide at Bent Creek Lodge near Butler, Ala., is a master of stealth. Although he plies his trade on leased and private land, he and the other guides there hunt the same beats every day of the season, which makes educating turkeys a major error.
“Whether I’m scouting or hunting, I like to move as carefully and quietly as I can,” he says. “Unless the hunt involves a gunshot, I always want to enter and leave the woods without the turkeys ever knowing I’ve been there. I certainly don’t want them to know they’ve been hunted.
“I tell people to practice moving without making any sound. Don’t break any sticks, don’t snap any limbs. Turkeys tend to walk in the same places people do. They’ll pick clear paths and they’re always following their own agenda. When you’re in areas you think have turkeys, always assume they can hear everything you do. Any sound that’s not one a turkey or deer would make is a threat. If you practice that for a while, pretty soon it becomes second nature.”