Unlike hunting for other species, turkey hunting is like a dance. While the word dance might invoke thoughts of weddings or the hokey pokey, the analogy isn't as far off as one would initially suspect.
Think of turkey hunting like dancing in the way one move cues a corresponding action. A call is made, a bird responds, and now two parties are involved in a tango that includes moves and counter moves.
This non-choreographed event is what makes turkey hunting special, and while these actions certainly help determine the outcome, none of them matter if they take place in the wrong locations.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Overshadowing all other factors, the number one key to being successful when turkey hunting is location.
That doesn't mean simply being in a turkey-rich area will make a hunter successful, rather that to be successful turkey hunters must utilize their physical location for every call, every movement, and every response to outsmart their prey.
This involves getting inside the turkey's comfort zone and then utilizing calls and decoys to seal the deal.
Getting inside this zone involves many different variables, most which are learned on the fly rather than taught by mentors, and requires hunters to feel their way through each hunt.
These variables involve understanding the layout of the woods, interpreting the current mood of a particular gobbler, and ultimately using calling not just to attract a gobbler, but to add a visual aspect of location to an unseen quarry.
Simply put, sitting outside this zone might result in hour-long conversations at a distance where the parties never get closer to one another, and while it might be exciting, there will be no reward.
IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT DISTANCE
In order to get inside this zone the first thing to understand is that a turkey's zone is not defined by distance. A zone can be as long as three football fields or as small as a 100-yard oak flat.
It also is not simply the field a bird likes to struts in, but instead is the region of the field a bird actually struts.
Additionally, the line between close enough and too close is also undefined, and is something each hunter must interpret based on his or her specific knowledge of the area.
Instead of yardage values, the three factors that define a turkey's zone are safety, visibility and dominance.
In turkey terms, a gobbler wants to feel content and away from known pressure. He wants to be able to see what is coming. And he wants to make sure a group of jakes or the boss tom isn't going to jump him as he does his love dance.
In some cases a bird might stray from this zone, but the chances of pulling a bird through a dense patch of bush is slim. Instead, in this situation, a hunter must learn to get out in front of him, even if that means setting up farther away, to give the bird a clear path of safety right to the gun barrel.
STICK AND MOVE
In order to get inside the zone, it is important to understand how every call you make affects your ability to make a move.
In a run-and-gun scenario where no birds are visible, a gobbler's response will typically force the hunter to move to a better vantage point. If a bird responds immediately to the call, it likely means he is now facing the caller, thus making the next move the most important. In this case, if the hunter makes a wrong move, a turkey's keen eyesight will end the hunt before it even begins.
On the other hand, if a hunter makes the right move he might be able to get inside the zone before the bird makes his break.
The key to making the first move is to understand where you are before you make even the slightest peep.
That involves locating open areas where a turkey can see clearly, finding a good backdrop to sit against if he gobbles nearby, and a path to different areas where a bird might be located before you call.
So, instead of just blinding walking and calling, try and foresee the future by anticipating a bird will answer, and don't call from a location that hems you in and makes it impossible to move without being spotted.
This will make getting inside the zone less complicated, and ultimately end with fewer spooked birds.