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How to Run and Gun in Turkey Hunting

How to Run and Gun in Turkey Hunting

Use a mobile approach to track down more turkeys and increase your hunting opportunities

As soon the wood striker began scratching the heavily worn slate of the call, a turkey erupted in a roar. The sound manifested as a vibration in my chest. It was on top of us. A downed tree sat just a few yards off the side of the muddy trail and served as the closest cover available. Stealth was important in both sight and sound, so we carefully pulled our face masks down, scared to touch a call or give any hint of where we were located.

The silence settled. We could hear the crunching of leaves as the bird made its way closer. Soon the blue shades of his head were visible through the budding green trees. There was no need to call, just a commitment to patience for the final few yards.


The shotgun shattered the silence and soon the echo faded to the sounds of a bird flopping in the leafy cover. My hunting buddy and I went from seeing no birds for hours to all of a sudden starting and ending a hunt in under five minutes. That is one of the many beautiful things about running and gunning turkeys.

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What is running and gunning a turkey?

Running and gunning means actively moving around a property and calling at intervals to find a wandering turkey. Hunters rely on natural cover and last-minute set ups, rather than calculated ground blinds. You simply walk some distance—maybe 20 yards, maybe 100 yards—and call. If a response comes, the hunter then quickly plans where to set up a safe shot at the turkey.

Like the story above, it can happen fast and close; at other times, the answer can come from the distance and allow for more calculated planning of the setup. But both events are part of an extremely exciting and active form of turkey hunting. This method is a great last-minute approach to new public lands or even property you have hunted for years.

Remember that hunting in full camouflage with other hunters requires immense caution. Always know what is down range. Understand when working a turkey that another hunter could end up in the area because they heard the calling. Safety should always be your priority and the running and gunning method should be accompanied by extreme caution.

Gear for the run and gun turkey hunting method

The gear required for this style of turkey hunting is not much different from other styles of turkey hunting. Ground blinds are about the most common item not used in this method, but many hunters will still use fast and easy turkey decoys to set in last-minute scenarios. Unlike ground blind hunts that can call for blackout clothing, this style of hunting requires full camouflage, including a face mask and gloves. Turkeys have excellent eyesight and it’s important to minimize any opportunity for exposure.

The shotgun can be any gun that works for you, but a sling is recommended in order to leave your hands free for calls and comfort on long walks. You should also consider pockets and how your calls are arranged in said pockets. I will admit to losing more calls in the woods than I can remember; it’s a hard lesson to learn and having a backup striker in a safe, zippered pocket can be a day-saver.

Theories of turkey Calls

The calling part of locating a turkey while running and gunning does not have to be complicated. It’s best to use whatever type of call you are most comfortable with, although close-calling action without a blind can be very difficult for pot calls or box calls that require the use of your hands. While that is not a deal-breaker for me, since I only use friction calls, a diaphragm call can give you an advantage for those last few clucks.

When locating birds, there are also advantages to using calls that are louder and carry farther, like a box call or a glass call. Once a bird is located, you can switch to friction and diaphragms to finish the job.

Choosing a place to run and gun

The spread of Eastern wild turkey populations across the United States and the versatility of the bird’s ability to use the land really means that these birds can be anywhere. Other subspecies require a slightly different understanding of their habits, as they can be more of a specialist in the habitat where they operate. One thing I personally look for is property that is less obvious to the next hunter. Many turkey hunters tend to stick to fields, but fields are not the only place where turkeys wander. Mature timber, logging roads, log landings, ridges, and random clearings can all serve as a travel route or even strutting grounds.

As male birds begin wandering for love later in the season, the chances of running into a bird in nontraditional hunting locations increases. Large tracts of land that have fields set apart by great distances can be very fruitful, as well as remote clear cuttings that the average hunter is not willing to hike out to.

Wandering turkeys mean that hunters should revisit properties multiple times a day and continue the run and gun method both into and out of a spot, since moving turkeys can end up in an area that you’d already been in earlier in the day. Many times, you can return to a spot to find a tom strutting in a place that you had called from earlier, most likely a silent bird that followed you as you called your way along the property.

The method of running and gunning

Once on the hunt, the process of running and gunning is relatively simple. I usually start by calling from my truck just to make sure I am not about to be busted by any birds. From there, I pick a path and usually walk 50 to 100 yards before stopping. Once everyone is silent, strike a “yelp” sequence and wait for a reply. I will usually repeat a few times with a minute or so pause in between, waiting to see if anything calls in response.

The method of calling known as a “cutt” is something I often mix in because tight-lipped birds (or maybe hesitant jakes) will often call on impulse alone or “shock gobble.” This can reveal birds that you did not realize were nearby. User beware, though, because this method can often call in hens that become aggressive or territorial. If nothing responds, I walk further and try again.

With luck, eventually a turkey will gobble back. It’s not uncommon in New England to work a half-dozen birds by noon. Even so, not all contacts result in a filled tag. The moment when that turkey calls back is when the most important decisions are made. It’s the moment of truth on calling theory, good setups, and understanding the lay of the land. In fact, I am a firm believer that good woodsmanship kills more birds than calling skills.

The setup for gunning

It’s possible you may have very little time to work these details out. That is one of the most exciting parts of running and gunning. Working quickly, we can make the best of even the least ideal situations. The first thing that should pop into your mind is where the bird is coming from and what makes your best shooting lane. That may be an opening in the trees, a logging road or trail, or maybe an opening in the woods or fields. Turkeys avoid thick cover for the most part, so briar patches and other difficult cover will most likely be avoided by the bird. Think about where you would walk if you were the turkey.

Background camouflage is the next thing that should pop into your mind. Put your back to something if you can: a large tree, a rock wall, a stump, or boulder…anything that prevents your silhouette from standing out against the skyline for a cautious tom. You may have to accept poorer shooting opportunities, but because turkeys see movement very easily, it won’t matter how good your line of sight is if you’re discovered first. I always assume the bird can see where I am before I can see him.

In a perfect world, a hunter may call back and forth with a willing longbeard that eventually steps into shooting range. Many setups will fail, but the excitement and pace far exceed that failure rate.

More advanced thoughts on running and gunning

There are many adapted approaches that can be applied to the running and gunning scenario, things like “cutting the distance” and “the turkey yoyo.” Many of these methods you will discover on your own as you experiment with methodology. They can differ depending on whether you are alone or with friends. It’s important to always ask the “why” and challenge the “how.” That is how innovation happens in hunting tactics. It’s how people begin to find their strengths and play to them. Think about how the shape of the land worked for you or against you. Think about the time of day. I often do not start turkey hunting till an hour or two after light so that toms break away from non-breeding hens and begin wandering for a new prospective mate. Work smarter, not harder.

The point is that there is no fully definable method that blankets all situations. The ability to adapt and learn from your mistakes in practical application is what will make the method of running and gunning a good prospect for your next turkey hunt this spring.

View Comment (1)
  • Good article. I’ve always preferred run n gun style turkey hunting. When I first hunted turkeys back in 1995, that’s all there was; ground blinds were still just an idea for the most part. At least here in central MN. At that time we had to apply in a lottery, and then only 5 hunters were picked for that zone, which was broken down into several 5 day seasons. The first time I applied I got picked. It was also the first time a turkey season was held here in the central part of the state. I had gone to a couple DNR turkey clinics, and listened repeatedly to a cassette that demonstrated how and when to call. I still have my first box call, a Lynch’s “World Champion”. That first morning I hunted state land because I couldn’t get permission on any private property. One landowner said they liked seeing turkeys and didn’t want them shot. OK. Ironically, the state land I hunted was right next door to this landowner. I was the only hunter on the land, and my plan was to follow a path into the woods to see what might happen. I only made it about 75 yards and heard a gobble. I hadn’t even called yet. I yelped and got a response, then repeated the call with a similar response. I was trying to go “by the book” with my calling so I shut up for a few minutes. …I called again and this time the gobble was much closer. Then he gobbled again even closer. I turned and ran back 40 yards to a big oak and sat down, just in case. The gobbling was even closer! With no time to set out my decoy I got ready. And just like that there he was: big, black, in full strut, gobbling, drumming, and spitting. I could feel it resonating in my body every time. I wasn’t nervous; I didn’t have time for that. He kept coming in, looking for that hen that wasn’t there. At 14 yards I took him. I went over to look at him, and that’s when I started shaking. Well, I was hooked. I looked at my watch, and there were still 15 minutes till sunup. My whole hunt, from closing the car door to standing, looking down at the bird took a total of 20 minutes. It took me almost 3 times longer just to drive to my hunting spot than it took for me to harvest the bird. But I knew not all of my hunts would go like this, and they haven’t. While I’ve taken a bird almost every time I hunt, there are those hunts that keep me honest. I still learn something new every year. Sometimes the birds are just not to be found or heard. Sometimes you talk to 3 toms at 45 yards for over an hour and still come up empty. But that’s another story. LOL Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to hunt the same great private properties(160 & 300 acres) year after year. And while hunting, I’ve been the only hunter on the property during that season.(Even so, I carry a blaze orange cap for when I am moving around from one spot to another) I do much prefer run n gun. It’s so flexible, and fast. If a tom changes direction or starts to head away it’s easy to pick up and make adjustments; on the fly if need be. I like to put the birds to bed if possible, then target those in the morning. Then, if that doesn’t pan out I start looking for birds. If I can’t put them to bed I just hit the woods and call. Hunting the same properties year after year has allowed me to really get to know the lands, sometimes better than the landowner. You start to see a pattern in the birds from year to year. I also have much better luck in the woods as opposed to fields. I used a blind for a couple years and had no luck at all, so I gave it to my nephew. I often hunt with my brother, and we enjoy the full sneaking through the woods camo route, taking turns calling for each other. This year will be my wife’s second season; she missed one last year, so my goal is to get hers first, and then go for a double. I still use that old box call, plus another wooden one made by a local that works in the rain, slate calls, and diaphragms. That fold up decoy I never got to use in 1995 still sees action. I lost the metal pole for it years ago, so now I whittle a new one in the woods whenever I need. My favorite camo clothing is custom made; a polyester microfleece in the old Advantage pattern. My wife made that and a number of other hunting clothes for me and herself. We are looking forward to this season. FYI: reading the article and writing this has got my heart racing a bit!

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