A look at suburban turkey behavior and how to hunt them
Not too long ago I spent the vast majority of my hunting in suburban and urban America. To some, this may seem horrible. Others can relate to the beauty of Mother Nature pushing back against the man-made world in our backyards. The thing about these places is that it exaggerates wild animal behavior. Things come in extremes. We may debate whether it’s natural selection or adaptation that breeds this eccentric survival behavior. I like to think it’s probably a bit of both.
My first real education in these matters came with the book “The Urban Deer Complex,” a long-winded but in-depth look at suburban and urban deer behavior. Most of my years were spent hunting deer. My family did not hunt turkeys, that came later in life. My background made me look at the prospects a bit differently than more classic methods.
Mind you, suburban and urban turkey hunting usually means perfecting the art of bird feeder toms, something which is nearly impossible at times. Good calling will almost never pull a bird off a feeder because of conditioning. They understand that every other turkey wants to be where they are. If a hen will not come to them, feeding continues.
I began to realize that waiting for the birds to leave feeders was the best way to hunt turkeys in this landscape. That is when they become vulnerable, when travel routes become an important part of scouting. Most of those easily identifiable with trail cameras. This may all seem obvious, but it wasn’t that ground-breaking moment I was looking for, either.
That moment came one opening day with a large group. Five of us to be exact. We had a tough first light and were now driving to other spots to check in on some potential targets in various huntable areas. Then, as persistence always pays off, we got a gobble right from the truck. As suburban America would always prove, distance laws tend to be the number one buzz kill. The tom was strutting no more than 100 feet from the parking lot. In the state of Massachusetts, 500 feet from a dwelling and 150 away from a paved surface is the law.
I would like to think I got bold (rather than desperate) and pulled a move from “The Urban Deer Complex” playbook. It comes from what I call “The Theory of Fluid Motion.” To sum it up as short as possible, in this case turkeys are conditioned (exposed) to humans walking trails every day in urban and suburban America. Over time they become desensitized to it. If the hunter behaves like every other normal human (what I call “Urban Camouflage“), the turkey will not respond in a negative fashion. If we take one step off the walking trail, all bets are off.
As luck would have it we all walked past the turkey, never stopping to give him any suspicion that we were more than just some kids skipping school. I even made it a point to continue our conversations because the more we appeared as non-threatening humans the more this hack would work.
Once we were well out of sight, we sat down and gave it about a 10-minute wait for the bird to forget all about us. Then we began to hunt like normal. Sure enough, 15 minutes of calling and we had a bird on the ground.
This savvy trick can come in handy when sizes of property are limited. We can quite literally get away with something that none of us would dream of attempting for big woods turkeys because it would be nothing short of a spoiled hunt.
A.J. DeRosa founded Project Upland in 2014 as an excuse to go hunting more often (and it worked). A New England native, he grew up hunting and has spent over 30 years in pursuit of big and small game species across three continents. He started collecting guns on his 18th birthday and eventually found his passion for side-by-side shotguns, inspiring him to travel the world to meet the people and places from which they come. Looking to turn his passion into inspiration for others, AJ was first published in 2004 and went on to write his first book The Urban Deer Complex in 2014. He soon discovered a love for filmmaking, particularly the challenge of capturing ruffed grouse with a camera, which led to the award-winning Project Upland film series. AJ's love for all things wild has caused him to advocate on the federal and state levels to promote and expand conservation policy, habitat funding, and upland game bird awareness. He currently serves as the Strafford County New Hampshire Fish & Game Commissioner in order to give back to his community and to further the mission of the agency. When those hunting excuses are in play, you can find him wandering behind his Wirehaired Pointing Griffon in the mountains of New England and anywhere else the birds take them.