Two camo hunters hurriedly trudge down a hardwood ridge. The morning darkness was quickly fading, and the eastern sky began to glow a fiery pink. The pair hustled to get into listening position. Would the old Tom divulge his location again today?
Suddenly a thunderous gobble broke the morning silence. It was him. The old big Tom the two turkey chasers have been after the past three mornings. One hunter plied a few soft tree yelps and the bird gave an immediate response. The hunting duo had him pinpointed on the next ridge.
The pair continued their trek to close the distance between them and the bird. At the bottom of their ridge they realized a major obstacle, water. A small slough on the upper reaches of a lake prevented the pair from getting any closer to the gobbler. A continuous series of yelps had the old bird gobbling passionately. But he would fly across the slough.
Many times, over the course of a season turkey hunters have faced similar situations. A lake, river or creek has saved a gobbler from the roasting pan. However, turkey hunters can employ a different tactic in reaching a wary gobbler near a waterway.
Canoes, kayaks and small boats can save turkey hunters foot travel, time and frustration in establishing a calling position on an otherwise impossible mission to reach a bird. Hunting turkeys from a small watercraft can open up many available locations that other hunters are not willing or able to approach.
Selecting small watercraft
Kayaks have become popular in recent years. Many are designed for fishing from small creeks to saltwater bays. These crafts are lightweight and can easily be transported on the roof rack of a car, SUV or in the bed of a truck. Canoes are a little larger but are also easily transported. And most canoes can hold two occupants safely.
“I have used a small boat to cross a lake to get to a gobbling turkey,” said Andy Barker of Munford. “It saved a lot of walking getting to the other side.”
Canoes have been used for centuries to transport hunters and trappers down many miles of tributaries across the United States. Modern canoes are lightweight and stable. Also, they have the capacity to carry plenty of gear with one or two hunters aboard.
Kayaks are generally for one person, but they do have storage areas for gear. An advantage of canoes, kayaks and even small boats is that they can easily be quietly propelled. Paddling is the most effective method to approach a gobbling turkey with stealth.
“Choose a canoe or kayak you can easily handle,” said Scott Exum of Jacksonville. “Know your limitations and practice paddling before the hunt.”
Canoes and kayaks can be easily unloaded and transported to the water’s edge. Rubber mats or carpet placed in the bottom of the craft will help dampen any unwanted sounds. A clunk or ding on the side of a boat can alert a turkey to your presence.
Make ready your gear
Using a canoe or other lightweight watercraft for turkey requires some additional planning and gear. It may be wise to invest in a floating gun case. Many waterfowl hunters utilize the special floating cases just in case an incident occurs. A personal floatation device (PFD) and an extra paddle is also good idea.
Your turkey vest, calls and shells should be protected anytime on the water. A small amount of water from a paddle or tipping can ruin a morning’s hunt. A gear bag or tote will allow easy access when you arrive at your turkey gobbling location.
“A waterproof bag will help protect your gear while paddling into position,” Exum said. “There are various sizes available for ample room for all your gear.”
Canoes allow room for extra stuff that may be needed for the hunt. Chairs, pop-up blinds and turkey seats can easily be carried along if so desired. Small coolers or ice chests with bottled water, sports or soft drinks will be welcomed after the hunt.
A foldable two-wheeled canoe or kayak carrier will make transporting the watercraft from vehicle to the water an easy chore, especially for solo hunters. With two hunters the process is a snap. Also, don’t forget about a rope or strap to tie off the watercraft if needed.
The beauty of using a lightweight watercraft is it can be easily and quietly drug up on shore. This allows for a quick exit of the craft and getting to a calling position. The purpose of a small watercraft for turkey hunting is to save time and effort.
Depending on the location of your hunt and the lake or creek, fishing may be a bonus. After the hunt, a slow paddle back to the vehicle can allow for some excellent fishing. A majority of small waterways receive little if any fishing pressure. Keep the tackle simple with a small rod and a few spinners or soft-plastic lures.
Before the hunt
Like all savvy turkey hunters, a little scouting can help facilitate the hunt, especially along unfamiliar waterways. Grab a topographic map or use a satellite photo to review the area you plan to hunt and paddle. Look for launch points, bridge crossings and property boundaries.
“It is a good idea to survey the lake or area before using a boat or canoe,” Barker said. “It is better to know the water and any hazards before the hunt.”
Barker mentions it is easier to see landmarks and pull-out areas during daylight hours. On the morning of the hunt navigating the waterway will be simple and safer.
On tributaries with moving water, it may be easier to paddle downstream. Look for put-in and take-out points along the route. In your planning, a second vehicle may be required. It can be parked at a take-out site along the route. Or have someone meet you at a predetermined spot and time.
Don’t forget about scouting the turkey area you plan on hunting. While scouting the waterway is important, so is the area the turkeys are using. Look for roosting locations and feeding areas. Learn the best route or trail into the area after you have parked your boat.
In some instances when hunting waterway turkeys, it may be only a short paddle across a lake or down a short stretch of a creek arm. Other cases may require a longer paddle and a little more time. Plan accordingly.
Old gobblers may have set up their home in remote areas only accessible by water. These birds probably have not heard a hunter’s call all season. And your approach by canoe, kayak or small boat can help fill in a blank on your turkey tag.
Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at email@example.com