They’re out there, somewhere, those flocks of wild turkeys. They’ll be scratching and pecking their way through thousands of acres of fall hardwoods and fields. But where?
And even if you knew where to find them, how would you get within shotgun or bow range of the dozen or more sharp eyes and ears in a turkey flock.
You could try to call them to you from hiding, but fall turkeys are not inclined to come to calling like spring toms in search of hens. Fall birds are quite content in their flocks and, while they may give a courteous cluck or yelp in response to your calls, they usually don’t deflect from their course to investigate turkey talk.
Bust Them Up
That’s why turkey doggin’ makes such a great fall hunt. A turkey dog hits the ground running in search of turkey scent and doesn’t let up until it finds it. Then it follows the scent to the flock and runs in among the birds, barking or bawling till the flock has scattered in all directions.
Hearing the ruckus of barking and turkey alarm calls, the hunter can move up to the bust site and set up to call when things have quieted down. Turkeys separated from their flock mates are eager to get back together and will now come toward turkey calls believing them to be from one of their scattered flock mates.
At this point, the dog is called in and made to lie still beside the hunter under a camo covering while the hunter camos up and sits down at the base of a tree call in a turkey.
Do you need a turkey dog? Only if you like an action filled hunt with a high ratio of success.
The Makings of a Turkey Dog
If you are wondering if your pooch could make it as a turkey dog or want to get a turkey dog, look for these qualities; a strong prey drive, a keen nose, stamina and basic obedience training. Prey drive keeps a dog on the move covering a lot of ground fast, in search of scent. Stamina will keep him going till he finds it. A keen nose lets him find it. And obedience training will bring him back to you and keep him still and quiet next to you, after the scatter when it’s time to call in your turkey.
Prey drive and good noses are common traits in bird dogs like pointers, setters and spaniels. Of course trailing hounds, like Walkers, Blue ticks and Plot hounds have good prey drive and excellent sniffers too. The only breed developed for turkey hunting is the Boykin Spaniel, a rugged, compact and hardworking breed developed in South Carolina for finding and scattering turkeys and retrieving ducks. The Appalachian Turkey Dog is another great gobbler getter. Though not officially recognized a breed, it is a great mix of talent being part English setter and part Plot hound. It runs a fast search pattern in the woods, can detect the faintest trace of scent and gives tongue with the classic Plot hound bawl when it scatters a flock.
A good nose, strong prey drive and athletic stamina are genetic traits. You can’t put them into a dog. You can only help the dog learn to use them. So a good candidate for a turkey dog may be a pointing dog that was a washout out as a pointer, refusing to hold point staunchly, or one that was never trained to hold point on bird scent. A hound cross is another option though it will be more of challenge to teach it to trail turkeys rather than furred game like deer and rabbits. Springer Spaniels and Brittany Spaniels are good candidates as well. Couch potatoes and boot polishers need not apply.
Build a Bond
Training a turkey dog is a year round process of small daily steps. It’s not an onerous task or battle of wills. It’s a few minutes a day to build a bond with a hunting buddy who will hunt his heart for you once you communicate to him what you want him to do.
Start with basic obedience training so the dog will come reliably when called and stay put when told too. Then teach the dog that he hunts with you and not for himself, by taking him for walks in the woods all year. Let him run free but call him in every three to five minutes or just before he get gets out of range of your call back command, whether it’s whistle or voice. Praise him when he comes in and turn him loose again immediately to do what he is hardwired to do, hunt for scent. But do not expect him to come in promptly if he is trailing scent. That is his strongest instinct and what you want to encourage. Never discipline for a tardy return if you haven’t seen what the dog has been doing. He may have been doing exactly the thing you want him too.
After a while he will get the timing of your call back routine and start checking back with you on his own. Then start changing your direction of travel often and call him in. He will then recognize that he needs to check in to keep track of where you are going. The goal is to have a dog that hunts a wide swath in front of you, sweeping back and forth like a wiper blade, while keeping track of you and changing directions with you. Thus, you stay in charge of the hunt and you will be able to hear him bark when he scatters a flock.
The dog also needs to be sound conditioned so that he won’t be terrified the first time you shoot the earshplittinloudenboomer near him. Introduce loud noises gradually when the dog is eating, so noise will become a good thing to him. Start by banging a pot while he eats and progress to a cap gun, moving gradually closer to him. When the dog ignores all this noise, take the training outside. When the dog is running around, happy timing, in the woods, shoot a shotgun at a distance of fifty yards from the dog then call the dog in and give him a treat. If the dog seems bothered by the noise, shown by dropping its tail or reluctance to come in, back off to a hundred yards next outing and repeat until he ignores the boom and comes running, tail high. As long as the dog seems unbothered by the noise, move up a little closer to him for the next shot each outing until it ignores the shot and comes in tail a wagging. The goal is to make gunfire a good thing to the dog.
If you ignore sound conditioning, the first time you shoot a turkey near the dog, he may run straight back to the truck to hide under it and hate everything about turkeys till the day he dies.
Also, you need to help him understand you want him to find turkeys and teach him to use his nose to do that. Use a turkey wing and foot for this. Let him get familiar with foot scent and feather scent by giving them to him. Let him know they are good by petting and praising him when he has them in his mouth. Then tie him up or kennel him while you drag the turkey foot or wing through the woods on a cord. Turn him loose where you started the drag and let him follow the scent trail to the wing.
With a pup, make him turkey crazy by letting him chase a turkey wing tied to a cord on a pole that you can pull around in front of him. Tease him with the wing until he barks then praise him for barking so he will know you want him to bark when he finds and scatters turkeys later. Your dog’s bark tells you his location and where the turkeys scattered from so you will know where to set up to call.
After the scatter, the dog must lay quietly beside the hunter or it will scare off the turkeys as they are called back. If the dog has been running hard it will appreciated the rest, but it must learn that laying down quietly is a non-negotiable part of the hunt. Accomplish this with daily training inside and outside. Simply have the dog lay down beside you, after his exercise period, for a half hour while you sit on the floor or a low stool. Start with him on a leash if you have to. Soon the dog will like this bonding time and yield to it. You can read or watch the tube to help pass the time.
Go Under Cover
On a hunt, the dog is covered with a camo sheet or goes into a camo duffle bag with just his head out. These coverings hide the dog and reinforce to him that he can’t move. To get the dog accustomed to a covering, first put the camo where he sleeps for a few weeks. Then put it over the dogs back legs when he is laying still bedside you. Gradually cover more of the dog as he accepts it, until just his head is out.
If you opt for the duffle bag, get the dog to go into it willingly by putting a high value treat in the bag, near the opening initially, gradually moving it farther into the bag. Then put the dog’s food in the bag each day. Take it in small steps always keeping in fun for the dog. Never force him in. When he is comfortable with the camo covering inside the house, run him in the woods and repeat the process there so he knows the rules apply in the woods too. If the dog is panting, he is hot, so always let him cool off before expecting him to lay under a covering.
Practice you own turkey calls during these training sessions so the dog will become accustomed to them and accept that when you are calling he is to lay still.
When it’s time to call in your bird, set up a small blind of natural vegetation or carry a sheet of camo fabric to drape over some dead branches stuck in the ground in front of you.
If you see a flock of turkeys in a field, try to move them into the woods by letting them see you from a distance before allowing the dog to scatter them. If they are scattered in a field they can all see where the others went and go in the same direction to regroup easily. But flocks scattered in woods tend to go off in all directions because they have to watch out for trees and limbs and can’t keep track of where the others went.
Do your scouting to find out where flocks roost. Then, sleep in, have a good breakfast and put your dog on the ground near the roost after fly down. He will pick up their scent. Then hang on.
If you like dogs and hunting wild turkeys, then turkey doggin’ is a natural, with excitement, exercise, companionship between dog and man. Once you watch a high energy canine work his magic in the fall woods, then lay down beside you and sleep like a baby while the forest begins to calm down, turkey hunting will never be the same again.
Leave a comment