June 08, 2023
I've been hunting turkeys for a long time. Other than flinging arrows at rabbits, my earliest hunting memories were springtime in the turkey woods. From a young age, I remember sitting in ground blinds with my Dad and brothers, waiting anxiously to see the tom that had been gobbling at us all morning. Any animal that interactive, communicating back and forth with the hunter has always made my blood boil. I know a pile of people that would rather watch the grass grow than hunt for a dumb, little turkey. These dumb little birds, though — all puffed up in strut — have the ability to send my body into convulsions. Every gobble seems to shout, “Here I come!” Pair vocalization with the complex body language these birds display and you’ve got a captivating critter to hunt. Discovering what each expression means is an adventure in and of itself. I’m extremely passionate about turkeys and one bird is NEVER enough.
Living in Colorado, the law allows one bearded turkey per spring season. Beggars can’t be choosers, so I hunt my tail off for that one bird every year. But eventually, like all addictions, I crave more. As a youngster, my Dad and our family friend, Jeremy Eldredge, would round up my brothers — Austin, Casey, and myself — as well as Jeremy’s sons — Cody and Conley — setting out for an annual hunting trip to the great turkey state of Nebraska. In years past, youth tags in Nebraska cost $8 and you could purchase three tags. With five miniature hunters donning Hoyt youth bows and full quivers, the turkeys of Nebraska were in serious trouble! After giving flight to copious amounts of arrows, I started planting the foundations of a very capable turkey hunter. A couple of years went by and many turkeys fell to my arrows. Many also ran for their lives with arrows whizzing around them. Unfortunately, no one can stay a “youth” forever, and with adulthood came accordingly priced permits.
Construct A Plan
Fresh out of college and desperately broke, my hopes of chasing gobbles in other states were in jeopardy of falling through due to the high cost of hunting far from home. The ability to afford the proper permits was one thing, but paying for the gas to get there, finding lodging and sustaining myself while afield was something else entirely. “You can’t afford it" is an unwelcomed excuse in my mind, so I worked hard to save enough money to justify going on an out-of-state turkey hunt. The hunt I planned was not a guided option with a cozy lodge, nor a comfortable one featuring a hotel and hot meals three times a day. This was going to be a budget hunt. The idea of a “budget hunt” was nothing new to me. My favorite stories were the ones where my Dad and Grandpa slept in the bed of the truck, eating canned foods just so that they could afford to be out in the woods. That was exactly what I would need to do to make a hunt like this one work. There isn’t a luxurious or comfortable aspect to these hunts. You have to face a lot of challenges, stay discipled to the budget and face any adversity that comes your way.
I needed to establish a gameplan for my budget birds! Step one would involve finding a wingman as crazy as I am to split the costs with, and my college teammate, Kacin Nowlin, fit the bill. We played linebacker together in college and have a couple unnerving hunting stories already, so I knew he’d be enthusiastic about chasing birds hundreds of miles away from home. Having a hunting buddy to help tackle challenges and split expenses with is extremely important. To go on a mission like this, you'll need to produce spreadsheets calculating the costs your posse will incur going from one state to another one. Make accurate projections for fuel, permits, and food costs. The top three options for Kacin and I were Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. After considering factors like the price of permits, availability of public lands, distance from home and overall health of the turkey populations, we chose to make Kansas our destination.
Scout In Advance
Instead of going into a major hunt like this one blind, it is always smart to do some homework with onX Maps. Neither Kacin or myself had ever been to Kansas, so we needed to get a good idea of where to focus our efforts. Using the satellite imaging from onX and the topographic mapping options, we tore apart Western Kansas in search of creeks to scope out. I like to put point of interest waypoints on anything that looks like good turkey habitat before ever setting foot in my target state.
One feature all turkeys need is a good location to roost. Most of the time, these roost trees are in cottonwood creek bottoms — in the oldest, largest tree on the creek. In particular, we chose creek bottoms with more trees visible on the map and multiple public hunting options. Kansas has an exceptional Walk-In Hunting Access program, allowing hunters to access private properties by foot. With a growing amount of properties in the WIHA program, the opportunity for finding publicly accessible gobblers in Kansas is gaining steam. Kacin and I planned to take full advantage of that program.
Engage The Locals
On top of our extensive e-scouting, I called every buddy I have in Kansas. Any intel that was offered to me, I marked on my maps. Some of my buddies gave me waypoints of spots to check out. Some of them gave me exact locations to where they had killed birds in the past. Others told me to pack sand — I can’t say that I blame them! Good turkey hunting properties are difficult to find and when you finally do, it’s can be awfully tempting to keep them a secret. Using all of this new information from friends, I would compare their data to my e-scouting waypoints, identifying areas to centralize my efforts.
Upon my arrival in the state, the biggest task would be to find the birds. That is always the hardest part of the battle. Once you locate the turkeys, gather applicable property information. Sometimes, you get lucky and it is a publicly accessible spot. Other times, the birds end up on a private section. This is where a lot of people get tripped up. If the birds aren’t on a piece of public ground, hunters will give up on that spot. There are times where you have to let those birds be, but if at all possible, I am going to try to find permission to be on the right property. Most hunters are scared to knock on a door, but I’ll knock on any door I can get to. The worst thing that can happen is the landowner telling you no. On the contrary, you can gain a lot if you get permission. I have developed many great relationships by knocking on a random door. Sometimes, offering to help fix a fence or bringing them some game meat can help to seal the deal.
Plan For Everything
Fuel is another major issue due to a problematic economy at large and historically high prices. When choosing the right vehicle for the trip, you need to consider fuel costs, space requirements, terrain and weather. Your vehicle is your home on this style of hunt, so you need to stay organized. Pick the most comfortable and accommodating option for sleeping on the go. On solo missions, I have taken my car with higher fuel efficiency to save on fuel costs. This entails throwing all of my gear in the back seat or trunk, sticking to well maintained roads and praying for good weather. I have been successful in the beater, but with a car, there is a lot of risk involved. While you save the money on gas, you can’t take a car to places a truck can go. On top of that, if you're traveling with a buddy, there will be virtually no space for all of your necessary equipment. On a trip with a hunting partner, you need the space that the truck offers. The fuel costs will be higher, but at least you will have plenty of room in the bed of the truck for your equipment. Regardless of what terrain you are traversing or the weather that is thrown at you, a good 4WD pickup can get you out of most adverse situations.
Another obstacle to consider is how to provide all of the food necessary to sustain yourself on a week-long hunt. Eating out every night when you are on the road can add up fast. If you stop at a gas station for breakfast, a diner for lunch and then a fast food restaurant for dinner, a single person can easily spend north of $40 a day. Spread that across a week of hunting, and your coffers empty out quickly. Here’s what my typical budget diet consists of; bulk bottled water, instant coffee pouches, granola bars, canned chili, a bag of apples and homemade jerky. For a weeklong hunt, that should run you less than $80 for the entire week. Pack some plastic cutlery and a bottle of hot sauce to doctor up you cuisine and you’re ready for anything. I won’t lie, this diet is a tough one to maintain. There are times where all you want is a hot cheeseburger, but stay disciplined. If you want to get out of dodge without spending a fortune, you have to stick to the plan.
The last major decision you need to make is your tactic for killing your birds. Personally, I am a decoy junkie. I love painting a picture for my turkeys with decoys, eliciting a prescribed response from toms. I crave violent responses, and nothing will anger a dominant gobbler more than a strutting tom decoy situated over a hens. The only issue is that carrying a pile of decoys takes up important space in your vehicle, can be cumbersome to carry into the field and puts a major dent into your pocketbook. Ultimate Predator Gear offers a solution to this problem. Their Run-N-Gun Decoy Combo is available for both Merriam/Rio Grande or Eastern subspecies. For $149.95, you will get a strutting Stalker Turkey Decoy to strap onto your bow, and three Wind Drifter decoys (two hens and one jake). The entire Run-N-Gun decoy set breaks down into a small cinch sack, is incredibly lightweight and deploys in seconds. I’ve been utilizing this style of turkey hunting for a few years now, and my average shot distance is well beneath 10 yards. I cover more ground and show my decoys to more birds than ever before. There isn’t a more versatile, effective or affordable option on the market. I highly recommend giving one a shot.
With a little planning and some good budgeting, you are ready to go hunting. I have been testing and refining this method of budget hunting for a few years now. Unfortunately, I still don’t make enough money to afford a more comfortable hunting experience, but on the other hand, I take a great amount of pride hunting the hard way. I have found a great deal of success following this “on the cheap” style of turkey hunting. Hopefully, with a little hard work, some other broke kid can find some gobblers to chase after on a budget as well.