When it comes to outsmarting local turkeys – the guides know best.

I swore loudly, let the clutch out, and pulled the parking brake. My truck’s motor idled while I climbed out, slammed my door and walked to the still-closed Forest Service gate.

“It’s April,” I said, my buddy Derek right behind me. “Who the hell keeps a gate closed into April?”

“There ain’t even snow!” Derek agreed, pointing up to the peaks of the mountains which towered over us.

I shook the gate – because that’d make it open, right? – and scowled. I hadn’t planned on this. We were running out of daylight as it was, and this threw a huge wrench into our turkey hunt.

I had a tag for Utah’s limited-entry turkey hunt, for the state’s southern region. The season opened a few days prior, and Derek and I planned on spending a weekend chasing gobblers through an out-of-the-way mountain range.

Unfortunately, the road up those mountains was closed, shutting my hunting plans firmly out of sight.

To make matters worse, this was the first limited-entry turkey hunt I’d ever been on. The general season in Utah is long, though you’re limited to a single bearded bird. With all the opportunity, you’d think a first-time turkey hunter would’ve at least found a bird or two.

I didn’t. I heard them, but it just as easily could’ve been another hunter with a box call.

Turkey hunting guides make their living knowing where gobblers are, and how to put a hunter on top of them. They spend more time scouting than most of us spend hunting. Photo Credit: Spencer Durrant

A few days before the hunt opened, a friend remarked that turkeys are, “the elk of the upland game world.” After a swing and a miss on this year’s hunt, I have to agree with him. Elk move through the forest as if they’re not there. Turkeys manage to do the same thing, and it’s infuriating.

The upside from this hunt, though, is all I learned from my mistakes. Any sporting activity – fishing, hunting, tracking or trapping – starts like this, I think. You go out into the field, screw up and learn what not to do. It’s a steep learning curve, but that’s part of hunting’s beauty.

It’s impossible to cut the learning curve altogether, but there are a few things you can do to speed it up. Hiring a guide is at the top of my list, and it’s something I wish I’d done for this turkey hunt. As much as I do know about hunting (which isn’t much), I know squat about turkeys.

Guides bridge the gap between basic understanding and competence. If I had one for this hunt, I know I’d have harvested a bird. More importantly, though, I’d have learned enough about turkey hunting to feel competent on my next DIY hunt. Specifically, I know I’d have walked away knowing more about these basic aspects of turkey hunting.

1. Scouting

Guides make their living knowing where animals are, and how to put a hunter on top of them. They spend more time scouting than most of us spend hunting. And most every guide I’ve worked with is happy to answer questions about scouting. I know a few guides who always appreciate clients asking pointed questions. It gives guides a break from the monotony of work and let’s them showcase how much they really know. And if you’re hiring a guide, you want one who knows their stuff, right?

If you hire a guide for a turkey hunt, make sure to ask how your guide knows where the birds are. Most importantly, ask why they’re there. Knowing the why is what helps you become successful hunting on your own. I wish I’d have had this kind of help on this year’s hunt.

Writer Spencer Durrant uses a box call while hunting turkeys in southern Utah. Photo Credit: Spencer Durrant

2. Calling

Perhaps more than any other major hunt, stalking gobblers requires some dedication to calling. Whether it’s a box or mouth call, you’ll need to know how, when and why to use it. Once again, a guide is indispensable here because they know this. To learn it for yourself, you just have to ask.

3. Plan B … and C, and D, and E and F.

A guide would’ve helped with the other problem I ran into: When Derek and I realized the gate up the canyon was locked, we didn’t have a Plan B. Guides always have a Plan B. Usually a Plan C, D, E and F, too. Instead of camping in the spot we’d picked out, Derek and I slept in the back of my truck with a makeshift rainfly overhead. The ground was too muddy to pitch a tent when we arrived at close to midnigh.

Even though I didn’t end up with a bird, this hunt was a success. I learned what not to do, and if I get a turkey permit next year, I’ll be accompanied by a guide.


  • Gary Roybal

    Gary Roybal

    This is so true. Most turkey hunters pride themselves on getting into birds but the guides know the land, where they go when they are pressured and where the water is. Ive had DIY guys ask for pointers only to get into bird and say the birds vanished. Wishing they would have hired us to help them out. Especially if they traveled from a distance to hunt.