Turkey season, spring’s best game in town, is once again upon us. We start with high hopes, but I wonder how many of you are going to be sniveling with excuses at the end of the season? Over the years I have heard ’em all: The turkeys were henned up. They wouldn’t come to a call. You didn’t hear many gobbles. You just don’t think the turkeys were there.
Trust me, I know all of the excuses because I’ve used them myself. But the truth is, it’s pointless. The birds are there. And yes, they can definitely be tough to hunt even where plentiful. If they weren’t, it wouldn’t be worth the time to hunt them. We’d go fishing instead. But you can still kill them, even when they are henned up, even when they don’t gobble and even when it doesn’t seem like they want to come to a call. Follow these tactics and you’re guaranteed to fill a tag or two.
Close the Distance
When a tom gobbles (and is out of sight) but refuses to come in, get up, move around in small circles while yelping and then walk directly away from the bird; calling the whole time. Go 30 to 50 yards and then shut up. Run back toward the bird, covering half the distance between the gobbler and your original position, set up and stay quiet. The tom, wanting to stay near the hen, will finally move, and you’ll be in position when it does.
Lay Out for Field Toms
Got a tom that pitches into the center of a field every morning from the roost and refuses to come anywhere near the cover of the woods? Toss a lay-out blind designed for goose hunting near the spot the longbeard likes to strut and climb inside before light. For added realism and an increased jealousy factor, place a hen decoy and a strutting tom in front of you. Don’t call. When it gets light enough, the gobbler should pitch down within shooting distance.
Turn Down the Volume
Back off the volume of your calls. As a tom gets closer, it can hear you clearly. Calling loudly will simply spook it – like someone in the same room as you shouting instead of talking. Never call when turkeys are close enough to see your position. They can pinpoint where sound is coming from, and if they don’t see the hen they expect to see, they’re gonna be outta there.
If a gobbler begins to get nervous – raising its head and quickening its pace – but is already in range, it’s time to act. Even if the bird’s head is not obscured, adjust your aim slowly and deliberately toward the tom’s head and fire as soon as you get on target. Slow movements will not immediately spook a bird and will buy you a second or two to take your shot before the longbeard bolts.
The Field Challenge
Today’s craze over full-strut gobbler decoys is well placed. They work wonders on field toms. Stake a gobbler decoy where it can be seen in the open and within 20 yards of the hunter. Place two or three hens around the gobbler decoy to make the real tom think some of his hens have slid off to be with the newcomer. Include a crouching hen decoy for the ultimate insult. Longbeards will run in and face off with the fake tom so turn it looking away from the hunter if using a shotgun to get a clean head shot or toward the hunter if using a bow so the real bird’s fan will be facing the hunter. Add a lifelike turning motion to the gobbler with the Sidewinder Motion Stake.
Woods-Wise Hen Setup
For woods setups, go with hen decoys since they fold and carry easier. Set them where you can see them clearly, again only 15 to 20 yards away. Should the dekes cause the tom to hang up as he approaches, he should still be in range for a shot. A tom will mount a hen for breeding from the rear, so face a crouched breeding or feeding hen toward the hunter. Don’t face alert hen decoys toward the hunter as it can alert a tom to your position. And don’t use more than two or three hens – one is often enough. While a jake decoy can add some competition to the setup, never use more than one as jakes gang up on gobblers and can send a real bird scurrying.
Get ‘Em Talkin’
If a tom is reluctant to gobble. Hit it with loud, excited cutts and yelps. If it starts responding, keep pouring it on until you work the bird into a frenzy. Don’t let up; keep the bird coming until he’s almost within sight. Only then should you go easy on calling to avoid being busted.
All Worked Up
If a tom gobbles to every call but stays in place, hit him with a series of excited calls to work him into a frenzy and then go silent for at least 20 minutes. The idea that the hen has left could bring the longbeard looking.
Roost a gobbler the night before and get as close as you dare under cover of darkness the next morning so you’re the first hen the tom hears. As soon as he gobbles, hit him with a few soft tree yelps. Once he gobbles in response, be quiet. He knows you’re there. Just as it’s getting light, toss out a fly-down cackle combined with flapping your hat or a turkey wing to simulate a hen pitching down.
Bust the Roost
When roosted hens surround the tom you plan to hunt, wave your arms and spook them from their roost. If the hens scatter without scaring the gobbler, great – call from that spot. If he blows out of there, give him time to settle down and wait for a gobble. Then, slip in from a different direction and call him in.
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