Spring turkey season is one of my favorite times of year. For many years, as a beginner turkey hunter, I really struggled with calling birds into shotgun range. In fact, I have been schooled by so many birds that it might seem silly for me to even write an article on the subject. But, like lots of other things in life, persistence eventually paid off. I have been taught many things by veteran turkey hunters whom I have constantly bombarded with questions on the dos and don’ts of turkey hunting. I have also learned a lot through trial and error with the turkeys themselves. One thing I have learned is that no two turkeys act exactly the same way, but that there are definitely some tactics that can be repeated which will increase your odds of harvesting this magnificent animal. I have attempted to outline some things to remember when chasing these wary longbeards. I hope that one of these tactics will be something you can latch on to and incorporate into your turkey hunting routine.
1. Better to be early than late. I always try to set my alarm 30 minutes earlier than my calculated time to get to the roost tree. Usually my alarm goes off around 3:00 AM during turkey season. I like to be sitting in the dark waiting for the grey in the eastern sky and set up in my position at least 30 minutes before the first call of the hens or first gobble. It gives the woods some time to settle down after I walk into the roosting area. It also gives you time to go to plan B if something goes wrong prior to your setup. Another advantage to being early is usually that it puts me ahead of other hunters. Being early will never work against you.
2. Carry more calls than you need. It is good to have several diaphragms, slates, and box calls. Sometimes the birds will especially like one call over another, for no apparent reason. The worst feeling in the world is not having the right call. Don’t be afraid to take a gobble call either. (Note: for safety’s sake, be very careful using the gobbler call on public land.)
3. Locator calls such as coyote howler, owl hooter or peacock don’t have to sound exactly natural to be effective in getting birds to gobble in the roost. Quite the contrary, actually. I have found that my external reed coyote howler by Primos, which does not sound near as natural or authentic as my diaphragm coyote yelp, actually seems to get more of a response by roosted gobblers. Remember, you are looking for a shocking response, so sometimes the worst shrieking noise you can make will be the best for getting a gobbler to answer.
4. Do not blow a coyote howler at roosted birds in the morning when you are too close. The roosted gobbler might answer, but they might be very leery to come in to your hen yelps because they think a coyote is close and they don’t want to get eaten. An owl hooter is a much better choice when you are close to the roosted bird. When I say close, I mean within 200 yards of a roosted gobbler.
When roosting a gobbler in the evening, make sure you try to pinpoint the exact tree that the gobbler is roosted in. Oftentimes, I will get them to shock gobble and then I will sneak in as close as possible. I then plan my setup for the morning.
5. Here are some things to be looking for while you are pinpointing the exact tree: A) easiest way into the setup area, since it will be pitch dark when you approach; B) exactly which tree you want to be leaning against and set up under; C) which way the bird will fly down; and D) which way the bird won’t go because of terrain or obstructions. I like to mark the spot where I will setup on my GPS, and then allow the breadcrumb feature to bring me right into the correct spot the following morning. Be careful not to let the roosted gobbler see your flashlight beam or the light on your GPS.
6. In the morning or afternoon, when the birds are already on the ground, it’s good to “prospect” for birds by walking ridges and doing some light calling. When you do hear a gobble, move as close to his position as you can without being detected. Once in close, say within 100 yards, set up and try to call again. This works way better than calling from the original position. Now, if you are moving towards his direction and he gobbles loudly and in your direction like he is coming, immediately get set up and ready for action.
7. Play hard to get! Make the gobbler want to come to you. If you get a bird gobbling, sometimes the most deadly tactic is to just shut up. I usually let them gobble twice before I call again. Usually they will come hard if you use this tactic. You may risk a bird walking off because you shut up, but if they are halfway interested they will be headed your way. This may be the single best bit of information I have learned over the years.
8. In the evenings, be in the roost area and be patient. I like to get into areas where I know birds like to roost. I sit and call about every fifteen minutes. The last 30 minutes before fly-up is primetime. Let’s say it is 30 minutes before fly-up and you make a series of yelps and a gobbler answers off in the distance. I might hit him right back with a series of excited cuts and then just shut up. More than likely, he will come to inspect. If they come in, but stay out of range, just sit still and watch them fly up into their roost trees. Then you can attack in the morning. One thing to keep in mind while hunting Merriam’s turkeys is that they typically like to roost on a ridgeline or at least where there is a contour break. The birds like to walk uphill from their roost tree and then coast horizontally into the branch. This tactic helps them conserve energy by less flying. Sometimes you can roost turkeys without hearing them gobble by just listening for the ruckus of their wings flapping when they fly up.
9. When the evening hunt does not produce a roosted gobbler for the next morning. There are several options for the following morning hunt. Option one, go into an area where you have heard gobblers before and sit tight. Listen at prime time for gobblers in the area. If you can move while it is still dark then pursue them. If not, wait until they hit the ground and sneak in close to them. The second option is to cover as much country as possible in hopes of hearing a roosted bird. This can be done either on foot or in a vehicle. Wake up extra early and drive to an area where you have seen or heard turkeys. Stop every half a mile and blow your peacock or coyote howler. Make sure you pull off the road before trying your locator call. I can’t tell you how many times I have stopped in the middle of the road in the dark and blown my howler and a gobbler answers close, but now the truck has to be started and moved off of the road. It almost always ruins your chances on the bird. Instead, if you pull off before calling, then you can slip into the roost position without being detected.
10. Always try and get as close to a gobbler before calling to him. If you spot a gobbler with your binoculars, try and move in very close to him without being detected. I will try to get within at least 100 yards or closer if the terrain and vegetation will allow prior to making my first call. Your success goes up ten-fold if you practice this method.
11. The cadence of your calling is more important than the tone and sound of your call. This is one opinion of mine that others may strongly debate, but I noticed a big difference in my success when a friend of mine showed me the correct cadence to my hen yelps. He told me I sounded decent but my rhythm was off. As soon as I changed my rhythm and cadence, it was like a light switched on and the gobblers became way more consistently responsive to my calling. The key is to listen to the hens and focus on the cadence or timing/rhythm of their call.
12. Position your turkey decoys at a 45-degree angle from the hunter on the opposite side of where you think the gobbler will come in from. Decoys can be a huge asset if you use them correctly. On the flip side, they can hurt you if they are positioned without consideration of where you want the birds to end up. An example of the correct way to set them up would be as follows: If the gobbler answer your calls to your left, it would be best to set the decoys out to your right about 25 yards. In this case, the bird will come to your call, but when he gets close he will see the decoys and walk right by you (or the hunter) on the way to the decoys. Remember to remain silent and very still when the gobbler gets close. He will be looking for the turkey he heard.
I want to give thanks to a few veteran turkey hunters who have endured my endless questions over the years about how to become a better turkey hunter. Lastly, I would like to give thanks to our Creator for making such as special animal for us to hunt and enjoy during the springtime! For more info, check out www.jayscottoutdoors.com