One of the trickiest conditions in turkey hunting is having a bird sneak up after you when you’re sitting at the base of a tree. It can be very difficult to twist your body around far enough to make a perfect shot, and it’s nearly impossible if the bird is behind your right shoulder if you’re a right-handed shooter. It’s an excellent plan to practice shooting your turkey gun from your opposite shoulder before the season starts. If you’re comfortable taking shots this way your chances of getting a bead on a turkey without spooking it will develop dramatically.
Control the Volume of Your Box Call
If you are working a gobbler with a box call and he hangs up in the distance, you may be calling too strongly. Box calls are notoriously loud; the tom may think the hen you’re imitating is closer to him than you want, and will often stop and wait, thinking that she will come to him. One way to get him moving is to reduce the volume of your call. Hold the call upside down, with the handle on the bottom, and slide your thumb up the sides to increase pressure on the call and gradually dampen the vibration. The gobbler will think the hen is moving away from him and may give chase.
5 More Reasons Gobblers Are Easy to Miss
Need more reasons to miss a gobbler within 30 yards? Try these:
- The bird is moving, and you panic slightly, raising your head from the gunstock just a bit;
- You gun is new, unfamiliar, or one you haven’t shot in weeks or months;
- You’re wearing gloves, deadening your touch, and you pull the trigger like it’s a rusty nail;
- Your guide or companion is doing the calling, and he whispers the command “Shoot!” to you. You instantly obey, even though you’re not ready;
- You try for a headshot. Any of these reasons is enough to make a grown man cry.
Use Decoys Late in the Season
The best time to use turkey decoys is after most hens are already sitting on their nests. A decoy is much less effective early in the breeding season when most toms will already be attended by hens.
The Best Place to Set Up on a Roosted Gobbler
If you’ve done your scouting homework, you’ll often know where a gobbler has roosted for the night. If you’ve done your extra credit, you’ll know where he goes after he flies down. The best place to set up to call him in the morning will be between these two places, about 100 to 200 yards away from his tree (distance depending on how well leafed out the trees are). Get there well before first light, and sneak in as quietly as you can. Roasted birds are alert to unusual sounds and can pick up movements even in very dark conditions.
Don’t Let a Hot Gobbler Get Too Close
The next time a gobbling tom comes trotting into your setup, don’t wait too long before taking the shot. Most turkey load patterns open up at around 20 to 30 yards; this is the distance at which you have the best chance of putting a pellet into his brain or spine. If you let him get to close your pellets may be packed so tightly together that a slight miscalculation will cause all of them to miss.
Locating Roosting Gobblers
When you’re calling or scouting has located a roosting area (and you’ve been careful not to spook the birds!), you’ll hear them fly up into the trees—big wings flopping, a great deal of noise. Be alert, however, that they don’t choose the limb they wish to roost on from the ground, and then fly up to it. It’s after they are in the trees that they move around to a favored spot to spend the night.
When Gobblers Get Lonely
Many turkey hunters miss out on bagging their bird by not being alert to a hunting opportunity that takes place in the middle of the day. Sometimes around eleven o’clock in the morning, hens have left the gobbler to go to their nests. That’s when the toms get lonely—and start to gobble, betraying their location. You can get into position, set up, and call in your bird.
Rake Leaves to Call in Hung-up Toms
The next time a gobbler hangs up in the distance, responding to your calls but refusing to approach, stop calling and start imitating the sound of a feeding hen by raking a hand through the leaf litter at your feet. If all goes according to plan, the gobbler will grow frustrated, wondering why the hen he can hear scratching for food won’t respond to his calls, and will often come closer to investigate.
Fake a Flock of Fall Turkeys
Most hunters use turkey decoys to stimulate a gobbler’s mating or competitive instincts during the spring season, but decoys also work well for fall turkeys. The trick is to use lots of them to simulate a small flock. If you can figure out where the turkeys you’re hunting roost, and where they feed, set up your fake flock between them and use a couple of different calls to imitate the sound of a few feeding hens.
Circle Gobbling Birds Hung up Behind Obstacles
Gobbling turkeys hang up for lots of reasons, but one of the most common is that there’s an obstacle between him and you. Streams, fences, and ravines will often keep a turkey from following up on the promise of a ready hen. In many cases, you’ll have the best luck killing your bird by crossing these barriers yourself. Using a crow call to keep him gobbling, circle around him until you’re 180-degrees away from where you were set up before. He’ll be more likely to return along with a path he’s already used than he will work through the less familiar territory, and you’ll know there won’t be any other obstacles on this trail that might obstruct his progress.
Faking Out a Gobbler: A Desperation Tactic
When a gobbler plays hard to get, and nothing else has worked try walking straight away from him, calling occasionally as you go. If he thinks his potential paramour is leaving him, he just might come running.
Cover Ground to Find Mid-Day Gobblers
Turkeys gobble more in the early morning than they do during the middle of the day. This makes them easier to find, but it does not mean they are easier to hunt. Most toms will gobble in the morning even if they’re with hens, which mean you stand a good chance of spending all morning talking with a bird that has no reason to come to your calls. If you find yourself working a bird that refuses to come to you, don’t give up hope. Instead, go looking for a more accommodating tom. It is true that turkeys gobble less frequently when the sun is high, but the flip side of this behavior is that if you find one that does gobble; he is much less likely to be with a hen and will be far more willing to come into your calls. Hike through your property and call every 100 yards or so until you get a response.
Don’t Get Mistaken for a Turkey
Never wear any clothing or carry any accessories that contain the colors red, white, or blue. You should also keep your hands and head camouflaged when calling, and wear dark-colored socks and pants long enough to keep bare skin fully covered. These colors are found on the heads of wild turkeys, and you do not want to be mistaken for a gobbler by another hunter.
Make a Gobbler Jealous
You can use a decoy to simulate a breeding hen by pushing a hen decoy’s stake deeply enough into the soil so that the decoy’s belly touches the ground. Hens take this position when they’re ready to mate. Put a jake decoy behind her (a jake is an immature male turkey), as if he’s about to breed her, and the tom you’re hunting may become so upset that he approaches your setup with much less caution.
Bust a Roosted Flock in the Fall
The most common tactic used by fall turkey hunters is to find and then scatter a flock of the birds and then sit down to call them back in. Turkeys will naturally desire to regroup, and if you call well sufficient to duplicate a lost bird, they will use you as a homing beacon. One good way to find a flock to bust is to identify where the birds roost. Inspect the woods for big hardwood trees with plenty of clean droppings at their bases, and head out the evening before you plan to hunt to listen for the sounds the birds make as they fly up for the dark. Creep into the woods before daylight the next day, and then rush the group as soon as it flies down.
Coping with “Shut-Mouth” Gobblers
If pressure has forced spring gobblers into silence, try patterning a long beard like you would a deer. He’ll have favorites route he takes to favored strutting areas and feeding spots. So glass open areas until you find where the birds are using, and then set up an ambush.
Don’t Waste Time on Henned-Up Birds When
If you’ve got lots of lands to hunt, don’t waste time trying to bring in turkeys that aren’t that interested in your calling. When a bird gobbles once in reply to your calls but won’t go any closer after 15 to 20 minutes, it’s likely he’s still with hens. Make a mental note of your location, and then move on to search for another, a lonelier bird who will respond with more enthusiasm. Later, however, if you still haven’t filled your tag, return to the spot you were calling in when you first heard him gobble and try calling again. His hens may now be on their nests, and he’ll be wondering what happened to the one that wouldn’t come see him earlier in the morning.
Why Gobblers Are Easy to Miss
How do hunters miss a big target like a wild turkey standing within 30 yards? My personal pet theory (and I’ve done it myself!) is that the shooter is so enthralled by the scene before him that he raises his head from the gunstock just slightly. Do that, and you’ll miss every time.
When Roosting Gobblers Fly Down
When you hear hens fly down from the roost, while a gobbler lingers on his limb, still calling occasionally, your nerves will be as tight as they can get. But don’t start thinking your bird is as good as in the oven. Next, a scenario can take place that virtually dooms your hunt. The hens may start walking away in a direction away from your setup. The gobbler flies down and joins them, oblivious to your calls.