I had listened to dozens of ground shaking gobbles from the strutting tom for the past half hour. He was just out of my sight over a little rise but well within 100 yards. He had at least one hen with him as he drifted right then back to the left, spitting and drumming between gobbles. Everything I threw at him drew an immediate response, diaphragm, box, glass, yet he refused to side step just a few yards uphill to see who was making all that racket up here. Unable to move forward and unwilling to endure any more snubbing, I decided to back out and take a long circular route to wind up even with the side hill hugging gobbler. As he shuffled to the far left edge of his strutting zone I snaked in to and up against a boulder 30 yards to the right of where I estimated he had been stopping on that edge of the zone.
Rock solid, with my gun on my shoulder and rested on my knee, I gave a few soft yelps on the diaphragm. Immediately, a hen and jake ran to me. I watched in shock as the jake tried unsuccessfully to mount the hen literally under the barrel of my Browning Gold NWTF 12 ga, I’m talking feet here, not yards. I dared not even blink as the fan of the big boy slowly came into sight. He seemed unfazed by the antics of the rejected jake but continued his impressive display and inched closer and closer to me. I think I might have singed some jake feathers and certainly sent both unsuspecting birds to their analyst’s couch as a loud boom erupted inches from their ears. The enormous gobbler that I had worked for the past hour lay still at 25 yards.
When a gobbler is hot, but hangs up, you have to analyze, form a new plan, and react. I have often said that good woodsman ship does in far more toms than good calling, though both together are a killer combination. In the case above, I knew the terrain like I know my living room. I had formed a good mental picture of his strutting zone, and I had his timing from one end to the other down pretty good. I am able to move fairly quietly and quickly through a forest and most important, I can set up like a statue with barely any movement at all. Without all of the above, that bird lives to see his fourth birthday. Calling was the least important aspect of that hunt.
I recall another old longbeard that would set up and strut right by my car as soon as I crossed the stream that demarked my usual hunting grounds. As I headed back the after the hunt, there he was gobbling away until I gave a call. He would look, gobble back once or not and slink off. This went on for two weeks. I was often guiding, and as we came out of the woods with my client’s trophy, here would be my nemesis. Of course the hunter would say “go ahead, I got my bird; let’s see you shoot this one”. NOT! I tried every call, every angle, every approach and all to no avail. He never called from the roost or the ground until he got to the flat ground by the car. Finally I had a morning alone, and went in an hour before dark (it was a one minute walk) and dug myself in like tick on a hounds neck. At 7:30 here comes this silent strutting tom right up the creek bed. He lit up his first gobble only after he got to center stage, there would be no encore!
Knowing where a turkey wants to go has put more birds in my oven than all my other tactics combined. I consider binoculars to be the most important piece of equipment I carry. They are handy during the season, but are priceless in the week prior to the opener. I want to know where they roost and where they went off the roost every day, but especially yesterday. Our birds here in the hardwood forests of the East tend to roost in general areas which change day to day, but often head for a certain destination at a specific time once on the ground. It may be a strutting zone at 9am or an oak stand at 7. Know where they are and where they want to go and you will kill more turkeys, if you can sit rock still that is. Turkeys have very poor depth and spatial vision. They tend to see a flat plane, that’s why blinds work so well without any brushing in. On the other hand; they have 8x binocular eyes that can see your nose twitch at 50 yards.
The two biggest reasons at hot bird won’t commit is Hens and obstacles. Physical terrain breaks like gullies, streams, thick brush, and fences can at times deter a hot tom from finding you. You may have to find a way around, this is where woods wise comes in. There is plenty of noise in nature; you must blend in with that noise. Turkeys are especially tolerant of leaf noise, as long as you sound like a deer or squirrel, not an elephant. A word of advice is to try to get the hot gobbler to you first, moving is always a last resort. For every bird you hear, there are usually other eyes on birds you did not hear, making it easy to get busted. All that said, I have called numerous toms in through all of the above and worse. Sometimes they are going to get to you no matter what.
Hens have become a normal occurrence with great success story that is the Wild Turkey. When I first started hunting over 30 years ago, populations were small and if you found a gobbler, they were usually easy to call in.
Today there are so many birds that it’s almost impossible to find a gobbler by himself. In this situation you must be aggressive; he’s not going to leave a “bird in the hand” for you unless you so get into his brain that you become all he can think about. Sometimes nothing you do will pull him away, especially if there are several hens with your stud. Here is a spring break-up technique I’ve used to great success, but local knowledge is important for it to work. When I deal with a hot bird, hung up with hens, and just can’t get anywhere, I stand up in plain sight. Not a run and scatter like the fall, just let them barley see you, and they will scamper off as a group, not especially alarmed. As soon as the coast is clear, settle in, wait, and DON’T FIDGET. If you know your woods, and this is a desirable spot, often they will drift right back in within the hour. I especially love this method on rainy days, when my standard “run and gun” is often less effective.
Every day in the turkey woods adds to your book of knowledge. It certainly helps to have a lot of unpressured birds, in woods you know like the back of your hand, with a call or two that really sounds like a hen. Yet when confronted with virgin territory, my favorite of all, I get to learn a whole new set of ridges, valleys, and flats .A clean slate so to say. And I can confidently say, if there are birds around, I’ll probably figure them out in short time, using my binoculars and gathering local knowledge as I go. Many times I am invited to hunt a friend’s farm or woods and most often kill a long beard on the first morning. Sometime, these same people have hunted here for years with only marginal or no success. It all goes back to woodmanship. Learn where the birds want to be!!! Good hunting all.