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They’re Hung Up

They say most men are afraid of commitment.  That they talk a big game but when it’s time to put the pedal to the metal, they’ll sheepishly walk away, petrified of any long-term ramifications.  After this past weekend in the turkey woods, I’m completely operating on that side of the fence.

It was a beautiful morning last Friday.  A light frost clouded my windshield as I placed my hunting gear in my car to go greet Dad in our trusty hunting spot.  With temperatures already in the high thirties, it was evident that as the sun came up, a comfortable day would await us.

After a short walk up the old log road, a distant gobble answered my crow call.  Darkness had given way to light by now as we advanced toward the noisemaker.  We pinpointed the bird on a ridge across a brook, approximately 250 yards away.  We made a play by crossing the brook upstream and attempt to hunt him on the same level of terrain.  This plan ultimately failed, as we busted the birds on our way to find a set-up.

That isn’t the end of the story, however.  After licking our wounds, Dad and I decided to head to another section of woods and start over again.  After blind calling for about 45 minutes, we heard another gobble down over the bank.  We closed the distance to about 150 yards and sat down, perfectly situated behind a stand of thick fir trees that blocked the bird’s view of us and ours of his.

With a couple of light hen yelps from Dad’s mouth call, the tom bellowed, having easily come to within 75 yards of us.  I got the 12 gauge up, ready to fire.  We decided to shut up, hoping the bird would march to within shotgun range.  He excitedly gobbled every minute or so, but his feet seemed stuck in cement.  After about 20 minutes, it was evident he had drawn the figurative line in the sand and was demanding the “hen” come to him.  Dad and I had both been in this situation before.

I decided to lightly cluck, and his thunderous response confirmed the gobbler’s stagnant positioning.  Eventually, he worked away from us and up the mountain, gobbling to my every desperate call.  I picked up the calling at a last-ditch effort to entice him, but Dad and I already knew the game was up.

Two days later, my boy and I were up on the mountain behind my house.  After walking and calling for a few hours and enjoying nothing but each other’s company, we decided to head back down to a mix of hardwoods and pines that is adjacent to a field where we have had action in previous seasons.  Along the way, I would hen yelp to try to locate a mid-morning, lonely gobbler.

At about 9:30 AM, my son and I both heard what we thought was a gobble, approximately 350 yards down the mountain and in the general area of our destination.  We picked up the pace and headed downhill, as I occasionally blew on my crow call to pinpoint him.  He obliged and we made a beeline for his position.

At one point, when we were in his area, I hit my hen yelper and was surprised to hear the bird gobble so close.  Panicking, I decided we should sit down.  As the turkey answered my calling, he was noticeably coming in.  I had my boy get the gun up in the firing position and told him not to move.

Finally, on top of a small bank, about 70 yards away, we both could see the tom strutting, his tail fan puffing up and down, putting on a show for the object of his affection.  As was the case two days earlier, this bird had decided he would go no further, and when he undoubtably could look down and easily see no hen in sight, he decided to walk away, gobbling out of our life.  I believe my biggest mistake was not setting up closer to the top of the bank to where my son had a shot.  Instead, while I’m sure we were both quite still, the turkey needed to see a hen to continue the game.

What is it about commitment?  Why do male turkeys always get their way and expect the hen to come to him?  Why do the hens allow them to get away with this conceded behavior?  Why do I allow myself to keep getting into these heartbreaking situations?  Why do I still take part in this sport?  I’ll be out there as soon as I can to try and find out.

The trouble with turkeys.

You nailed it. I bet I’ve been hit with every one of the pitfalls mentioned at least ten times over!

The outside bend.

I watched him half an hour until he dropped out of the trees thirty-five yards from where I sat, waiting on his hens. I clucked twice, if only to get his head up. To make it feel like I’d done something.

Eight-tenths of a mile back to the truck along the edge of a sprouting wheat field provided plenty of time to ruminate on the nature of luck. I knew why I was going where I was, even if I made plans four hundred miles away- two or three blocks of woodland linked by riparian forest in a landscape largely given over to agriculture meant it’d likely hold birds. Probabilistic planning.

The trouble with turkeys is every hunt comes with its own Sword of Damocles- anything, big or small, which may foil your plans. Not just the easily identified things like coughing or sneezing or moving too quickly. You can…

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Not This Time

He’d been played with before.  Two weeks earlier on Youth Weekend.  My boy and I came tantalizingly close to bagging his first gobbler (See “A Boy’s First Turkey Hunt”).  If not for an ill-advised blowdown, he would have had the tom at approximately 30 yards.  Alas, it was for naught.

Two weeks later, my son and I made our way back to the scene of the crime, in a thicket of hardwoods and blowdowns, about 50 yards off a field edge.  Facing the same direction as before, I hit my diaphragm mouth call, mixing yelps with soft clucks, as if to tease, “Come here, big boy.”  He responded immediately, just over a bank in the woods inside the field.  He was barely out of sight.

We hastily sat down against a big tree.  I let the bird gobble his head off for two to three minutes.  When he shut up, I hit him with the sweet and seductive stuff.  Boom!  He’s coming!  My boy got into shooting position.  We should see the turkey any moment!

Except we didn’t.  He never crested the hill.  He just stood there in one spot, voicing his frustration as to why the “hen” wouldn’t come to him.  Well, it was a mix of frustration and a welcoming invite at the same time.  However, it became clear that I was going to have to go to him.  We played this game for more than 30 minutes.  The bird would gobble and when he stopped, I would entice him some more.

Finally, the turkey shoved off, heading the other direction to the middle of the field.  There was no way to get closer without being spotted.  Desperately, I laid it all on the line for him, giving myself up for him, mixing yelps with clucks, purrs, and cuts.  No dice.  He kept gobbling but getting further and further away.

Unlike two weeks before, he wasn’t coming to me.  He’d played that game and it nearly cost him.  No, this bird had been educated.  He may not have been convinced that the yelping and clucking WASN’T a hen, but he was not going to walk into shotgun range to find out.  Not this time.

Turkey Hunting: Walk the Walk or Take a Stand?

I have had an enormous amount of good fortune hunter deer while sitting for days on end at a stand.  The goal is to find an area with plenty of deer activity (rubs, scrapes, active trails etc.) and park it until a legal buck comes along.  The tactic can be agonizing for us folks who struggle with patience yet has the potential to be fruitful for those who can stand it.  The same strategy can produce success during turkey season, however, for some reason, I am unable to hold out in the spring like I do while waiting for whitetails in the fall.  I wonder why that is?

Turkeys are primarily creatures of habit.  Undisturbed, they are apt to follow their patterns of travel day after day.  A flock that comes through after 7 AM today, just might repeat the same jaunt tomorrow.  So, one may theorize that all you must do is find fresh turkey scratching and sit and wait.  They’ll eventually wander by.  It’s a form of hunting that has worked for many hunters I know.  Except it hasn’t worked for me.

Perhaps it’s the time of day the birds are coming through is what is lousing me up.  In my state, we can only hunt until noon.  If these birds are in the area at 3 PM, it does me no good to sit there.  A trail camera might tell me this is happening; however, it may take a day or two to find out my worst fear is true.  I have now wasted two days of hunting.  That said, finding this turkey sign during preseason scouting missions should allow me to hang a camera and pattern the birds.  Just don’t scout more than a couple of weeks before the opener, as turkeys typically transition from winter to spring areas during this time.

While patiently waiting for turkeys is an effective form of hunting, I prefer the run and gun method.  There is something about making a call and having a tom sound off about 100 yards away that gets the juices flowing.  While the textbook turkey hunt is roosting them the night before and setting up on them in the early morning darkness, I don’t always have time to head into the woods in the evening, forcing me to hunt “blind.”

Run and gun is simply strolling through the woods and trying to find turkeys.  In the early morning, an owl or coyote call cand elicit a “shock gobble” from a tom that simply can’t help himself.  As the day breaks, making yelps, cuts, and purrs with a turkey call might do the trick.  The key is to stay with it and cover lots of ground.  It is common to walk for miles and hear nothing, only to strike up multiple toms just above the next valley.

When I do find the toms, I try to set up as close as I can without bumping them.  Turkeys have incredible eyesight so one false move can ruin a hunt.  I like to use the terrain available to me, such as a ditch or drainage.  Maybe it’s later in the season and the woods have been thickened with new greenery.  My goal is to get to within a hundred yards and sit down.  The spot I find to sit will have some cover, whether it be branches and leaves from an adjacent tree, or a fallen down log.

The way I call to the turkey will depend on his behavior.  If he’s gobbling his head off and getting closer, I’ll shut up and let him walk in.  If he’s gone silent, I may call aggressively to entice him to come to the “hen.”  If he’s gobbling but stuck in cement (not coming any closer), I sometimes drop back 30-40 yards and call, only to quickly head back to my sitting spot, giving the bird the impression that his hen is leaving.  This is risky and should only be done if the terrain in front effectively acts like a smoke screen.  A pair of hunters working in tandem can use the drop back method more easily.  A big thing to understand is that all turkeys have different MO’s and mindsets, and one bird will do the exact opposite than the next.

So, whether we run and gun or sit and wait, there are plenty of useful ways to hunt turkeys.  While I prefer the action of being mobile and never knowing what is up ahead, it can be beneficial to sit in an active turkey area.  Good luck to all hunters this spring!

It’s Time to Think About Turkeys

Spring turkey season is already here in parts of the United States, primarily in the south.  And I am jealous of you folks.  Me?  I have until May 1 up here in the northeast.  That said, there are plenty of things to start thinking about.

Where is all my gear?  My camo, turkey calls, face net, the things I flung down on the floor that last day of the season last May?  I couldn’t get the stuff off me quick enough, having absorbed plenty of butt whippings at the hands (spurs?) of our fine feathered friends.

Where am I going to hunt this spring?  Obviously, I need to truck it up the mountains and deep into the timber to get away from the crowd.  But where?  Only a thorough scouting job will give me such answers. 

It’s pointless to scout this far out from the season opener.  Birds are still in their winter areas and will not transition into the spring woods until a couple of weeks before the season.  This means I will have to “power scout” those couple of weeks.

What do I look for when scouting?  Well, for starters, it’s handy to know a piece of woods I’m checking out actually holds turkeys.  So, I search for turkey scratchings, which differs from when a deer digs mainly because of the mess a flock of birds make in the woods.  If I see an area that is massacred by turkeys, I know they routinely visit.

Look for an area that contains solid turkey habitat, such as acorns and butternuts.  In my neck of the woods (pun intended), I find birds devour these nuts in droves.  In my experience, they like to roost in an area around water.  Look for rivers, brooks, creeks, or trickles, areas that turkeys can fly down to in the morning.  Turkey droppings is another good find.  It means birds have frequented the area while feeding, and if they fed there once, they are quite likely to be back.  On a side note, “J” shaped droppings are that of a tom (male) turkey, which is what we are all after in the spring.

Of course, at dusk, we can attempt to elicit a shock gobble to give away tom locations.  Owl and coyote calls are my two favorites to locate birds.  It’s extremely beneficial to do so just before dark, as it gives the hunter a starting point for the next morning.  That said, I rarely attempt to roost a tom until a couple of days before the season.  If I were to locate one, say, a week before, there are too many scenarios that can drive out the finicky bird and render my locating him useless before I can hunt him.  Above all else, do not use turkey calls to find birds before the season starts.  You’ll only educate them and run the risk of making them call shy.

Above all else, have fun.  You are getting exercise and enjoying the peace and serenity of the wilderness.  I have gone on many scouting trips that proved fruitless yet found the turkeys during the season.  There are no two turkeys alike.  Some respond to different calls, on different days, in different weather conditions, or don’t respond at all.  Enjoy the process and eventually a little action will come your way.

4 Tips for Beginner Spring Turkey Hunting Success! — NateW Outdoors

With spring only a few months away, I wanted to create a post that covered some turkey hunting tips and tricks for beginners. If you are thinking of trying turkey hunting for the first time this spring or if you have only been out a few times and just never had much luck, keep reading […]

4 Tips for Beginner Spring Turkey Hunting Success! — NateW Outdoors