Hunting turkeys during the mating season in the spring is one of the highlights of my hunting year. There is something very special about getting out in the early spring woods or fields in pursuit of a longbeard. With Indian Paintbrushes and Bluebonnets in bloom and the sweet smell of plum or dogwood blossoms permeating the cool spring air, a turkey hunt during the spring is a true sensory overload. I know, I’ve been addicted to hunting spring gobbler for a long time but, not nearly as long as my friend, the late Bob Hood. Bob was the outdoors editor for the Ft. Worth Star Telegram for over four decades and was defiantly the most experienced turkey hunter I’ve had the pleasure of hunting with. Through the years, we’ve had a great deal of fun hunting turkeys together. Some of our adventures border on comic relief. I recall a couple of them when I waded a shallow river to “get to” gobblers on the other side that simply would not fly across or the time we got “turned around” on a big west Texas ranch and had to use the distant radio towers of San Angelo as a landmark to find our way out!
I once asked Bob just how many birds he has harvested with his old single shot, lever action shotgun. His best guess was somewhere between 80 to 100 birds harvested in Texas and other states. “I’ve probably called up twice that many more for friends and while photographing. Turkey hunting is truly one of the most exciting and challenging endeavors in the outdoors. No two hunts are ever exactly the same. There’s something very special about seeing a brilliantly colored strutting gobbler appear from nowhere and head toward what he thinks is a hen seeking companionship.” says Hood.
Bob had a saying; “Patience accounts for more harvested turkeys than anything else.” I agree wholeheartedly. I’ve seen Bob hunt an area hard for hours when he knew birds were nearby without getting a single gobbler to respond to his calling, and then harvest a big bird that slipped in to his set up silently.
Text book turkey hunting goes something like this: The hunter, wearing full camo from head to toe, locates a gobbler by getting him to sound off by using a shock locator call such as an owl hooter or crow call. Once the gobbler is located, he puts out a couple of decoys, hides nearby and begins a series of hen yelps on the box, slate or diaphragm call. The gobbler hears the hen, gobbles, struts and comes closer, stopping to gobble and strut every time he ears the ‘hen’ yelping in the distance. The bird eventually closes the distance, usually within 35 yards, and the turkey hunter takes the shot. This is the way a turkey hunt is ‘supposed’ to unfold. In truth, things seldom work out in this classic textbook fashion.
Even biologists that have spent a lifetime studying turkeys can’t explain why one day, the gobblers are silent and the next, they will sound off at anything from a slammed truck door to a clap of thunder. In turkey hunting, as is the case in everything in the natural world, there are few constants. But, here’s a list of tips and tricks that have helped Hood and I outfox wise old gobblers on past hunts. Hopefully, some of this information will help you get that old longbeard within shotgun or bow range in the next few weeks!
FIND THE BIRDS FIRST– You can’t harvest gobblers that aren’t there. Get out during late afternoon the day before your hunt and use a locator call such as an owl hooter or coyote howler, or crow call and get the gobblers to respond from their roosts. Then, locate a spot at least 100 yards away to set up and call the next morning.
USE DECOYS– The combination of a hen and Jake decoy can be highly effective in attracting mature Toms. In recent years, mature tom turkey decoys with the bird in full strut have become popular also. Turkey have excellent eyesight but they can’t see decoys unless they are set in an area that affords good visibility. Field edges are great places to set decoys. Gobblers have the uncanny ability to somehow lock in on the location where sounds are originating from a great distance. When your calling entices the gobbler to your area, your decoys should be easily visible so the bird will close the distance.
PATTERN YOUR SHOTGUN– It’s head and neck shots that cleanly harvest turkeys. Make sure you spend the time patterning your shotgun and know where to hold in order to place the center of your pattern on the bird’s head. Turkeys are very hardy birds and it’s important to head directly to them after making the shot. When hunting with a bow, portable pop-up blinds are very helpful, but they do hamper mobility. It’s next to impossible to draw a bow on an approaching gobbler without the cover of a blind. When bow hunting, set your blind on a field edge where you know turkeys are feeding and, remember Hood’s tip about being patient. I’ve harvested several gobblers with my bows through the years and it can be done. Just make sure and draw your bow low in the blind and slowly raise it into shooting position.
CALLING IS EASIER THAN YOU MIGHT THINK– You don’t have to sound like a turkey calling champ to bring a big gobbler in close. Turkeys don’t all sound the same. If you can make the basic hen yelp on your call, you can call turkeys. Knowing when to call is almost as important as “how” to call. Many novice turkey hunters call way too much. Once a gobbler hears your calling, he has the uncanny ability to pin point your location, almost as though he has a built in GPS. If a gobbler is “hot” he will stop, gobble and strut every time he hears your call but he is just as likely to come sneaking in quietly.
Listen to “Outdoors with Luke Clayton and Friends” on radio stations from Nebraska to Texas on weekends or anytime online at www.catfishradio.org.