If you haven’t bagged your spring gobbler yet, there’s really no need to get overly excited for several reasons.
With a season closing date of May 30, there’s still plenty of time to hunt and most woodlots seem to have a gobbler or two lurking in them. In fact, as I write this column, I’m watching a big gobbler walking around and strutting only 200 yards from my desk! So with plenty of time to hunt and gobblers galore, only one real problem exists.
It’s a fact that most of the gobblers that are still walking around are pretty well spooked and hunter-shy after two weeks of relentless pursuit by hunters. By now, a good share of these crafty toms have been chased, spooked, shot at, called at and frightened out of their wits by an army of camouflaged hunters.
As a result of all these intrusions to their normally quiet lifestyle, gobblers, especially the old long-beard gobblers, can get mighty callshy and will become masters at avoiding their human pursuers.
However, there is a bit of good news in this whole scenario in the fact that gobblers are still very interested in finding hens in late season, which is what gobblers do in the spring.
Despite their fear of hunters, they’re still vulnerable to be harvested under certain circumstances.
Hunters need to change some tactics.
One thing I’ve learned from decades of hunting wary old gobblers is that the hunter has to be able to change methods at a moment’s notice. As an example, several years ago I’d been hunting a particular big gobbler for more than a week and a half to no avail. I had him well-patterned, scouted and even photographed via trail camera, and had tried to call him into shotgun range several different mornings.
Although I greatly enjoyed our daily, early morning duels, I was eager to get this character into the roasting pan and out of the local gene pool. He was smart, too smart or perhaps he was just very lucky. This woods-wise old tom usually had an escort of a couple hens and any errors on my part always had disastrous consequences.
One bad call, a slight movement or perhaps a sixth sense and he shut up for rest of the day. He was always reluctant to wander too far from his hens, or come to the calls of another hen.
Until that time I had dueled him to a tie with no clear winner in sight. Perhaps a little out of frustration or maybe vengeance, I finally decided to try something new.
I was aware of the fact that with several seasons to his credit, the bird had probably heard just about every manmade hen call that a gobbler could hear. Perhaps he was hearing too much calling? That morning I thought I would try something different. I knew the ridge that he usually roosted on and I decided to get a little closer to him in the predawn darkness than I usually did.
While I normally try to call a gobbler’s socks off, I opted to call to him only with one short series of three yelps with a different turkey call while he was still on the roost tree and I wouldn’t call to him anymore that morning. As I had hopped, he gobbled early and I answered with that one series of yelps. He answered immediately and I put the new call away.
I knew now that he’d heard me and would soon be flying to the ground. I thought I’d let him hunt me since it was later in the season and his hens were likely nesting anyway. If he didn’t have hens and was alone, he’d be nervous, antsy and looking for feathered companionship. Once he hit the ground he got real quiet and he never gobbled.
It must have taken about 45 minutes before I saw him slowly and cautiously sneaking and strutting towards where he thought the sounds of the calling hen had originated. Apparently his curiosity got the best of him and he cautiously eased ever closer. Holding perfectly still he never saw this well camouflaged hunter as I dumped him at 18 yards.
Lesson learned? Be willing to change your hunting tactics and calling midstream in the hunt. Let him hunt you on his terms. When something isn’t working to the hunter’s advantage, do something radically different. Try a different call or method of calling. In that case several years ago in late season, the lack of more calling did him in, he started second-guessing himself as to what he’d heard from the roost.
If there a moral to this tale, it lies in the fact that there are still gobblers out there and they can still be coaxed into shotgun range as long as you are willing try something different – something they haven’t seen or heard yet this season.
Try using a different call, as a good turkey hunter doesn’t have to know a turkey’s complete vocabulary. Mastering the “yelp” with different calls is the best assurance for turkey success. Try a mouth call and a box call at the same time to represent two calling hens. Try getting closer to his roosting area (hens usually roost near the gobbler or vice versa).
Take a hen decoy along and place it where he can see it from a long distance. Most of my experiences have shown that when he actually sees the decoys, he’ll oftentimes lose his wariness and come running. Remember the old flydown cackle with the added wing beats at daybreak, made with your hat. Got a gobbler hung-up out of range? Try imitating a feeding hen by making loud scratching sounds in the leaves with a stick or your hand.
As you head out on your late-season gobbler hunts, remember to hunt where there is a gobbler or two – or best efforts will fall on deaf ears. Then incorporate your newfound bag of tricks.
And – one last tip – if a gobbler hears and answers you at daybreak he is interested. If he doesn’t answer you, he is still very interested, only he is a little smarter than the first gobbler. He’ll likely sneak in quietly and catch you moving. Be ready for him. You’ll quickly learn that they are still very vulnerable.