Any turkey hunter knows that the ideal situation to bag a big gobbler is to put him to bed on the roost the night before your hunt and get him to fly down to a few hen clucks in the morning while you are waiting there with your 12 gauge shotgun. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work this way. There have been several instances when I thought I had a boss gobbler all figured out, but then I watch him vanish from his roost in the other direction. The other common head-scratcher that many turkey hunters experience is when he flies down in your direction, gobbles his face off, and struts like he owns the woods, only to have him hang up around the 70-80 yard mark. I am sure any turkey hunter has experienced these situations more than once in their hunting career, but the good news is that you have a couple other options that can help you outsmart that old Tom.
Stay in the Woods.
In Western New York, the turkey hunting laws only allow us to hunt until noon each day. This already limits our time for bagging a trophy bird; however, many hunters will still head to the truck soon after they stop hearing the gobblers first thing in the morning. This is a major mistake. Just because they stop gobbling doesn’t mean they left the woods. They are still there and they are still hearing your hen calls. There are many reasons why a tom will stop gobbling or not gobble at all, some include:
- Fear of predators knowing their location
- Fear of the boss gobbler
- They are with hens and there is no need to gobble
- They are a young tom (jake) and they try to sneak in on hens without other toms knowing
- They just don’t feel like it
Understanding why the toms might not be gobbling is a key factor in helping you bag a bruiser. Either way, you need to sit tight. As a matter of fact, most of the turkeys I have harvested were taken well after 10AM. That tom that left the roost in the other direction first thing in the morning might now be without hens and searching for new ones. When you get a tom gobbling at your hen call during the late morning, hold on tight because he’s coming to you. In my early turkey hunting days, if I woke up too late to miss the roosting toms, I would chalk up the whole morning and stay in bed. Now, I have great confidence in the late morning and I am sure to stay until legal shooting time is over.
Be willing to adapt.
As I mentioned above, we have all dealt with a gobbler that will get closer and closer to us but then stop just out of shooting range. The ideal way to handle a situation like this is to tag team the bird with two hunters. When you initially hear the tom gobbling, send the shooter out in front of the caller at least 20 yards or so (just make sure the tom isn’t too close to you at this time). When the tom hangs up he will be out of range for the caller, but the shooter should be at a prime distance to kill the bird.
If you are hunting alone in this situation, you might have to work on preventing the bird from hanging up at all. What I like to do when I am hunting alone is to get the bird to gobble a few times and quickly move closer to him to make it seem like the “hen” is committed to him. Again, be sure the gobbler is at a safe distance where he is not going to see you. Believe it or not, these birds are smart and when a hen is not moving at all, they get wary. Once the tom seems to be committing to you, this is when you stop and let him come all the way. Sometimes, staying silent after you stop moving will get him to keep searching for the “hen” he was hearing and the last time he heard you was when you were moving toward him. While you are moving, leave your decoy where you first started. If he happens to see your decoy and you are much further ahead of it, it increases your chances of being within shooting distance if the bird decides to hang up.
Obviously, this is hunting, and these tactics don’t always work, but they have helped me bag that stubborn tom on several occasions. We have to realize that the traditional method for hunting gobblers involves trying to reverse the natural habits of the wild turkey. Usually, the tom will gobble and the hen will make her way to him. As hunters, we are trying to get the tom to come to the hen. If we can mix up our tactics and get as close to the natural setting as we can, it will significantly increase our chances of filling our tags. As a disclaimer, don’t get these tactics confused with stalking a turkey, which is a very dangerous strategy with other hunters in the woods. Do you have any go-to strategies that seem to work for you? Let us know in the comments below!
Written by Chris Postle of Postletown Woods and Water.