Turkeys don’t always play fair, especially when spring is tardy and toms are henned up. Oftentimes those traditional tried-and-true tactics that have worked for you in the past are about as worthless as rubber lips on a woodpecker.
Here are a few rules of thumb on those occasions when the tom turkeys are thumbing their noses at you.
Just walk away
“Elvis” promenaded on the hillside — chest puffed full, proud as a peacock — as he belted out baritone gobble after gobble, obviously in love with the sound of his own voice. Hidden Valley Outfitters’ Cory Peterson and I had been working the tom turkey for 40 minutes and it was getting old.
We’d tried everything we could think of to get him to break down and close the 80 or so yards I needed for the shot. We were pinned down and the arrogant tom stood his ground. I’d played this game before, and as difficult as it is, I knew that sometimes you just have to cut your losses and walk away. And that’s just what we did — but not before Cory vowed to come back another day and even the score.
Desperate times often call for extreme measures. If a tom is hung up or courting a gaggle of ladies, I’ll try getting very aggressive, both in my calling and my hunting tactics. If my initial soft yelps and purrs don’t budge him, I’ll switch to loud and excited cackles and clucks, trying a variety of friction and mouth calls, hoping to find that one sound or combination of sounds that breaks the stalemate. If that doesn’t work, I’ll try moving and calling from a different angle. Moving can be risky and I can’t tell you how many birds I’ve bumped doing this, but hey, what have you got to lose?
Can’t get the tom to move? Try getting into a brawl with his girlfriend. There’s a distinct pecking order among hen turkeys and by challenging a boss hen’s dominance you can sometimes entice her over for a rumble. The other turkeys, including any toms that might be in tow will typically follow her over — everybody likes a good hair-pulling bar fight.
Start out with aggressive clucks and cackles and then mimic her responses. I find that cutting the boss hen off in the middle of cadence is often more insult than she can handle. A stiff-legged approach is the usual response. The added visual taunt of a hen turkey decoy helps sell this scenario.
Run, gun and run some more
If I’m hunting open terrain where I can keep in visual contact with birds, I will often hike huge circles around them and set up in front of them, in the direction they’re headed. It’s a lot easier to call these marauding turkeys in if you’re set up in the general direction of where they want to go. Once I’m in position I set up a decoy and start calling. Often, a tom or toms will come over for a look — if they don’t have to move too far off the hens they’re with, that’s the key.
Hunt them like whitetails
Whenever you take to foot in the turkey woods, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage. Turkey’s have incredibly keen eyesight and a paranoid disposition. Any unnatural movement will put them instantly to leg or wing. That said, if you move slowly and deliberately and use the terrain to mask your movement — like you’re still-hunting whitetails — you can cover more territory and, hopefully, encounter more turkeys. When I’m on the move, I hunt like there’s a bird around every corner or over every hill, stopping frequently to call.
When in doubt, sit it out
Just because turkeys are talking doesn’t necessarily mean they’re unresponsive. On many occasions I’ve been set up where I can observe turkeys at a distance and watch the toms silently go into strut every time I hit the call. When you sit down to call, always assume a tom turkey might be on its way, even if you don’t hear any gobbling.