Hello from Big Red.
Guess what hunters? We have about 90 sleeps until turkey hunting rears its wrinkled blue head for the 2010 season. For those of you that have taken part in a turkey hunt and heard the primitive gobble of a Tom, I know for certain that you are excited about this year’s spring hunt! I suppose many of you (probably most of you) are neophyte turkey hunters looking for your first bird, or maybe you have shot a Jake, maybe you got lucky and shot a Tom or two in your hunting career. Whatever your hunting past, how would you like to become a top-notch turkey hunter and know the number-one secret to turkey-hunting success?
Have I got your interest now (I am thinking yes!)?
For those who don’t know me, I’ve had the fortunate luck to be an agent hunter for turkeys and I have shot dozens of birds at all times of the year. This has given me an advantage and unique perspective by simple exposure, and I have learned some basic and simple truths about turkeys and hunting them. I am talking about the feathered kind not the human ones that hunt them (but I will talk about the latter as well). Please forgive me if you find after reading this blog, that you a turkey of the humanoid kind.
Below are some simple truths regarding turkeys and turkey hunting:
1. Hunters often use hen calls and decoys to call gobblers to them, when doing so is against the practices of nature. The truth is that hens usually seek out Toms and stay with them until they are bred. Toms with hens are difficult, if not impossible, to call!
2. Hunters frequently use one or two loud calls repeatedly, and many times they use gobble calls to entice a bird towards their decoys. In truth, turkeys for the most part are not very vocal. When they do communicate they use very subtle vocalizations that are very hard for the neophyte to mimic. When busy with a call, you are likely scaring most mature birds off your decoys and away from you. Imagine a Russian (ie. human) trying to speak English (ie. turkey); most English-speakers can easily detect the Russian in the room. In other words the birds immediately know you are Elmer Fudd trying to sound like a turkey if you are not a seriously adept caller!
3. Almost all new turkey hunters buy a call and attempt to call turkeys into their hunting area before the season opens. Some newbies use a turkey call to locate birds on the roost; some nimrods will see birds, stop their car and start scratching away on a slate call like a hip-hop DJ on a turntable. Worse, I have seen hunters walk into the middle of a field, whip out the box call, and start flailing away like they are playing Rock Star on their Wii! These savvy birds are highly wary and learn from experience; for the last number of years, this newbie phenomenon has served to educate whole generations of turkeys to be call-shy. Perhaps most importantly, you should be aware that it is illegal to chase, pursue, harass, or call turkeys before the season opens (with or without a turkey license).
4. Most new hunters try to move on a bird. They initially hear one gobble and (after a little while) it sounds like it is moving away, so they get up and move towards where they last heard it. Makes sense right? Not exactly. Many times, this bird is not moving away, but rather changing direction as he struts back and forth for a group of hens. Not only is stalking turkeys extremely dangerous (ie. GETTING SHOT BY, OR SHOOTING, ANOTHER HUNTER) but you have virtually NO CHANCE OF SNEAKING UP ON A TURKEY!
5. I often see hunters in full camo in the woods hunting turkeys, and the reason I see them is because they are moving. They look like bobble heads scanning in all directions for a turkey that could be sneaking up on them. The truth is that the turkey can see much farther and hear much better than you; if he decides to come to your setup, you will likely hear him long before you see him.
6. Hunters walk into their hunting area right at sunrise to hunt, but by this time the birds are already on the ground and can often see the hunter approaching! Alternately, hunters go into the woods in the dark and set up too close to the roost tree without realizing that the birds can see very well in the dark from way up high; the birds see the hunter and when they do, they will fly down and far away from the hunter.
OK so now that you know some of the problems, what do you do?
Firstly, and most importantly, you should never call turkeys before the season! There are a couple of generations of call-wise birds out there right now that are completely spooked by calls. Don’t be one of the turkeys that stops on the side of the road and calls turkeys from your vehicle! Scout your hunting area with binoculars first, keeping at a good distance. Alternately, you can find roosted birds late at night with a coyote, hawk, or woodpecker call; anything but a turkey call. Never approach within 100 yards of a roost tree that has birds in it; they will see and hear you even in the dark. Remember that the birds move to different areas once the snow is off the ground (this is usually sometime in March). The way to find the roost tree is to glass for birds (using good quality binoculars is imperative) after 4:00 P.M. Remember that southern and western exposures hold the light and the heat the longest, so look for birds in these warm areas late in the day. At this time, the mature birds will likely be grouped together close to their roost and will fly up at or near dusk (depending on the weather). Once you have a good idea of where the birds are (and where the roost tree is), find a couple of good setups at least 100 yards from the roost and with good approach cover! Find or build your blind (and a couple of back-up blinds, if you’re so inclined) early, then stay the heck away from it! Do not walk your dog there; don’t tell or take your friends there to show them; and do not feed the birds!
A day or two before the opener and after 11 PM, go out to your hunting area and from a distance, use your coyote or woodpecker call and try to illicit a gobble from the roost tree. This will ensure that the birds are still there. When opening morning arrives, you should be ready and in your blind/setup at least an hour before sunrise. Make sure you park well away from your hunting area and are quiet; a car door shutting or a human voice can alert birds a far distances on a quiet morning. Do not use a bright flashlight when walking in. Use a muted red lens (with a tight beam pointed low) or no light at all if you can do it safely. Once you get to your blind, get setup quickly and quietly and with a modicum of movement and noise (make sure your camo is all done up and you have your face mask on in advance). If you have your heart set on shooting a Tom, using single hen decoy early in the season is preferable (two hen decoys is even better). Stay away from the traditional Jake decoy; this prop is not natural and it will spook the savvy Toms and hens they are with most times. Set your hens at 25 yards and about 10 yards apart so that your gun is pointing at them with a minimum of movement. If you are hell bent on shooting a Jake, put three Jake decoys and a small hen out in front closer to your gun (25 yards is the perfect distance to the farthest Jake in the set). Later in the season you can start putting out more decoys in different setups, watch the birds that you see at a distance and try to mimic the demographics you see! As the season progresses the mature Tom and breeding hen setup can be dynamite and a real tail fan on a realistic Tom decoy is a bonus to fool those really amorous Toms late in the season.
Once your all set up in the dark and sitting down with your firearm or bow still in the case unloaded you can now get ready to call and what I am about to tell you is the key to successful turkey hunting so listen carefully! About one hour to 40 minutes before sun-up the turkeys will softly call to each other in the roost and most often the Jake’s and Toms will gobble once… do not call back! Wait! Naturally they will gobble again within a minute or two and this is when you should call. You need to do a really soft tree yelp and then just wait if you got his attention he will gobble again, then you wait again for the second gobble. When you hear the second gobble you can do a fly down cackle, which is just a fast series of cackling yelps and clucks while slapping your hat rapidly against your leg and by flapping it in the air and then against the ground once or twice hard. Now the only thing you should do is two or three more modest yelps and shut up!
The Toms that heard you have now marked your way-point on the tiny little GPS map in their brain and they know exactly where you are! All you need to do now is be patient, don’t call, don’t move, stay awake and wait! Those roosted birds will fly down and do their morning libations, the hens will feed and scratch and the Toms will strut and try to get lucky. And after the adult birds have paired, the Jake’s have ganged up and the hens move off on their own there is an extremely likely possibility that the Tom or Toms or the Jake’s are going to search for you and they will start at your last know location. This could be immediately after fly down or one or two hours later normally I have shot my bird within 45 minutes to an hour and most of my clients have shot birds this way as well. Be aware that the Gobblers will just as likely circle in from the other direction as come directly in and they sometimes like to use the field edge or a fence line for some cover. Just don’t fall asleep and whatever you do don’t start calling out of boredom, if you by some chance get a bird coming but he hangs up use only very subtle cuts and purrs and once he answers shut up again.
I have used this simple method very successfully for long time now during the early season and I know it will work for you if you have the patience!
Watch Big Reds Blog for some mid and late season tips soon to be posted.
Good Luck and Happy Hunting!