Gobblers will win more often than not. Here is how to improve your odds.
Soon after I first moved to the Ozarks 30 years ago, I immediately began a love affair with hunting wild turkeys that has grown more passionate with each passing season. During those three decades, the wild turkey, with help from state game departments and the National Wild Turkey Federation, has expanded its range to every state in the nation except Alaska.
Turkey hunting experts were few and far between when I began hunting in 1972. My earliest efforts at gobbler chasing provided hours of enjoyment in spectacular country but little meat for the table. Early advancements in my turkey hunting tactics literally came from experience in the woods.
Pride goeth before a fall.
The very first yelps I scratched out on a Lynch box call brought a booming gobble in response. I immediately sat down by a large oak even though the tom sounded off a quarter mile away!
Instructions with the box call said that three yelps was the mating call of the hen, and it should be duplicated every 15 minutes. I sat on the same ridge every morning for an entire week calling to the same responsive gobbler a quarter mile away. I definitely possessed one of the key qualities of a turkey hunter - patience!
At season’s end, I analyzed my hunting tactics and began to plan for the next season. It was grossly apparent that I needed to get closer to gobblers to put one in my sights.
My job as a park superintendent in the Ozarks gave me ample opportunity to observe wild turkey behavior. I soon figured out that scouting, both to learn the lay of the land and to find the favorite hangouts of gobblers, was paramount to success.
Closing to within 100 yards of a gobbling turkey is standard fare for me today. I have actually closed the distance to 50 yards on private property. However, while turkey hunting on public property, I never move in closer than 150 yards for safety reasons. Another hunter could be setting up on the same bird, a formula for disaster. For this reason I wear a BuckLick Creek turkey vest because of the safety orange flags that flip out of the pockets. I leave the flags out even while I hunt.
Pre-season scouting is the most important factor of ensuring consistent turkey hunting success. Locating turkeys during the fall or winter, or even a month before the spring opener is no guarantee that turkeys will be in the same location on opening day. Food sources change. Turkeys may be harassed or threatened and leave the area. However, changes in behavior are primary reasons turkeys relocate. The massive flocks of fall break up as spring approaches. The bachelor groups of mature gobblers that lived together all winter succumb to the powerful forces of the mating urge. Combatants jockey for position in the pecking order and younger or weaker gobblers may become scattered in their search for receptive hens.
Understanding the phases of the mating season greatly aids a hunter in his attempts to get a gobbler coming to the call. During the early part of the mating season, gobblers are especially vulnerable to the seductive calls of hens. Again, as the mating season wanes and hens begin to lose interest, gobblers are easily coaxed to the calls of a hen that sounds ready.
Gobblers are toughest to call when hens are ready to breed. During the nesting phase, hens often visit gobblers just after fly-down making it very tough to call toms away from those babes in hand. Many hunters make drastic mistakes at this point by leaving the woods when gobblers go silent.
I have found myself alone in the turkey woods quite often by 10:00 a.m. The hens have usually left the gobblers to return to the nest. Gobblers can be fired up again by using aggressive calling and cackling. A crow call or coyote call is a great mid-morning locator call to induce a shock gobble in mid to late morning.
The market is flooded with turkey calls, and most of them are excellent. Call selection is a matter of personal preference. On the other hand, experienced turkey hunters go afield with an arsenal of calls. Locator calls are used to shock a gobbler into sounding off at first light. Favorites among hunters include owl hooters, crow, pileated woodpecker and coyote calls.
Turkey calls should include at least two types of slate or glass calls. My personal favorites are Knight & Hale’s Ole Yeller Sla-Tek and M.A.D. Calls Super Aluminator.
Box calls are among the oldest of calls and come in an array of sizes. My favorite is the Lohman double chambered box call.
Push-pull calls are popular among beginners and veterans alike, and are the easiest of all calls to use.
Mouth calls are perhaps the most diverse group of calls. The choices are mind boggling. Double reed calls are generally the best choice for beginners. Other calls can be added to your arsenal as you become more experienced.
Camouflage patterns are also a matter of personal choice. Match your surroundings and camo up completely. Cover your face, hands and all under garments.
Harvesting a gobbler is only the icing on the cake during a spring hunt. Wildflowers are blooming, new life is appearing and the air is fresh. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t harvest a bird because turkey gobblers will beat you more often than not!