Detailing For Hunter Shy Toms

Long agonizing minutes passed as the golden sunlight reflected from the gobbler. Its bronze and black feathers outlined its long thick beard.  I had watched the bird for more than a half hour cautiously cross the open field. Anticipation and excitement mounted with every step the gobbler took.  I tried disparately to control myself as the bird grew closer.  Then suddenly with only a few steps, the gobbler shattered my dream. It turned and reversed its direction.

Instantly I began calling as it continued its retreat. This act of desperation only increased the bird’s pace.  Soon the bird disappeared and I could relieve my anger and frustration. Then, after a few minutes, I regained my composure. I began trying to analyze why the gobbler had reacted as it had.

The first thing I inspected was myself and my position. My outline had been concealed by a large tree — OK!  I had positioned myself so I was in a shaded area to prevent any reflections — OK!  I had placed my decoys so the gobbler would pass in front of me — OK!  So what alarmed the bird? It had to be something with the decoys.

I was using three Montana Miss Purr Fect hen decoys and a Avery Jekyll & Hyde gobbler decoy. The Jekyll & Hyde is a unique double sided strutting gobbler decoy featuring a gobbling and a non-gobbling bird. Seeing the decoy, I noticed my possible my mistake. I had placed the gobbling position of the decoy toward the gobbler.  There had been very little gobbling activity that morning. The bird I had seen had been completely silent in its approach. I now gained another level respect for these magnificent birds.

The following morning found me at the other end of the field. In the pre-dawn darkness, I placed two Jekyll & Hyde decoys both in a non-gobbling positon.   This morning I elected not to use any hen decoys as it was still early in the season. Slowly the cloudy night transformed into a gray chilling morning.  I heard only two birds gobble in the distance.  I silently waited for approximately a half hour before giving a few deep and raspy yelps.

Patiently I waited another ten or so minutes before repeating the calls. This time they were answered with the sounds of flipping wings. Instantly, I looked toward the sounds and saw the gobbler gliding from the adjoining woods.  It landed in seconds and was standing approximately seventy yards from me. Long moments passed as the gobbler eyed the decoys showing no emotions. Then, suddenly, its feathers flared and it began strutting toward the decoys.

Slowly, I positioned my gun as the gobbler continued strutting in front of me. There was no question in my mind the bird was doomed. I continued watching the gobbler strut to the decoys.  Long moments passed while the bird stared at the decoys. Then, suddenly, the strutting stopped with its head upright. These would be the gobbler’s final movements as I released the payload of Winchester Supremes.  The gobbler had taught me a valuable lesson; a lesson I would not forget.

Know Your Area

Seasoned hunters know scouting is an important factor in achieving success. When scouting, I like to create a map of the area that enables me to study the area and memorize it for later reference. When possible, I obtain a topographical map. On the map, I record such findings as fences, ditches, creeks, etc.  These locations can affect a hunt as birds often avoid them when responding to a call.

Turkeys will often use roads and trails as they usually provide both visibility and unrestricted travel. Turkeys also use these travel ways for creating both dusting and strutting sites.  I also record the number of gobblers I see or hear in the given area. That can be very helpful during periods when gobbling activity is low.  Large clearings within timber areas are always recorded. Those locations are often used by the gobblers for strutting. That is especially true in areas where hunting pressure has affected the birds.

Hunting pressure often reduces gobbling activity within an area. When that happens, gobblers will seek out open areas and only strut to attract other turkeys.  Crafty hunters can sneak into those areas and ambush these call-shy birds. That is especially so with the advancements in today’s decoys.  Experience has proven when applying this tactic that it’s wise to prepare a blind. Blinds should be positioned to provide hunters good visibility and avoiding direct sunlight.  Always inspect the blind from a distance and check for details that could alarm an approaching bird.  I once had a gobbler stop short because a piece of flagging ribbon was attached to a tree behind me.  Again, pay attention to details and leave nothing to chance!

Detailing For Tough Times

Weather conditions, such as barometric pressure, daily temperatures and wind speed, influence a hunt.  I began recording daily hunting conditions back in the mid-1980s and continue to do so.  Unlike many hunters, I do not commit to hunting solely by hearing a gobbler. I often base my plan on the given weather conditions.  If the conditions are not favorable for gobbling activity, I resort to my maps and decoys.

Research findings show that when barometric pressure is below 29.0 inches or above 31.0 inches, gobbling activity declines. Daytime temperatures below 55 degrees or exceeding 65 degrees also show reduction.  It is during those periods when I prepare for silent hunting. Silent hunting is when I feel there will be little or no gobbling activity to aid me.  It is then I hunt one of the areas I have scouted and prepared. The location will be selected by the highest amount of recorded gobbling activity and lest amount of hunting activity.

When conducting this style of hunting, I resort to decoying more than calling.  If I hear a bird, I will call very sparingly.  I merely want the bird to know my general proximity and see the decoys. I don’t want it to pinpoint my exact location. The eyes of the wild turkey are among the keenest in nature, so why chance on being seen?  Experience has also taught me not to focus only on a responding bird, but also examine the surrounding area.  Numerous times I’ve allowed myself to focus on a responding hen, only to have the gobbler standing behind me. Savvy hunters learn to hunt with both their eyes and their ears!

The All-Important Gobble

Like all hunters, the sound of a roaring gobbler excites me. However, many years ago my old buddy Harold Knight taught me a valuable lesson. The lesson was learning what the bird is telling you! That’s right, listen to what the gobbler is saying. Hunters should remember the gobbler is gobbling for a reason. Whether it’s to attract a mate or challenge another gobbler, the gobble has a purpose.  Hunters who listen closely and understand the occurring transition period will be more successful.  This is especially true during the early transition period. This period is when the gobblers are establishing the pecking order.  During this period, multiple gobblers may become vocal. Years of observation has shown me that in most cases, the lesser of the birds gobble. The more dominate males basically strut to show their dominance.

Hens may appear when gobblers meet during this period. Some hens may show signs of aggression toward other hens as they set their pecking order.  Hunters should take note to the various calls produced by the hens. Listen closely to the hens showing the most dominance, as dominance prevails in mating.  In most instances, hunters will hear aggressive cutting and purring among dominate hens.  Learning to imitate these sounds can be a key to collecting long beards.

The All-Important Transition

I basically break my spring turkey hunting into three transition phases. Phase 1 is when the winter groups begin breaking up. During that period, both gobblers and hens establish their dominance among the flock. Gobblers become very vocal when weather permits.  They also present a lot of posturing and strutting.  Dominate gobblers establish strutting zones during this time also.

During this phase, multiple gobblers may follow a single dominate hen trying to win her affection. Savvy hunters try to lure the hen with aggressive cuts and yelps. Experience has taught me to pay close attention the calls and the calling rhythm of the hen. I mimic the same calls as the hen hoping she comes to the imposture, thus leading the gobblers to the gun.

During this period gobblers not only gobble, but also aggressively purr.  It’s kind of like when two kids on the playground start to fight. There is a lot of talk before the first punch is thrown, then everyone wants to watch. Same with gobblers, especially immature birds. That is the reason I always carry some sort of friction callers to the field. Among my favorites is the Knight & Hale Fighting Purr system. The push-pull callers have been extremely effective.

Phase 2 is what I refer to as the “Peak” period. During that period, more hens begin breeding. Hunters hear gobblers becoming more vocal as younger (two-year-old) birds become more excited. Hunters may discover mid-day hunting to be the excellent due to the fact that peak breeding hours have expired. The hens have returned to their nests, but the gobblers are still excited.  Sneaking into a location where gobbling activity had previously occurred and calling can be very productive. Often times gobblers will remain in close proximity to their previous gobbling locations waiting for another hen. That is why I like to call to a bird early and then allow time for the hens to leave.  In my opinion, this transition period is the best time for harvesting older mature gobblers.

Phase 3 is generally the most difficult period to hunt for a couple reasons. One is that the majority of the hens are now non-responsive.  Hunting pressure has also effected the birds by now, and there are fewer gobblers to hunt!

When hunting the final days of the season, I rely basically on my records and my decoys. I believe during the course of the season the birds become leery of calling.  Experience has proven these shy-birds can be lured with a single strutting decoy. Hunting areas with good visibility and dusting and strutting locations are prime locations.  The key factor is in success is being patient and paying attention to the details.–Bill Bynum

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