From the Field

Connecting YOU with Wildlife – Pennsylvania Game Commission


How, When, and Where to Take Pressured Public Land Gobblers

by Matt Morrett

Matt Mickey

A beautiful gobbler taken by Pennsylvania hunter Matt Mickey during the 2017 season, with a muzzleloading shotgun.

My dad was a big-time turkey hunter in Pennsylvania, when I was growing up. During my younger years, turkey hunting was all the talk where I lived. Because I was born in Pennsylvania, I always knew about deer hunting. But my dad got bit by the turkey bug. It streamed through his veins, and he put that same love of turkey hunting into me and my blood. I can’t remember a time I haven’t gone turkey hunting with my dad.

We had a big outdoor show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, every year that was called the Eastern Sportsman Outdoors Show. I saw and heard some of the legends of turkey hunting there like Dick Kirby from Orchard Park, New York, Paul Butski, another Mossy Oak pro and a legend in turkey calling, Ernie Calandrelli, Ben Rodgers Lee from Coffeeville, Alabama, and Harold Knight and David Hale from Kentucky. These men were my idols. When I was a youngster, I didn’t really care much for football players or baseball players. But the men who could talk to turkeys and get those wily birds to come within shotgun range were people I was pretty sure could walk on water.

Setting the Stage for a Turkey Hunting Career

The population of turkeys in central Pennsylvania where I grew up was not nearly as large as it is today. But through the efforts of the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) we now have a large population of gobblers in my home state. When I was growing up, anyone who harvested a wild turkey had to work hard to get one of those gobbling bronze barons. Because everybody in the county where I lived was trying to take any turkey that could be heard gobbling, I learned at a young age that if I wanted to take a turkey gobbler, I had to go into the woods deeper and farther than most other hunters would hunt and find a gobbling bird that no one else had heard. I also learned that the better I could call to turkeys, the better my odds were for taking a turkey.

But I learned at an early age to never give-up on turkeys. Pennsylvania hosts a large number of turkeys, a lot of public land and good road systems throughout that public land. So, I decided the best place to find a turkey that I could call in and take was a turkey that couldn’t be heard gobbling from the road. Most public-land hunters drive down the road, stop and listen for a turkey to gobble. If a turkey gobbles, the hunter will park his truck and make a beeline toward the turkey. So, I assumed that the turkeys that could be heard from any road on public land were the turkeys that would receive the most hunting pressure. The turkeys that couldn’t be heard from the road would get the least amount of hunting pressure. So, I chose to hunt the turkeys that couldn’t be hunted from the road. Because we have so many hills in Pennsylvania, I might only have to hunt 200-yards away from the road. However, in some areas, I might have to hunt two miles away from public access.

Something else I learned from hunting public lands was that most hunters would leave the woods by 8:00 or 9:00 am. Perhaps they’d read books and magazine articles about taking turkeys off the roost. But I learned, if I didn’t get to the woods until 9:00 or 10:00 am, I’d have a better chance of bagging a gobbler than the early hunters would.

Another misconception is, “I want to hunt the first 2 weeks of the season, because that’s when my chances are best for taking a gobbler.” But I don’t believe that’s a fair assessment of public-land hunting. I’ve learned that I can take more turkeys later in the season than I can at the beginning of the season when everyone else is pressuring the gobblers.

Gene Bakner

Gene Bakner connected with a crossbow on this mature gobbler during the Spring 2017 Pennsylvania Turkey Season. 

Hunting the Late Season for Turkeys

The more you know about the average public-land turkey hunter, the better your odds are for bagging a gobbler on public lands. The average public-land turkey hunter is willing to get up before daylight, possibly for the first 2 weeks of turkey season, however, after that, whether they’ve bagged a bird or not, they’ve had enough of that getting up before daylight.

Later in the year, as the leaves come out on the trees, those leaves muffle the sound of a turkey’s gobble. Therefore, when I’m hunting in the late season, usually later in the morning if I hear a turkey gobble, I’ll sit down as quickly as I can. I don’t try to move closer to the gobbler, because I know he’s

close enough to call, if I can hear him gobble through the foliage. Most of the time, if you try to close the distance and get closer to the gobbler, you’ll find the gobbler is closer than you think, and you’ll spook him. As long as that turkey is gobbling to you when you call to him, then more than likely he’ll continue looking for you. Because you’re hunting later in the season, most of the hens already will have gone to the nest or be on the way to their nests. So the gobbler coming to you is less likely to find a hen before he comes to where you’re calling.

Since the leaves are out in the late season, and you can’t hear the turkey gobble at longer distances, remember that the turkey can’t hear you either, until you’re closer to him. However, if you find a turkey that will gobble later in the morning and later during the season than he has at the first of the season, your chances for taking that turkey are much better than they are at the first of the season.

Hunters always talk about patience being one of the key attributes of a good turkey hunter. We usually mean having enough patience to wait for a turkey to gobble and then having enough patience to wait on that turkey to show-up. However, I think more patience is required to wait until 8:00 or 9:00 am to hunt turkeys, when all your buddies have been in the woods at daylight. You want to wait until your buddies have quit hunting turkeys, before you really start hunting hard.

Matt Morrett works for Zink Calls and Avian X Decoys. Matt won the Junior and Senior Grand National Turkey Calling contests, and the World Friction Turkey Calling Championships five times. Reprinted with permission of the author.

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How to Take a Field Turkey

by Matt Morrett

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Gobblers strutting in a field, following a hen.
(Photo by Derek Stoner)

In the last decade, more and more people have tried to hunt field turkeys. The reason there has been an increase in hunters trying to take gobblers out in the field is they’re: 

  • easy to see from a long distance;
  • often strutting in the field; and
  • relatively easy to get close to without the hunter being seen.

On most fields, the edges of the fields are wooded. Finding a gobbler out in the field is the easiest way to locate a turkey to hunt. However, a field turkey oftentimes is one of the most-difficult turkeys to hunt. A really-smart field turkey will fly down from the roost, land out in the middle of the field, strut, drum and call his hens to him. He’ll stay out in the field until the sun gets so high and hot that he has to move out of the field and into the shade – usually the time that many hunters have left the woods.

The big advantage that the field turkey has is that he can see danger coming for 360 degrees. When he struts, hens quickly and easily can see him and come out into the field to meet him. Usually, bugs and young tender grass are out in the field for him to eat. Turkeys also like to go out in fields on rainy and cloudy days. On rainy days, they can dry their feathers quicker in the field than in the woods. Because of the rain and the wind, on a rainy day, they can’t hear as well in the woods as they can out in the fields. They can see predators better in the field than they can in the woods, and the fields make slipping up on a turkey much-more difficult for a predator than hiding under a bush or a tree.

Another advantage that the field turkey has is that when he hears a hen calling to him from the woods, he knows that hen should be able to hear him and see him out in the middle of the field. Therefore, she should come to him. If the hen that’s calling from the woods doesn’t come out in the field to the gobbler, the gobbler says, “There is something strange about this hen. If she doesn’t come out into the field where I can see her, I’m not going to her.”

Turkey-3213

A lone longbeard strutting in a freshly-plowed field  Can you get him?
(Photo by Derek Stoner)

Field turkeys may be one of the toughest turkeys to call within gun range. So, the turkey hunter now has to develop methods to increase his odds for getting that field turkey to come over to the edge of the field where he’s hiding and can get a shot. One of the best ways to get that turkey within gun range is go to the field when the field is black dark – before daylight – and put out your turkey decoys. I’ll most often use a jake decoy and a hen decoy – either a feeding hen, a breeding hen or a lookout hen decoy.

By putting out two decoys, you want to present the illusion that a hen on the edge of the field may be ready to breed, and a juvenile gobbler is there looking for the opportunity to breed that hen. So, by using these two decoys and putting them on the field edge before the gobbler flies down to the field, then when the gobbler gets out into the field, he has two reasons to come over to the edge of the field where you can take a shot. More than likely, when a gobbler spots those two decoys and starts walking to them, he’ll walk toward the jake decoy before he walks to the hen decoy.

If you don’t have any decoys, and you find a gobbler in the field, start calling to him and hear him gobble back, then you have to employ the most-difficult aspect of turkey hunting – patience. More than likely, that gobbler won’t come strutting to you. He may follow his hens out of the field. He may hear another turkey gobbling. He may leave the field and go to that other gobbler, but he hasn’t forgotten where you are. At some point during the day, especially after his hens have left him, he may come back to that field or move through the woods to try and find you. This is when you can take him. So, don’t give-up on those field turkeys.

Matt Morrett works for Zink Calls and Avian X Decoys. Matt won the Junior and Senior Grand National Turkey Calling contests, and the World Friction Turkey Calling Championships five times. Reprinted with permission of the author.


Double Teaming Gobblers

TH5342 Vikki Trout Calling (L) Allyson Harlow (R)

Pairing up with a partner is one of the best ways to increase your chances of connecting with a gobbler.  Photo by John and Vikki Trout.

 

When I first hunted with my husband John more than a decade ago, we agreed that I would turkey hunt after he had killed a bird that season. I made all the mistakes beginning turkey hunters do and probably invented a few of my own. Unfortunately, I walked out of the woods that day with only an imaginary gobbler over my shoulder.

In the years since that failed attempt in Indiana where John did his best to get my first bird, I’ve learned when and how to use double-team tactics that actually work.

Open-Woods Setups Turkey season in many places arrives before Old Man Winter loosens his grip. The woods are far from green, and you can see forever. Unfortunately, the bird you’re hunting can, too. Because the eyes of a gobbler are its first line of defense, hunting open woods can be difficult since a turkey’s vision is comparable to a hawk’s.

Many of you know the scenario: You call to the bird, he answers and expects the hen to come running. But when he can’t see that girl approaching, it’s “Katie, bar the door,” so to speak. Start double-teaming and put the shooter a short distance in front of the caller, though, and it’s good-bye gobbler much of the time.

I remember one bird John and I hunted. We worked the turkey 30 minutes or so; it talked occasionally. John finally suggested that I sit against a nearby rock, and he sat far behind it. When the bird gobbled again, it was only about 60 yards away. I lifted my gun. Big problem, though; the bird never made another sound. It came in quietly, instead, and showed up on a hill 15 yards away. Bigger problem; the gobbler also heard the gun safety click, and the hunt was over.

Jungle Setups Familiar with the expression, “so thick the devil himself would not go there?” Those of us who’ve hunted turkeys for years have heard that turkeys don’t trust thick areas because they know whatever’s out there wants to eat them. It’s true that turkeys aren’t curious birds and would rather run than “ask questions.” But it’s also true that, once in a while, gobblers will traipse through some pretty dense stuff to get to their hens.

I’m not sure I believed it, either, until a gobbler John and I were hunting found us after he had flown down from his roost. The upside of sitting near thick foliage is that a gobbler can’t see as well and will take chances to find his girl. It also enables the caller and shooter to sit closer and in opposite directions to watch for the bird to come within range. I witnessed it when a 23-pound tom sporting an 11-inch beard cleared the bramble and walked into a field.

TH5618 John & Vikki Trout

Teaming up on turkeys makes the hunting experience more rewarding.        Photo by John and Vikki Trout.

Pressured Gobblers Turkeys are more cautious as time wears on. Many have been spooked; others have been shot at — bad news for a hunter who is trying to fill a late-season tag. Double-teaming might be the solution.

In many cases, pressured turkeys stop gobbling and refuse to come closer. When that happens, it works out better if the shooter is at least 40 yards in front of the caller because even if the gobbler hangs up, it’s still within shooting range. Oftentimes, a gobbler will circle and come in from behind. The shooter may not get a crack at the bird, but the caller probably will. In these instances, both hunters should practice safety and know exactly where each is sitting before he or she takes a shot.

 

When you hunt in hilly country, position the shooter near the top of the hill and the caller farther down. When a pressured gobbler hears your calls and persuades himself that a hen is on the other side, he sometimes will top the hill for a closer look. If the shooter is less than 40 yards from the hilltop, the gobbler will be in gun range when it looks for the hen.

Double Talk & Call Shy Hunting call-shy birds has always been a challenge. They’ve heard it all, seen it all, and we have taught them well.

Educated gobblers usually don’t budge. Or, they only come part of the way and never cross that imaginary line separating them from life and death. You have clucked, purred and hit on all cylinders, but nothing has worked.

The imaginary line between shooter and gobbler can sometimes be “moved” to the hunter’s advantage when double-team tactics are put into place!

A tactic that has worked for us is to have the caller at least 30 yards behind the shooter. If both hunters alternate calling, the turkey sometimes can be tricked into thinking that at least two hens are in the area. In the instance that a gobbler is hung up with a hen, try to bring her in with aggressive yelps and cutts. If those calls don’t work, try imitating the sound of two turkeys fighting.

Two Is Best For Beginners Some of us are still learning how to call and have calling strategies. That’s why double-teaming turkeys is a fun way to master the tricks. Two beginners can learn together, or for those lucky enough, a seasoned hunter will take a student under their wing. There is no better way to introduce others to the sport and, hopefully, hook them.

Reprinted with permission of the author.

Vikki Trout is a full-time freelance writer and photographer who loves hunting turkey, deer, bear and small game. When she’s not hunting, she loves capturing wildlife through the lens of her camera.


Talk Turkey With Local Hunters

By Steve Sorensen

PatiencePaysOff.jpg

Tagging a Wild Turkey gobbler is the classic Spring hunting experience.  Photo by Steve Sorenson.

Are the how-to lessons you read in magazines often hard to apply in your neck of the woods? Do embattled gobblers in your area behave like they’ve had the survival training and experience of an Army Ranger fresh from Fallujah? I hear complaints like that from hunters who are after pressured gobblers, so I asked a few good turkey hunters how they got to the point where they can reliably fill their tags. Their answers should be helpful as you hit the woods.

Jason Morrison: Taxidermist Jason Morrison owns Buckhaven Wildlife Art in Sugar Grove, PA, and he loves turkey hunting. I asked him what advice he’d give a new hunter, or any hunter who is going through a dry spell.  He replied instantly with one word. “Patience. Without patience you will call in lots of turkeys that you never realize you’ve called in, but you won’t see them because you’ll be gone. I’ve killed several turkeys after I woke up from a nap, and there’s an important lesson in that. More than a few times I’ve shot gobblers 2 hours after making my last call.”

Jason continued, “Pressured turkeys are often slow to come in, or they come in silently. I believe as many as 50% of the turkeys will come in without gobbling because their lives are constantly threatened. Maybe they’ve been beat up by a boss gobbler, spooked by a bobcat, or hassled by a hunter. They figure out quickly when hunters are after them.”

Morrison is right. Hunters need to realize that turkeys are so overloaded with angst that they couldn’t be cured of their neuroses even on Sigmund Freud’s couch. That anxiety is why they hang up rather than come running in. I once called in a gobbler that hung up at 70 yards. That’s where he froze like a statue and clammed up for almost an hour. He never moved a wattle. If I hadn’t been able to see him, I would have thought he was long gone. I seasoned him with patience, and he was delicious!

I’ll add one tip to Morrison’s advice. When you finally do need to leave a calling position after not hearing the gobbler in a long while, offer a sharp cluck or two and wait another 10 minutes. You’ll be saying, “I’m right here. Where are you?” That might be enough to close the deal.

Dr. Paul Bialas:  I don’t suppose doctors ordinarily appreciate it when you take extra time to talk turkey in the exam room, but I asked avid turkey hunter and Warren, PA physician Dr. Paul Bialas what he’d suggest to a hunter who has limited time to hunt. Almost jokingly, Dr. Bialas said, “I’d recommend working hard at getting access to good property where other hunters don’t have permission and where you can get in and out fast.”

Most of us have limited time, so that’s not a joke. It’s common sense advice for any hunter. And I have to admit—common sense is what I lacked many years ago. I hunted too many places just because they were convenient, and many other hunters went there for the same reason. Lack of access to good hunting land puts you at a big disadvantage. Whether you hunt on private property, state game lands, or national forest, don’t wait until the week before the season to explore new places.

Finding new places to hunt is a big part of pre-season scouting. Scouting will save time and usually reduce frustration during the season.

TimSmith

Tim Smith, with his big collection of turkey beards and spurs, and a shotgun that’s ready for the season. (Steve Sorensen photo)

Tim Smith:  The owner of Smith’s Custom Guns in Warren ought to know a thing or two about shooting turkeys—one of his specialties is building turkey guns. I pointed to Tim’s big rack of turkey beards and spurs and asked, “What should a hunter do to make sure his shotgun can produce a collection like that?”

He said, “Every turkey gun should not only be patterned, but the center of the pattern should be at the point of aim. Take your choke into consideration. Today’s chokes give very reliable results. Choose a choke between .660 and .680—the tighter ones work best with smaller shot such as No. 6, the larger ones with No. 4 or 5.” Smith also suggests testing some of the great new turkey loads on the market. “You’re looking for a tight pattern that leaves no gaps in a 30-inch circle at 40 yards. Hevi-Shot, a high density alloy of tungsten, nickel and iron, produces some of the best patterns and it retains energy for deep penetration. If recoil is a problem, I can do some things to reduce it.”

Bear in mind one caution to Tim’s point. You can lose more turkeys with a 60-yard shotgun than with a 40-yard shotgun—IF it encourages risky shots at marginal distances. The last thing you want to do is hit a turkey and let him get away. When hunters misjudge distances, or shoot at marginal ranges, they often can’t be sure whether they have missed or wounded the gobbler.

DickZimmerman

Dick Zimmerman doesn’t claim to be a good caller, but he has taken plenty of gobblers in Pennsylvania and several other states by calling in a relaxed way and without excessive volume. He was with me when I shot this late-season gobbler. (Steve Sorensen photo)

Dick Zimmerman:  An article on turkey hunting wouldn’t be complete without some comments on calling, so I invited Dick Zimmerman of Russell, PA to share some calling advice. Dick has hunted several states, and killed a gobbler in every Pennsylvania spring season since 1971—except for 2009 when his string was broken.

Zimmerman doesn’t profess to be an expert caller, so instead of making perfect sounds he tries to relax when calling. “Lots of people call too much, or call too loudly. A hunter should relax, and let the gobbler come. If the hunter is anxious, his calling can reflect that anxiety and increase the anxiety the turkey already has. If the gobbler is close, a loud call will sound unnatural. A soft call will encourage him. If he’s gobbling and coming closer, don’t answer every time he gobbles. Talk back only every third or fourth gobble. Resist the urge to call, call, call.”

Dick’s advice is right on target. If you listen to real hens, they usually don’t call loudly. And calling too often will make the gobbler think the hen wants to come to him. The gobbler’s instinct says that’s what should happen, but the hunter hopes to reverse that and make the gobbler come to the call.

I know way more exceptional turkey hunters than I can name, and whose advice would cover everything from calling to woodsmanship. Turkey hunters can talk almost endlessly about virtually anything remotely related to turkey hunting: guns, loads, camouflage, setting up, decoys, scouting, blinds, calls, and more. No doubt you know some good turkey hunters where you live, but every turkey hunter should tell you to make safety your first aim—it’s infinitely more important than getting a gobbler. And remember, be considerate to your fellow hunters—courtesy goes a long way toward insuring safety in the turkey woods.

Reprinted with permission of the author.

Steve Sorensen is known as “The Everyday Hunter.” When he isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. You can contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top hunting magazines, and won the 2015 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.


How to Introduce Kids to Turkey Hunting

Adalyn Washko

Adalyn Washko with her Pennsylvania Gobbler bagged in 2017.

With the Youth Hunt for Spring Gobblers in Pennsylvania coming up on Saturday, April 21, now is a perfect time to plan and prepare to take a young person afield in pursuit of Wild Turkeys.  Our guest author provides insight on how to ensure a quality experience for both youth and their mentors. 

Wild turkey hunting is a perfect way to introduce young people to hunting. Unlike the often mind-numbing boredom that can accompany deer hunting, wild turkey hunting is loaded with action and sound and drama.

Typically, I take a couple of young hunting recruits out for the Youth Turkey Day, which takes place the Saturday before the official opening of the season. These youngsters are usually sons and daughters of friends who don’t hunt but have a kid itching to try it. By that time I have done my due diligence scouting and have at least a half dozen gobblers, including Jakes, in my back pocket, and a bead on where the turkeys are hanging out. Finding a band of Jakes for a youth day hunt is a plus. They are much more cooperative than a mature tom, and a kid doesn’t much care about a rope beard or a full fan with their first wild turkey.

Introducing kids to any hunting endeavor certainly takes a bit of finesse, but I am old school in my approach. The common methodology these days is to never let the young hunter get bored. This approach assumes that a kid needs to experience success right out of the chute and can’t be expected to put in much effort. Following this formula, I’ve done all the work scouting, roosting, setting out decoys and calling the bird. All the youth had to do was wake up from a nap when the gobbler sounded off and shoot. That’s a true story, and a sure recipe for a kid that won’t get hooked on wild turkey hunting.

Unlike catch-and-release fishing where a bobber and a glob of worms will produce instant gratification with a slew of sunfish, the relative seriousness of killing an animal should include a modicum of commitment. The youngster needs to be involved in the hunt, and I mean the entire hunt. That includes sessions of shooting and patterning the shotgun of choice. I keep a 20-gauge Remington 1100 Special Field for my first-time youth hunters. It is smallish in size, has a short barrel, mild recoil, and with 2-3/4-inch high-brass #4’s and an extra full choke tube will wallop a turkey within 25 yards. If they are unfamiliar with shotguns and recoil I may have them fire off a few light field loads first before slipping in the heavier load.

Mike Derstine Kids

Mike Derstine’s children and friends with a lineup of longbeards.

Kids should get out in the field and scout for birds with you. The best scenario is roosting a turkey together the evening before the hunt. This can be difficult given the busy schedule of activities kids are involved with these days, but their parents should help them make the time. This shot patterning and scouting time allows you to coach the young hunter, not only on gun safety and wild turkey behavior, but also on basics like shooting at the head and neck of the turkey, remaining quiet and not moving when a bird is on the way.

Let them practice with your box call or push pin or slate call, especially when trying to strike a bird. When a bird goes off to a locator call the stage is set. Use decoys.

Placing a decoy or decoys at 15 yards from your blind or set up gives the youth a gauge on distance. You should be sitting shoulder to shoulder so you can whisper instructions about being still (they are never still when a tom is rattling the ground with gobbles), when to raise the shotgun and when to shoot.

And sometimes, even often, the birds simply don’t cooperate. And sometimes, after all the prep work brings a gobbler strutting into range, they just plain miss. It’s a good lesson for them to learn that a hunter isn’t always successful. What’s great about wild turkey hunting is you can pack up and go find another bird.

Get youngsters engaged in a hunt, get them invested in a hunt, and you boost the chances of them being successful and enjoying a lifetime of wild turkey hunting.

Brad Eden is a hunting guide, avid outdoorsman, and author who pursues turkeys with a passion.

Reprinted from Morning Thunder website with permission.