From the Field

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Late Season—No Time to Give Up on Gobblers

by Steve Sorensen

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The first gobbler I shot using my custom scratchbox call taught me never to quit in the late season. (Steve Sorensen photo.)

When the spring gobbler season is racing down the home stretch, and you have an unfilled tag, you’re desperate. You’re seeing a few hens taking a break from sitting on their nests, but they’re not attracting gobblers. The silence is deafening. Any gobble you hear seems random and sounds far, far away. But hope is not gone. In fact, some things are on your side. You can still fill that tag if you figure out what those things are and take advantage of them.

1. Gobblers are closer than you think.

If you hear a gobbler that sounds like he’s in another zip code, you’re in luck. Be thankful you heard one, and seize the advantage. The advantage is that trees are leafed out.

In the early season bare trees let the gobbles rattle through the hardwoods to your acutely tuned ears. But after green-up those sounds are muffled by leaves, which act as millions of tiny baffles soaking up the sound. Those leaves give you several benefits. They block the gobbler’s visibility, giving you a better opportunity to get close. They also help deaden any in advertent sounds you might make. The foliage doesn’t allow him to think he should see that hen from 100 yards away—so he comes looking for you. Be ready.

2. Make your first calls as soft as possible.

Soft calling is always a good way to start. It makes any turkey within earshot think you’re a contented hen. Don’t allow leafed-out trees to make you think you have to blast your calls across the landscape in order to be heard. If the gobbler is closer than you think, you’ll unknowingly shoo him off in another direction and you’ll never know he’s there.

Soft calling tells the gobbler there’s no danger. Think about it—if you wake up in the morning and start talking loudly, everyone else in the house will think something is wrong. Quiet is always my first rule of turkey calling. Soft calling also gives the impression that you’re a hen just minding her own business. That can be deadly on late season gobblers.

If a nearby gobbler has been rejected by hens more interested in nurturing poults than canoodling, you want him to think “I might have a chance with her!” The phrase “Birds of a feather flock together” mean it’s the business of turkeys to hang around each other. That’s a good reason to sound like a contented hen going about her business in safety, and nearby turkeys might be interested in your fakery.

3.  Call with personality.

Many hunters’ calling is just plain boring. In the 1986 movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” there’s a scene that perfectly illustrates this. The economics teacher (Ben Stein) is the classic bore. (Watch it on YouTube.) The evidence is in the kids’ faces. If your calling is like that, gobblers won’t show any more interest than Bueller’s classmates.

Lots of experts will tell you to call with aggression, or passion, but we often don’t accurately gauge those emotions in people, so I doubt we can tell the difference in turkeys. The point is that you shouldn’t be boring. Make a few rapid yelps, and a couple of slow ones. End a series on an up-note, as though you’re asking a question. Alter the tone to make it sound like a second turkey is there. Change the pace by interjecting some clucks and cutts—short, rapid, attention-getting vocalizations that sound interesting.  When you’re trying to raise a gobble from a bird that has shut down, give yourself a fighting chance by calling with energy.  Throw some personality at that late season gobbler and feed him a line he will fall for.

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Throwing a late season gobbler over your shoulder makes a satisfying end to a spring hunt.
(Steve Sorensen photo.)

4.   Gobblers might be silent, but they’re not invisible.

The gobblers I’ve called in that were silent make me wonder how many more silent birds I’ve called in that just didn’t show up before I decided to leave. That probably happens more in the late season after green-up occurs than in the early season when the woods are bare, but I’ve had it happen even on opening day. So stay put. Turn your head it at a snail’s pace. Examine anything that looks even a little like a gobbler.

By the late season he’s not as anxious for intimacy as you are anxious to kill him. He might gobble only once or twice, or not at all, but he’s still playing. And since you can’t see far he might be close. In more than one of these cases, I’ve learned that the hard way and flushed a gobbler when I stood up to leave.

5.  Gobblers can be patient, too.

We talk a lot about hunters having patience, but gobblers are patient, too. They have more time than you do. You need to be somewhere when you finish hunting. They don’t. I learned this by calling to a gobbler that was coming in very slowly, and I had to leave while he was still active. My schedule was irrelevant to him, and he came in after I left. The next morning I flushed him from the tree I had been calling from.

My mistake? I didn’t expect him to be there, but he apparently decided to wait around until that “hen” came back. If you must leave a gobbler, get to that same spot the next morning before daylight. He might be patient enough to hang around and wait for you to get back. That happens in the late season more than any other time because gobblers know hens are getting scarce.

6. Try something new.

Practice making new sounds—sounds that aren’t the standard three yelps and a cluck. By the last week gobblers have heard it all. On one hunt I was at a loss about how to move two strutters toward me. They would answer my calls, but wouldn’t budge. Finally I began a series of hard cutts and raspy cackles—fighting purrs that sounded like a couple of turkeys in a boxing match with a cheering crowd.

Who wants to miss a fight? Not those gobblers. They came running like they were late for an appointment. One of them kept an appointment with a load of number five shot. If I hadn’t tried something new, nothing would have happened. They probably thought a couple of gobblers were fighting over a willing hen, and they’d sneak in and steal her away.

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Late season means long grass in the hayfields. Don’t blunder into fields because you don’t see black turkey shapes. Can you see the three periscope heads barely higher than the grass? (Steve Sorensen photo.)

7.  Play like you have nothing to lose.

The last week of the season think of yourself as a basketball player working to get to that spot on the floor where you can shoot your buzzer-beater. The late season is the time to go for broke. Your task might be to find a place where turkeys routinely cross. It might be to sneak into a roosting area in early evening. Or maybe it’s time to visit a place you scouted but haven’t hunted all season.

But don’t fool yourself into thinking you need to turn a gobbler on that has been turned off for a week or more. Even though gobblers aren’t getting easy lovin’ like they did a few weeks earlier, they still notice what other turkeys are saying. If quiet, contented calling doesn’t work, excited calling might shock one into gobbling and give you the chance to work him. Even if he doesn’t expect romance, he doesn’t have anywhere to go so he might come to check you out.

Turkeys can be unpredictable, but they’re not geniuses. They’re still turkeys. We hunt them in the spring, but other predators hunt them, and kill them, every day of the year. You can certainly take one any day of the season.

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.  

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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.”

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.