Turkey Hunting: How to Avoid Trouble with Hens

By Steve Sorensen

If you can’t beat the hens, here are three ways to join them.

It happens every season – too many hens for the gobblers to get lonely. Hunters complain year after year that gobblers are “henned-up” and won’t respond to a call.

That can be a problem, but it doesn’t need to be. Here are three scenarios that taught me a lot about how to deal with hens when you’re trying to take a tom fresh off his roost.

Scenario One: I was reeling in a nice gobbler just after daylight. He had been roosted about 80 yards away. When he had almost halved the distance a hen dropped from a tree and landed smack in front of him. “Nuts!” I thought. But he walked right by her and continued his full strut approach. Then another hen touched down in front of him, this time at 35 yards, and he walked by her, too. At 30 yards I introduced him to a load of Number 5.

Why would he bypass two hot, flesh-and-blood hens for a bird in the bush he couldn’t see? He probably wanted to round up all the hens, even the one he couldn’t see.

gobbler-and-hen-on-ground-together

When hens and gobblers are on the ground together, the gobblers usually stay pretty tight with the girls and it’s tough to pull him away. So get his attention before he devotes himself
to her. (Photo: Steve Sorensen)

Scenario Two: A gobbler sounded off at 5:40 AM, about 60 yards away. I waited for him to gobble the second time and quickly answered with a couple of quiet tree yelps. He gobbled right back and flew down. Then I heard a couple of hens as I called their suitor to shotgun range. One flew down from my left, walked by me at about 20 yards, and strolled into the field on my right. Then a second hen flew down a little farther away. When she was at 30 yards the gobbler was at 45 yards and coming to my call. I worried that the hen would enter the field too quickly, and he would follow her before coming into range. So I sent a couple of clucks her way, and she stopped.

She became a live decoy, and the big boy kept coming. He fanned out, then stepped behind a tree. That second hen entered the field and I raised the gun. He came out from behind that tree to follow her, and that’s when it turned into a bad day for him.

2-OpeningDayGobbler_edited_600x800

This gobbler was roosted near my calling position with hens nearby, so I simply became one of those nearby hens. This gobbler was one of two mature birds that flew down and landed 22 yards away. (Photo: Steve Sorensen)

Scenario Three: Last year I was scouting a spot with almost three girls for every boy – 11 hens and four mature gobblers. I was expecting hen problems.

I got to the woods at 5:00 on opening day, found a tree to sit by, and settled in. The birds had to be somewhere close. I peered into the treetops and could see four turkeys. Gobblers? Nuisance hens? If they were gobblers, the hens couldn’t be far away.

At 5:35 a gobble shook the treetops and a hen answered with a lurid tree yelp. Once again, it was shaping up to be a contest between real live hens and me. As soon as I heard his next gobble I answered with the exact same call the hen made. A minute went by and he gave another shout-out. I answered simultaneously with the hen. Next gobble, same thing.

I didn’t want to act too committed and make him wait for hens to arrive under his tree where he could fly down to meet them, so I didn’t answer every gobble, but my invitations were good enough to get two gobblers to investigate this hypothetical hen in the bush. They flew down from trees about 60 yards away and landed 22 yards from me. A few minutes later I zip-tied my tag to the leg of a mature gobbler.

Is it always this easy? No, especially not if a gobbler hits the ground and immediately hooks up with a hen or two. Good luck prying him away because he’ll follow the girls anywhere, even if they don’t let him breed. Calling is one way you mimic a hen, but when real hens are ready and willing, calling by itself may not be enough.

The three scenarios I’ve described have taught me a lesson about dealing with hens. Be the hen.

“Isn’t ‘being the hen’ the whole idea behind calling?” you ask. You hear about hunters calling gobblers in from 200 or even 300 yards. Yes, and I’ve done it. But don’t settle for that distance. With every step he takes, something can go wrong. And four out of five times something will go wrong. A bobcat comes between you and him. I’ve seen it happen. A silent hen intercepts him. He stops at a barrier he doesn’t want to cross, or arrives at a strutting area where he frequently gathers hens. He hangs up and you sit there frustrated.

So sounding like a hen is one way to be the hen, but it probably isn’t enough. You need to make him think you really are a hen. How do you do that?

Think about it. Calling is only the first way you mimic a hen. Position is the second. Hens might not be roosted in the same tree he is in, but they probably won’t be far away and he knows it. So, you need to get close. 80 yards. 70 yards. 60 yards. Even 50 yards or less is sometimes possible. If you can get that close to a roosted gobbler, he will think you’re a hen not just because of the sounds you’re making, but because you’re right there with the others. To him, you’re a bird in the hand.

zip-tied-turkey-steve-sorensen

Calling is only one way to “be the hen.” If you set up close to the roosting gobbler you can convince him he has a friendly hen nearby, and increase your chances of tying a tag to his leg. (Photo: Steve Sorensen)

Getting close is not easy. Suppose the gobbler is roosting in a tree at the edge of a field you must cross, and the moon is full and bright. Good luck with that because the moon will cast a strong shadow. Or suppose the path to the spot where you’d like to set up 60 yards from him is no path at all, but is littered with sticks and limbs and there’s no way you can be silent.

I have two pieces of advice to help you overcome these issues. First, get into the woods early. If you have to wait for an hour to hear that first gobble, it’s worth it. My second bit of advice is that if you lightly snap a stick or two in the darkness, you probably don’t need to worry about it. Turkeys hear animals on the ground all night long. Deer and raccoons can make a lot of noise with their nighttime activity. Light tan coyotes and white-striped skunks are visible if a gobbler wants to pull his head from under his wing, but most times they sit on a limb relaxed and without fear, knowing they’re safe.

Back to Scenario Three. Before the game began I had slowly worked my way toward the spot where I thought the turkeys—hens and gobblers—were roosted. I broke a stick or two and moved through the ground litter lightly crinkling the dry leaves until I found a tree where I could set up. I waited and watched the treetops. I became a hen among hens, and if I played this game well a gobbler would want me just as much as he would want a real one.

And I did play it well. I sounded like a hen, I was close enough for him to expect me to be a hen, and in his walnut-sized mind, I was a hen. That’s why he was headed for the freezer.

When hens and gobblers are on the ground together, the gobblers usually stay pretty tight with the girls. Sometimes they won’t even gobble, or just give you an occasional courtesy gobble. My only solution then is to wait them out. Around mid-morning the hens will escape the gobblers to go lay an egg. That’s when the advantage turns to you. The gobbler knows where you are, and he’ll probably come looking for you.


hunter outdoor writer steve sorensenSteve Sorensen is the author of Growing Up With Guns, and The Everyday Hunter Handbook Series. He also writes an award-winning newspaper column called The Everyday Hunter®, and edits content in the Havalon Nation. He has published articles in top magazines across the USA, and won the 2015 “Pinnacle” Award for magazine writing. Invite Steve to speak at your next sportsman’s event, and follow him at www.EverydayHunter.com.


 

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Late Season Turkey Hunting:
Four Ways Conditions Change for Late Season Gobblers

By Steve Sorensen

Late season is not too late to bring home your
Thanksgiving dinner.

No gobbler yet? If your season is still open, there’s still hope. Plenty of it.

late-season-gobbler-with-steve-sorensen

This gobbler came to the author’s self-made scratchbox call (www.EverydayHunter.com) on May 27 a few years ago. He was actively gobbling every day, so don’t write off any day of the season, not even the last few days. (Photo: Steve Sorensen)

Maybe your turkey sightings and sounds in before the season made it look like this would be a slam-dunk season, but now you’re frustrated. Maybe your turkey hunting buddies have been complaining that the mild winter and early spring put the turkeys on an early schedule and it’s already over now. Maybe someone has told you the gobblers he has seen are still henned up, and the season will be over before the gobblers are freed up from their romantic liaisons.

Don’t listen to any of that. Yes, some gobblers might have lost interest now. Some might be hanging out with hens that lost their nests or for some reason aren’t breeding. Some might be as eager as ever, but they’re cautious because they’ve been beat up by the boss gobbler too many times. Or chased around by hunters.

I know for a fact that gobblers can be called in on the last day of the season. I’ve done it. Conditions change, to be sure, but at least two things remain true. First, turkeys are turkeys all 365 days of the year. And second, birds of a feather flock together. That means turkeys want to join up with other turkeys, just because they’re turkeys.

gobblers-sound-far-away-when-trees-are-leafed-out

Gobblers will sound farther away later when the trees are leafed out, but they might be closer than you think. So don’t move, and keep your eyes peeled. (Photo: Steve Sorensen)

The problem is you still have a tag to fill, but you won’t tie it to a gobbler’s leg unless you adapt your style to late season changes. And conditions have changed in at least four ways.

  1. Fewer gobblers are out there. Yes, some are dead. That means fewer are there to respond to hunters’ calls. But the flip side of that is those who are left have fewer companions to pal around with, so they might be more eager to get together. They’ll still respond to hen calls, but don’t forget that you might need to sound like a gobbler to attract late season gobblers when most hens are occupied with nests or with new poults. So offer some gobbler yelps with a deeper sound and a slower cadence. You might be surprised at the response.
  1. Sounds don’t carry as far. That means those gobbles you listen for at first
    heavy-foliage-means-turkeys-cant-see-as-far

    When the trees are completely leafed out, when farmers are thinking about the first hay mowing, and when other hunters are beginning to think about woodchuck hunting, you can still call in a gobbler. Heavy foliage means a gobbling turkey can’t see as far. (Photo: Steve Sorensen)

    light are harder to hear than when the trees were bare. Nor do your sweet little hen sounds carry as far. And his attention may be more difficult to get, so this may be the time to get aggressive. Start out softly in case one is close, but instead of three or four yelps, use nine or ten. No response? Then crank up the volume. Be that demanding hen. Try to sound like more than one turkey. Create some excitement in your call. Give him a reason to come that goes beyond romance. Put on a show with hard, aggressive purrs. If he thinks a fight is breaking out, he may come in for a look.

  1. Trees are in full foliage. Instead of holding back 200 yards or more, remember that the tree canopy blocks his view from up on his roost. The underbrush is leafed out too, so he can’t depend as much on his vision. So get close. You may be able to get as close as 50 yards, even if he’s on the ground. He’ll be hard to see. He’ll be very cautious. And he’ll take his time. But you can still get him if you’re smart, don’t move, and keep your eyes peeled.

    parking-place-for-turkeys

    During the first 10 days of the season, this spot would be a parking place for a turkey hunter almost every day. As the season wears on they’ll show up less and less, and in the last week you’ll have it to yourself. (Photo: Steve Sorensen)

  1. Most hunters have given up. All but a few diehard hunters are now doing other things, so almost all your turkey hunting competition is gone. You and the turkeys have the woods to yourselves. That gives you some advantages. Any hen sounds you hear are more likely to be real hens. Any gobbler you are reeling in is less likely to encounter another hunter. Late season is the purest time for spring gobbler hunting one-on-one.

It’s not too late for good turkey hunting. Years ago I remember getting my second or third spring gobbler in mid-season. One local “expert” congratulated me, saying “It takes a good hunter to get one with the leaves in full bloom.” Don’t believe that. The truth is that gobblers will respond even to the calling of a novice well after the season ends, and even the last day can still be a great time to shop the woods for your Thanksgiving dinner.


hunter outdoor writer steve sorensenSteve Sorensen is the author of Growing Up With Guns, and The Everyday Hunter Handbook Series. He also writes an award-winning newspaper column called The Everyday Hunter®, and edits content for the Havalon Nation. He has published articles in top magazines across the USA, and won the 2015 “Pinnacle” Award for magazine writing. Invite Steve to speak at your next sportsman’s event, and follow him at www.EverydayHunter.com.


 

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3 Questions to Ask Yourself before You Go 
Fanning for Gobblers!

By Steve Sorensen

“Fanning” for Gobblers – HOT or NOT? 

The heart-pounding new method of turkey hunting is called “fanning for gobblers.” It ramps up the excitement by adding elements to the hunt you can’t get from traditional call-em-up-to-the-shotgun style of hunting.

gobbler-in-a-cornfield

Early or late on a winter day, a 20-mile drive on rural roads will likely put some turkey territory on your list of places to hunt. (Photo: Steve Sorensen)

 

Fanning for gobblers – why it’s hot!

  • Fanning capitalizes on the gullibility of the turkeys. Let’s face it – turkeys are not all that smart and under the right conditions, where visibility is good, they’re easily fooled by decoys. When you “fan” for gobblers, they fall victim to nothing but a fanned-out turkey tail with a hunter hiding behind it.
  • Fanning is more mobile than traditional turkey hunting. The hunter doesn’t need to sit boringly in front of a tree waiting for the wary gobbler to cautiously approach within shotgun range. He goes on the offensive to approach gobblers as easily as if he were wearing a turkey costume. In a way, he is.
  • Fanning is a way for the hunter to get up close and personal with the gobbler. In traditional turkey hunting, the objective is to call the gobbler to shotgun range – about 25-40 yards. But in fanning for gobblers, that unsuspecting old longbeard shows up so close you could cough up a loogie on him, and he isn’t bothered at all.
  • Fanning escalates the element of surprise. Surprise is built into traditional spring gobbler hunting when the gobbler takes a magnum load of shot to his head, and ideally he has no chance of escape. In fanning for gobblers, the turkey discovers his goose is cooked before the hunter pulls the trigger. The shot opportunity is closer than it is when you’re patiently waiting for the gobbler to get in range, and he’s starting to make his escape.
  • Fanning can be fast and furious. People post enough videos of “fanning” on the Internet that every avid turkey hunter has probably seen some. They show a hunter stalking while hiding behind a turkey tailfan, and turkeys are running to him. Since birds of a feather flock together, fanning doesn’t repel turkeys – it attracts them so easily it’s almost unfair.
turkey-call-assortment

I always say turkey calls are like knives – you can never have too many. But not every turkey call will find a place in your vest. Well in advance of the season, go through your calls and spend a half hour per week finding out which calls you can really make sing songs that attract gobblers. (Photo: Steve Sorensen)

Let’s be clear. I don’t find fanning unfair. If anything is unfair, it’s that we are smarter than every game animal we hunt. So if fairness is the standard coyotes should stop hunting turkey poults, and we should stop hunting altogether. But fairness is not the standard. It never is when you outsmart animals by using scents, trail cameras, camouflage, or any other ordinary practices. Other than fairness in respecting other hunters and universal hunting ethics, I don’t worry much about fairness when it comes to hunting.

That brings us to the first of three questions to ask yourself if you’ve been thinking about fanning for gobblers.

Why give anti-hunters something unnecessary to use against us?

Anti-hunters will say everything we hunters do is unfair, starting with the fact that we have the gun and turkeys don’t. They say we unfairly fool them with calls and decoys, luring them into an expected sexual tryst and then killing them when they’re in the heat of passion. Yes, anti-hunters look at everything we do with the aim to seize on anything they can to illustrate to the great majority of the non-hunting population that hunting is bad. They don’t settle for just one reason, and they don’t care if their reasons are not good reasons. But let’s not stupidly give anti-hunters bad reasons to declare hunting is unfair.  It’s not necessary.

Why dumb the sport down?

The great appeal of fanning for gobblers is that it’s easy and exciting. Sometimes hunters still argue about whether to use rifles or shotguns for turkeys. Rifle hunting allows a hunter to shoot when the turkey is a hundred yards or more away. “It’s too easy, and it lacks the challenge of calling them in,” they say. So now, this new way of making turkey hunting easy is another way of dumbing the sport down. Why do we need to do that?

Why increase the odds of getting shot?

early-season-gobbler-on-opening-day

If you begin scouting early, you’re more likely to get your gobbler early. Here’s one that bought my call on opening day.
(Photo: Steve Sorensen)

Anyone who promotes fanning for gobblers recommends extreme caution. “Don’t do it on public property,” they say. Why? Because they understand the danger. “Don’t do it on private property unless you know you’re the only one hunting.” But how do you ever know someone is not trespassing on a property? A few make the false distinction between “dangerous situations” and “danger,” as though they’re willing to tolerate dangerous situations but not actual danger. If that’s any real distinction at all, it will disappear if fanning for gobblers becomes commonplace. The truth is, fanning for gobblers increases the odds of getting shot. Is any gobbler worth that?

If you’re tempted to try fanning for gobblers, or if you’ve done it and you think you want to do more of it, let me ask you to reconsider. You may have a place where you have exclusive permission to hunt and believe no other hunters will trespass, but even if it’s your own property you cannot guarantee an unauthorized hunter won’t show up. Ask any property owner, “Does anyone ever trespass?” The answer will be a quick “Yes.”

Fanning for gobblers is actually a form of stalking, which is prohibited in spring gobbler season in many states. But even in states where stalking is legal, a hunter behind a turkey tailfan is going to get shot just as sure as a hunter inside a deer decoy would get shot in deer season. Take that to the bank.

Fanning for gobblers is a bad idea. Not because it’s easy – we all like an easy hunt once in a while. Not because it’s exciting – I’m all for hunting to be exciting. Fanning passes the test on those two counts. But let’s be too smart to give anti-hunters unnecessary ammo to make us look bad. Let’s not dumb down our sport. As things stand now, hunting is safer than it has ever been. Hunting accidents are on a long-term decline. So let’s not take unnecessary risks. Let’s not get shot while wearing a turkey costume.

If you want to fan for gobblers, do it when it’s completely safe. And it’s completely safe only when no one is shooting at turkeys. It’s completely safe only when the season is not in. Use it when photographing turkeys outside the season, away from roads, away from any place poachers might see an easy mark. Turkey photographers often use blinds, and hiding behind a tailfan is essentially using the tailfan as a moving blind. But don’t use it while hunting.

Remember, hunting is supposed to be a challenge. We have many challenging ways to outwit game than to reduce hunting to the easiest means possible. What’s wrong with the classic type of hunt where you call the big birds in? Can’t you succeed by calling? I’m betting you can, so keep trying. You’re smart enough to succeed if you keep at it.

If you still have any doubt, take a look at this video put out by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. Don’t be a victim.


hunter outdoor writer steve sorensenSteve Sorensen is the author of Growing Up With Guns, and The Everyday Hunter Handbook Series. He also writes an award-winning newspaper column called The Everyday Hunter®, and contributes content to Havalon Nation. He has published articles in top magazines across the USA, and won the 2015 “Pinnacle” Award for magazine writing. Invite Steve to speak at your next sportsman’s event, and follow him at www.EverydayHunter.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/The-Everyday-Hunter-319307228936/.


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How to Hunt Bear In The Spring

By Bernie Barringer

The Three Phases of a Spring Bear Hunt

A very common saying among hunters on a week-long hunting adventure goes like this “Don’t pass up on the first day what you would shoot on the last day.”

bear-hunting-callout-v2

Well, I ain’t buying it. If I bought it, I wouldn’t have shot as many truly large bruins as I have. In fact, I wouldn’t have the nice chocolate-colored bear rug hanging on my wall behind me right now if I had shot the nice black one that presented me with a good shot on day two of that hunt.

I understand the logic behind that thought, but frankly, I can’t think of a single hunt when I wasn’t learning more and more about my chances of success every single day. By day six, you know a whole lot more about the area and its potential than you do on day one.

get trail cameras out early 448x336

Getting trail cameras out early in the hunt will really help with your decision making as the hunt progresses. This bear came to the bait in the morning. Other information gathered such as size and colors of bears that may be available are important components
to your success.

Some people are happy to shoot a bear early in the hunt and then go fishing or hang around camp the rest of the week. And if you’re headed for your first bear hunt, that might be your best option. But at some point, you’ll want to kill a bigger bear, or maybe a color phase bear. Will you depend on pure luck? Or will you adjust your strategy through the week to improve your odds?

The key to being as successful as possible on any hunt, but particularly on a spring bear hunt, is to be constantly gathering information throughout. Most week-long hunts offer you six days. Let’s break that down into three two-day phases.

Days One and Two
On the first two days I am primarily in information-gathering mode. Whether I am on an outfitted hunt or baiting for myself, I like to get some trail cameras out as soon as I can. Nothing helps you gather information like a game camera taking inventory of the bears hitting the baits.

weather can make hunting difficult 448x299

Weather can play a huge role in the hunt’s success. On this hunt, day-after-day of heavy rain nearly eliminated my chances of getting a bear. I was happy to go home with a good bear and had committed to shooting the first legal bear.

Chatting with the guides and other hunters in the camp will also help you gather information. Are they seeing bears? Are they shooting bears? Are the bears interacting at the baits, spending time feeding or just moving in and out of the area? Usually the first two days can give you a really good feel for how the rest of the week will go.

Keep an eye on the weather. Heavy rain can dampen (pardon the pun) bear activity. Likewise, hot weather can cause most bear activity to occur after dark. With today’s technology offering an accurate weather forecast at your fingertips, there’s no excuse for not knowing what to expect weather-wise. If a major change is coming, factor that into your decisions – it will affect bear activity either negatively or positively.

theres a bear in front of you 448x299

There’s a bear in front of you. Is this the one you want? Is it the best bear you will have a chance at? Many factors go into your decision.

Days Three and Four
I have been on many bear hunts, both on my own and in bear hunting camps. By the end of day two, I have a pretty good feel for what to expect. Either I feel that I have a great opportunity to hold out for the best bear possible – or that if I don’t shoot a bear by midweek, I might not get another opportunity.

How I react to bear encounters on days three and four will depend on the information gathered on the two previous days. Midweek can make or break your hunt – decisions are difficult and making the wrong one can send you home without a bear. Here’s an example.

passing up a bear could mean an unfilled tag 448x299

I passed up this nice chocolate and several others early in a 2012 Manitoba hunt. Then I almost went home without a bear. You have to be satisfied with an unfilled tag if you are going to be picky.

In 2012, hunting with Grandview Outfitters in Grandview Manitoba, I passed up several smaller bears on days one and two. I knew there were a couple giants in the area and I really wanted the beautiful cinnamon-colored bear that showed up on camera at one of the baits. However, on day three a great-looking chocolate bear tempted me with plenty of shot opportunities, but when I let it walk out of my life, I had a sinking feeling that I might have made a mistake.

The next three nights I hunted hard for a cinnamon, and briefly saw the red bear of my dreams but it didn’t offer a shot. I passed a couple of large blacks because I had confidence that if the cinnamon didn’t show up I could shoot whatever bear I wanted at the last minute.

shot this bear on final evening 317x448

As a writer, I need to get a bear to get a story, so I have my own set of rules for each hunt. I may hold out for a while, but generally by the fourth or fifth day I am lowering my standards. I shot this medium-sized bear on
the final evening.

Long story short, I saw only two smallish bears the last evening and was mentally beating myself up for having been so greedy. I prepared to go home empty-handed. Lucky for me, the outfitter saved my hunt by graciously offering one more night since everyone else in camp was filled out. I committed to shooting the first bear that came in. I took home a 200-pound sow.

Days Five and Six
The last two days are when decisions become easier once again. It’s now or never. You have all the information you’re going to get, and it’s up to you to make the decisions you will live with for a long time. You should have mentally prepared for this time from the start.

Before you go on the hunt you need to be in touch with what you really want out of it. If you are looking for a really big bear, one with a specific feature such a big white blaze on its chest, or maybe a color phase, you should know that before you arrive. You will have to decide if you are going to hold out for that specific bear or go home and eat tag sandwich all year. If you are perfectly happy going home empty-handed rather than shooting something you didn’t come for, that’s OK. But making decisions like that on the fly will drive you crazy.

shot this black bear in ontario 2012 448x299

I shot this huge black bear in Ontario in 2012 after passing up two other bears that would have made most people happy, but I had the information that gave me confidence to hold out for a real big one.

Whatever you decide to shoot, and no matter what day you decide, keep in mind that bear hunting is more than just shooting a bear. The camaraderie, the accommodations and food, the enjoyment of time spent in the outdoors and around such an amazing animal, and the overall experience are things you should factor into your decision-making. No one can make your decisions for you, so above all commit to having fun and enjoying the hunt whatever the outcome.


bernie-barringer-author-hunterBernie Barringer hunts a variety of species in several states and Canadian provinces. He has published more than 400 articles in two dozen outdoor magazines and authored ten books on hunting, fishing and trapping. The latest is Bear Baiter’s Manual. He is the managing editor of Bear Hunting Magazine, and blogs his hunts on his website www.bowhuntingroad.com.


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Spring Turkey Hunting Tips

By Judd Cooney

Patience Pays For Persnickety Toms

turcal 00046_resize #2“C’mon, let’s go after those gobblers across the creek,” coaxed my cohort. “Or maybe we ought to try the gobbler back over the ridge, or even the gobblers tearing it up down the creek bottom a quarter mile below us,” implored my totally antsy and frustrated turkey hunting client, as we listened to gobblers sounding off all round us, just as the sun was gilding the tree tops on the ridge above with its golden light.

“Just shut up and be patient.” I admonished my client. “There’re too many turkeys in the woods for us to try to sneak anywhere. All we’ll do is spook birds. Besides the object of calling turkeys is to let them come to you, so sit back and be patient.”

We’d gotten into position on the edge of a small clover plot at the bottom of a wooded slope, adjacent to a dirt dam that backed up the creek for a quarter mile above us. My client and I were comfortably ensconced on the shadowed side of a large maple tree, with a clear view of the open plot and wooded slope above.

I explained to my client on the drive to the hunting area, that regardless of how many gobblers we heard, we were going to stay put and let a gullible gobbler come to us rather than try to sneak within calling range of a Bob T & gobbler strutting in background _resize #2roosted bird. I learned a long time ago that when dealing with lots of turkeys in an area, and especially areas where there are a lot more hens than gobblers, it’s often more effective to find a good calling location and set up to call, than trying to set up on a specific gobbling tom.

I informed my client that we would hear lots of gobbling, and I would call every twenty minutes until I got a gobbler or two to actually respond to my calling, but it may be mid-morning before this happened. After almost two hours of being serenaded by the vocal gobblers surrounding us, and watching several longbeards pay court to their harem of hens on the distant hillsides (my client counted over 265 gobblers!), I finally got a response. A pair of gobblers on the timbered ridge above responded enthusiastically to my yelps, and when I started cutting excitedly, they left little doubt about their interest, gobbling and double gobbling enthusiastically as they closed the distance.

tureg&h 00009c_resize #2Ten minutes of yelping, clucking, cutting and finally soft purring brought both gobblers out of the woods and into the clover patch at 30 yards, where my hyperventilating client made a clean kill on the largest tom which sported a heavy 11″ beard and 1 3/4″ spurs.

I have done my share of “run and gun,” turkey hunting over the years, but the more I hunt these irascible and unpredictable birds, the less inclined I am to chase after them unless there is simply no other way. Since I started actively guiding and outfitting for spring turkey hunters in Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska almost twenty years ago, I have found that my clients and I are far more successful when we use patience and perseverance in our turkey hunting. The more turkeys you have in your hunting area the better this tactic works.

One of the biggest obstacles to conning longbeards anywhere, regardless of the subspecies hunted, is HENS. The higher the hen-per-gobbler ratio the tougher the toms are to call. A henned up tom is a firm believer in the old axiom, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” A gobbler’s brain is the size of a pea, but even pea-brained gobblers are hesitant to leave a harem and venture several hundred yards through the woods or across an open meadow, to check out the sounds of another hen he can’t see.

DSC_0412_resize #2However, the longer the gobbler hears the seductive sounds of a hen the more his curiosity is aroused. You can bet he will remember EXACTLY the location of that vociferous and seductive sounding hen, and IF and WHEN his hens wander off or scatter out ignoring him, he’s more than likely to check out the location where he last heard the hen or even more likely to check out the persistent hen if she’s still calling. This may be a few minutes or a few hours, but the chances of a gobbler checking out your calling increases as time goes by, rather than decreases as most callers think.

One of my turkey hunting buddies from a southern state, hunted Iowa with me for several successive springs after I had spent several years chasing Mississippi and Alabama gobblers with him. We covered lots of country down south chasing after gobblers. But when he came to Iowa, he used the same tactics with far less success, even though we had many times the turkey concentrations on our private leases.

After the second year’s season was over he humbly admitted that he felt he had only managed to call in a couple of Iowa gobblers. In fact, most of the time the gobblers ignored his best calling efforts, and sometimes even headed the other direction. I’d always chided him that his southern drawl could not be comprehended by the “Iowegian” birds. He was an excellent turkey caller. I told him though, that he had without doubt called in lots of gobblers during his hunts, but that he was never at the calling location when the tom’s got there.

turhek 00275_resize #2On his last turkey hunt he was guiding a major call manufacturer who was shooting a turkey hunting video segment. After spending an unsuccessful morning “running and gunning”, they had several turkey encounters, but no gobblers called up for video. At mid afternoon I told him exactly where to go and set up, with specific instructions to stay put regardless of how many gobblers he heard on the lease. He was to call every twenty minutes or so until he got a gobbler to come in or it got dark. But under no circumstances was he or his hunter to go chasing after any vocal toms. Two hours after setting out decoys and dozing off several times between calling spurts, a gobbler responded and strutted across the open field in front of them and around the decoy, providing the best video this company had gotten all spring.

Patience was the key to their success.

On Midwestern turkey hunts I’ve called up and killed more gobblers between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM than during any other time frame. Throughout the early morning and as they leave the roost, almost every gobbler in our hunting area will have hens in sight or have hens around them. This makes them difficult to call right off the roost, or later as they spend the morning feeding and loafing. With high hen to gobbler ratios, the hens are far more aggressive and will jealously pull any gobblers around them, away from anything that sounds like a competing feathered female. This is a major problem on our Iowa hunting leases from the seasons opening day, to the final day’s sunset.

turest 00011_resize #2By mid morning the birds are scattering out and the hens are wandering off looking for nest sites, or nesting until later in the afternoon when they rejoin the toms for the evening roost. Typical with males of any species, some gobblers are simply going to lose interest in their present companions and look for new conquests. The seductive or excited hen calling they’ve been hearing from you all morning, or before the flock moved out of hearing has piqued their interest, and you can bet-your-bippy those longbeards will have pinpointed your location to within a few yards.

When I set up to call, I make sure I get comfortable enough to remain for a long period without moving. I often use varying decoy set-ups depending on the time of season, from a lone hen, to several jakes and a couple hens, to a strutting tom and lone hen. I get out three calls; a Quaker Boy Jagged Edge diaphragm call for general yelping, cutting and clucking; a loud super sounding Paul’s Calls box call for distant reaching yelps and cuts; and a sweet sounding slate call for close-up purring and clucking to bring a gobbler in that last few yards.

turhek 00179_resize #2I usually call every twenty minutes keeping track on my watch, as judging time in a calling situation can be difficult at best, and over calling will spook more gobblers than under calling. Once I get a gobbler in sight or know he’s coming, I let his actions and vocalizations set the tempo of my calling responses, and I generally call less than the gobbler.

On a number of occasions I’ve been calling for an hour or more, and finally have gotten a gobbler or two to respond enthusiastically to my calling, only to have a silent gobbler suddenly appear out of nowhere trying to steal the hen from its vocal competition.

Spring turkey calling is an endeavor in conning a gullible gobbler to come within shooting range. Your deadliest and most effective assets may not be your calling expertise or chosen hunting gear, but simply PATIENCE and PERSEVERANCE. So sit back, get comfortable and let it happen!


judd cooneyFor the past 30 years Judd Cooney has been writing and photographing full time in addition to running his guiding and outfitting operation, spending 18-20 hours a day trying to avoid working an 8-5 job. He says, “I wouldn’t change it for the world!” He has articles or photos in many of the outdoor magazines every month, covering bowhunting, muzzleloader hunting, big game, small game and predator hunting, plus turkey, waterfowl and upland game hunting. He can be reached through his website,www.JuddCooney.com.


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