by Steve Sorensen
The mental image turkey hunters have at daybreak is almost always the same. The way it plays out is almost always different.
At the start of every hunt, the hunter’s mind pushes the play button on a mental videotape, and his mind’s eye and ear watch the drama as he expects it to happen. The big bird gobbles incessantly on the limb. His broad wings pound the air as he drops to the ground. The hunter makes his best effort to sound like a pretty little hen, the big bird hammers out more gobbles, and struts toward the hunter. When he closes to about 30 yards, and stretches his neck hoping to see that inviting hen, a swarm of shot penetrates his head.
More often than not that mental videotape breaks, and the gobbler lives another day. And another. And another. That’s because gobblers are stubborn. You wonder why you waste your time hunting them. And then one day the magic happens. Maybe you don’t even know why, but it happens. You are at your wits’ end when the gobbler surrenders and marches to his end.
Why didn’t he come all those other days? What made him “hang up,” and give you so much frustration? You threw every call you could at him, and he wouldn’t budge. Why didn’t he come all those other days, and why did he finally come? What were you doing wrong, that you finally did right?
The author worked this gobbler every way possible, but he was always with hens and a couple of other gobblers. One day, when he was all alone, he came to the call. (Steve Sorensen photo)
That’s indeed one of the mysteries of turkey hunting. Although we know what we’re doing, sometimes we lose confidence. We give it our best shot, but that crazy gobbler doesn’t seem to understand how the game is supposed to be played.
I’ve compiled a list of 10 reasons why gobblers don’t come to the sweetest calls we make, at the best time, from the best set-up. We can categorize the first four as conventional wisdom. The next six happen just as often, but may not be the first reasons we think of.
1. The first reason gobblers don’t come, and often the only reason, is that we’re trying to reverse what is normal. In the human world, men chase women. (That seems normal for us, though sometimes women do chase men.) In the turkey world, the natural order is switched. It’s normal for the hen to go the gobbler, and we forget that we’re trying to reverse that. If she doesn’t come, she’s the one not playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played, and he simply stays put.
2. Turkeys are wired to be nervous creatures. They’re not very trusting, and when they have a bad experience they may not respond well to your calls. Perhaps he has been called to before from the spot you’re calling from. Maybe he got stung by a load of Number 6 shot — an experience that was a little rough on him. He might do that again, but don’t be surprised if he doesn’t.
3. Maybe some obstruction is in his way — he doesn’t want to cross a ravine, or a fenceline, or a logging road. Or maybe he doesn’t want to come downhill. My thought on that is that these situations pose threats for turkeys. A predator can lie in wait at a ravine, or a fenceline, or along a logging road. And when going downhill, a gobbler’s easiest escape route is a risky one. His best defense is flight, and he may fly right into a predator if he’s headed downhill when he goes airborne. His avoidance of those situations is bred into him.
4. Can you see him? If you can’t, maybe he has hens with him. He’s not going to leave a sure thing for a hen he can’t even see — think “bird in the hand” literally. That’s why it’s sometimes better to call to the hen, to get into her head and make her think you’re a threat. If you get her to come, most likely he will follow (although that’s easier said than done).
5. Most gobblers are not the dominant bird in the flock, so we’re usually calling to a sub-dominant tom. By the time turkey season rolls around these birds have had some good times and some bad times. Some of those sub-dominant birds have been beaten up by the boss. They act like the junior high kid who enters the lunch room, checks out where the bully is, and stays as far away as he can.
This gobbler was stubborn for several days, but when I approached him at a different time, and from a different place, calling him in was as easy as falling off a log (Steve Sorensen photo)
6. Turkeys often prefer certain spots where they can see and be seen, hear and be heard. Those are the places where a gobbler prefers to meet hens. He expects any hen calling to him to meet him there, so he’s wondering why you don’t come to him. In fact, I’ve seen hens and gobblers meet up in these preferred spots, and neither of them ever made a sound.
7. Don’t forget that turkeys hear a lot better than we do, so maybe he hears a hen you don’t hear. Remember, he’s only two, three, or four years old. His hearing is pristine. He hasn’t damaged his hearing by riding a motorcycle, working in a machine shop, firing up a chain saw, or sighting in a deer rifle. We’ve lost some of our hearing. He hasn’t, and he may hear a hen you don’t hear. He’s just waiting for her to show up.
8. Like people, turkeys have personalities. (Or gobbler-alities. Turkey hunters spend their lifetimes learning to psychoanalyze gobbler-alities, and only a few earn a PhD equivalent.) Some personality traits are easy to explain, and some aren’t. Maybe the turkey you’re calling to is the guy who is all talk and no action, the guy with the big mouth who never follows through.
9. We tend to think that when turkey season starts the breeding begins and gobblers are just as excited as we are. But most gobblers have spent weeks in the company of hens. Maybe the bird you’re working is a little tired of the action. (Yes, hard to believe, but true.) Gobblers spend most of the year in the company of other gobblers, and by the time turkey season begins some gobblers are starting to trend that way. They may visit hens only one day out of three or four.
10. Calling turkeys is always a balancing act. Some turkeys like aggressive sounds, some like quiet calls, some respond well to lots of calling, some to very little calling. The reason he doesn’t come might be no more complicated than he doesn’t like the way you to talk to him. If you fail today, try something different tomorrow.
After another hunter gave up on this gobbler, the author got permission to hunt it, went in and closed the deal. (Steve Sorensen photo)
The good news is the turkey woods has lots of tomorrows. When a gobbler won’t close the distance to your calling, you can try again tomorrow. So if he talks a good talk but won’t walk your way, have hope. You know where he is, and you can try again. Learn from what he taught you, set up a little differently, and sooner or later he’ll probably forget whatever reason he had for not coming to your call.
When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.
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