Call-Shy Turkey Tricks…

For three mornings I hunted the wise old tom. I’d put him to roost in the evening and get set up before dawn in an effort to call him into shotgun range before hens dropped from surrounding trees and he chased after them. On the third morning he gobbled like crazy on the roost. Flew down 50 yards away from my blind and strutted his stuff in a forest opening. He was big as a barn door, sported an 11-inch beard and his feathers were black as coal.

The first morning I placed out a decoy, he ignored it. The second I tried aggressive calling; he flew from the roost in the opposite direction. Now, on the last morning of my hunt I tried soft clucks and purrs and the old boy acted like I was nowhere near him. When a trophy turkey completely ignores my hunting tactics it has a way of, well, sort of ruffling my feathers. And this old bird had me perplexed, downright spiteful.

I could see him strutting, puffing up his feathers like the Pillsbury doughboy dressed in black. I could hear him spitting, drumming and dragging his wing tips in the leaves. I knew he was hung up and expected hens to come to him. His resounding gobble sent chills down my spine as I made the decision to try stalking the wary bird. I slowly lowered my body got down on my tummy and crawled across the forest floor. On a couple occasions the big tom acted like he could hear me rustling the leaves. He would stand erect, look in all directions, and then return to fanning and strutting. When he moved behind a blown-down tree, I made my move. I slowly got up, stayed hunkered and used the blowdown to block my approach. I tiptoed directly at the bird and when I was 20 yards from the big tom he sensed I was there and he slowly, alertly, walked straight away from me, stiff-legged, with head erect. But it was too late, I had moved into lethal killing range and his alarm putt was quickly answered with the roar of my 12 gauge Benelli.

My calling methods failed on this old bird but the alternative tactic yielded great results. If you are interested in tricks that can help you to fill your turkey tag this spring, then listen to these tips.

There are times when call-shy turkeys make hunting a waste of time. It seems the more you call the less you see and the few birds you do spot are headed the other direction. Nothing is more disheartening than roosting turkeys, getting set up in the dark and then having the whole darn flock fly the opposite direction. There are times when calling does nothing but alert birds to your position. That’s when I try some sneaky tricks. One tactic is to place a hen decoy in plain sight of roosted toms and rather than calling, wait until the toms become active, start morning gobbling and respond by flapping a turkey wing to imitate the sound of a bird flying down from the roost. Try using a fly-down cackle, then beating the wing in the air, trying to brush against some branches or trees and flop on the ground to imitate the sound of a hen flying down from roost. Some hunters imitate the sound by beating the wing against their pant leg or tree they are hiding behind. The trick to this method is you need to keep the beating wing hidden from the sharp eye of a wild turkey. Use cover to conceal your tricky calling tactic. Hillsides, pine trees, thick leaves and a stand up or makeshift camo blind can achieve this goal.

When you are hunting pressured turkeys they have been alerted on several other occasions by humans making the love calls of a hen, you need to develop a new strategy that will get the attention of educated toms and send them your way. To get a tom to come to you, try making noises that sound like turkeys, with little calling.

Another hot trick is to walk directly at the tom. First, you need a turkey to gobble. Then you make a few purrs and begin walking toward the tom. When you know he can hear you, make a few more purrs, sit down and make noise in the leaves with your hands. The idea is to imitate a hen turkey moving to meet her boyfriend. The tom will think the approaching calls are a sweet lady coming to court, but when you stop moving and start scratching in the leaves the tom will charge to make certain he still has the hen’s attention. In most cases a hot tom will come running at you with his pants, oops, I mean his guard down and POW. You win!

If the tom hangs up, but he is almost in range, use the toe of your boot to make the scratching sounds of a hen, while you hold your gun with both hands. When this happens the tom thinks the hen has come as far as she will come and if he wants to rendezvous with her, he needs to come closer and meet her. With this hunting tactic, the more realism you can put into your sounds the more likely the longbeard will walk into kissin’ distance. Of course, there are days when making turkey sounds other than calling will not work. Wind, rain, and wet leaves can ruin these tactics. That’s when I resort to bushwhacking tricks.

Say you are hunting in a drizzle and birds are not responding to your call. They will answer, but they will not come your way. Part of the reason is they expect hens to come to them. Other times they are henned up and they refuse to come looking for a new girlfriend when they have prospective hot ladies in sight. This is when you need to close the distance by stalking toms.

The idea is to determine which direction the tom is heading and cut him off at the pass. This means you use cover to conceal your approach and you work into shotgun range. Novice stalkers make the common mistake of resorting to calls when the bird is in marginal range. For this tactic, leave your call vest in the car. Rely on your camouflage and stalking skills to approach birds. Sure, it takes a little practice and lots of skill, but moving on an adult turkey gives you an adrenalin rush that is second to none. Stalking turkeys is much more exciting than calling them. Every step is a challenge and when you get close you need to get low to the ground, use available cover to hide your movements and move slow as molasses in January. Sounds simple, but it is the ultimate hunt.

Some hunters use this tactic in thick brush. They glide through the lowlands, swamps, creek bottoms, and draws, moving slowly and using the thick cover to hide their approach. Many times this trick will fool a wary tom. The gobbler hears the hunter in the brush but he cannot see him. So, he goes in search of what he thinks is a hen.

When calling does not produce a gobbler, other turkey sounds may. Try these tactics in areas where you know there are birds but you are having problems getting responses from call-shy toms. These tips will also help on those days when toms are not gobbling to give up their position. Try combining tactics. One deadly strategy is to spot a tom and stalk within hearing distance of the bird. Now, stay concealed and try scratching in the leaves to make the wary bird think turkeys are feeding close by. When he comes to investigate, give him more than he bargained for.