4 Tips for Tagging a Bashful Springtime Tom Turkey
What does a spring turkey hunter do when the local longbeards are quiet, moody and not interested in being a TV star? Simple, go back to sound hunting techniques – and get ready to heat up the oven!
Turn on a spring turkey hunting television show and odds are, you'll see Outdoor Channel hunting personalities playing the annual gobbler getting game at its very best.
While such current episodes were typically filmed last spring, the same trends occur each spring.
In Iowa, the Raised Hunting crew's young Easton Holder is laying gobblers low with his Bear compound bow while Whitetail Freaks' Don Kisky and his daughter Kaylee are bagging big Midwestern longbeards.
And virtually all over the Midwest the past couple of weeks, Michael Hunsucker and the Heartland Bowhunter crew are doing the same, tagging toms that can't keep their beaks shut.
Down in the southeastern U.S., the Realtree Outdoors gang of Bill Jordan, Tyler Jordan and David Blanton are up to their old tricks again in Georgia and Alabama. Down in Florida and over in their home state of Mississippi, the Primos' Truth About Hunting crew are having their own memorable spring as they put tags on a number of limbhangers.
Not to be outdone, down in the Lone Star State of Texas, Tiffany Lakosky of Crush with Lee & Tiffany fame knocked over a pair of big old Texas Rio Grande toms a couple of weeks ago – BBD!, in this case Big Birds Down! – a pair of gobblers that posed for a dirt nap photo in the state's bluebonnet wildflower crop.
Tiffany Lakosky (front), of “Crush with Lee & Tiffany” shows the results of a successful spring turkey hunt with her mother, Linda. (Photo courtesy of “Crush”)
As you can see, it's already been a good spring hunting season and then some for the Outdoor Channel television hunting personalities.
And it's only getting better if you take a gander at the social media platforms of Bone Collector TV star Michael Waddell as he continues on with his election year springtime campaign and the "Can't Stop the Flop!" tour through the turkey woods of America.
From helping his daughter Addie tag a big old Osceola longbeard in Florida to helping fellow Bone Collector co-hosts Nick Mundt and Travis "T-Bone" Turner jellyhead a couple of toms, the floppage is happening early and often for Waddy and the gang this spring.
Meaning lots of longbeards strutting about with their tail fans all puffed up, lots of loud gobbling and plenty of feathers wafting to the ground in the springtime wind after Waddell has worked his Knight & Hale turkey call to perfection and let his Beretta shotgun speak its peace.
But if you the reader have hunted spring turkeys for any length of time anywhere in the country, then you're probably well aware of the fact that not every longbeard out there wants to be a TV rock star.
Or a Gobblero as Waddell often calls them.
You know the kind of tom that can't resist gobbling his head off as he waltzes in towards a waiting hunter hoping to pull the trigger on a Thunder Chicken, a tom that is sporting a double-digit beard, a sharp set of limb-hanging spurs and 20 pounds of the best eating wild protein found this side of a store-bought Butterball.
But the truth is that in the real world of April and May hunting campaigns, sometimes, it isn't all about the calling.
Even if it's Michael Waddell or Will Primos manning the call.
And when gobblers get a serious case of shut-mouth disease during the spring season, a hunter who wants to be successful has got to go to work to put the hunt back in the spring turkey hunting game.
But don't take my word for it. Instead, take the word of Waddell's Outdoor Channel counterpart, Mark Drury of Drury Outdoors and THIRTEEN television show fame.
Drury says that one of the most important things any turkey hunter can do in such a situation is to go back to one of hunting's simplest yet most profound words when the spring turns silent and the toms have a case of shut-mouth disease.
"Scouting," said Drury. "The more you understand the quarry, as far as their habits (go) and what they do day in and day out to stay alive, the better you become at trying to harvest that bird."
Not every gobbler wants to be a television rock star. Sometimes, a hunter has got to use good scouting and woodsmanship to discover the most likely spot to bag a springtime bird. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
Chris Kirby, former world turkey calling champ and the head man of Quaker Boy Game Calls in New York, agrees and offers this idea.
"If the turkeys are not gobbling very much and they're not responding to calls, go back in your memory bank from all of your scouting and get in an area where there is a lot of food and you've seen a lot of turkey activity," said Kirby.
So what does all of this mean for an American turkey hunter this spring who is out in the woods without a cameraman following him or her around?
In my book, it means answering four simple questions and then connecting the various dots to come up with a solid game plan for a day of turkey hunting.
First, you want to know where the birds – whether they happen to be Osceola's, Easterns, Rio Grandes or Merriam's – are roosting on the property that you are hunting.
And that is best accomplished by getting out in the evening and listening as the birds fly up to roost in big trees near creeks, rivers and bottomland drainages filled with mature timber.
As the birds move into such areas as the last light of evening fades on the western horizon, a hunter who is sitting somewhere within hearing distance can hear the birds traveling, calling, flying up into a roost tree and sounding off with a gobble or two while the sun goes down.
The second puzzle piece to understand is to figure out what the birds – particularly the hens – are feeding on each day and where the local chow hall happens to be.
Of similar importance is where a bird is watering – look for tracks around creeks and ponds – and where they may be loafing in the coolness of shade trees that lure in the birds on a warm spring afternoon.
Third, it helps to have an idea of where the hens typically go to lay their eggs and nest on a piece of property as the spring breeding season continues.
Usually, that's a high-and-dry spot that is out of a flood zone and one that offers protection from ground-based and avian predators who might want to raid a hen's nest full of incubating eggs.
Fourth and finally, a hunter will want to know the various travel routes that a gobbler is using each day to get from Point A (roost areas) to Point B (feeding areas) to Point C (nesting zones, shady spots, watering holes, etc.).
That's as simple as finding a collection of turkey tracks in the soft mud (including direction of travel); long range optical spying (with binoculars) on the birds as they move about each day; and even the use of strategically placed game trail cameras (in states where the practice is legal).
With such data carefully noted – in either an old-school written notebook, or more likely these days, on a smartphone hunting app – a sense of a wild turkey's daily habits and movement patterns will begin to emerge to the discerning hunter.
Such information can then be put to good use as the spring season unfolds and the "Can't Stop the Flop!" campaign continues.
That's true when the birds are sounding off well on a given day, but it is also particularly useful when the spring woods are quiet and there isn't a gobble to be found anywhere around.
Even when big toms are silent, hunters who do their homework can pull the trigger on a longbeard anywhere in the country. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
At such times, a hunter can resort to the time worn tactic of putting his backside down in a likely area and playing the old fashioned waiting game.
A game where the hunter is determined to "sit and stay and make them pay!" as the saying goes from three-time world duck calling champ Barnie Calef of Iowa.
Except this time we're talking about spring turkey gobblers around the country as they move covertly through the woods and not green-headed mallard ducks circling the decoys come fall.
Springtime gobblers that can be effectively hunted each year, even when they go silent and seemingly underground.
Because while that may seem to be the case, it never truly is.
And even on the quietest of spring mornings or afternoons, there's always hope to tag a big old tom thanks to a proper understanding of his daily needs, habits and movement patterns.
Even if that cagey old gobbler never utters a peep.