How Waddell Dances with the Stars of Spring
(Photo courtesy of Michael Waddell's Bone Collector Facebook page)
Michael Waddell is one of the best turkey hunters that you’ll ever meet. He is a calling virtuoso, able to make a box call, a slate, a glass call or a mouth diaphragm call sing the siren song for many an old, tough and cagey gobbler each spring all over the U.S.
But unlike a hunter that is simply looking to coax a bird into shotgun range before unleashing a load of copper-plated #6s in the direction of a gobbler’s lit-up red head, Waddell has to take it a step further when he hunts longbeards because he’s also hunting with a camera, not just a gun.
To successfully film an Outdoor Channel television show or a Realtree turkey hunting DVD, the man from Booger Bottom, Ga., has got to get the turkey in close enough to allow for a successful harvest; plenty of “B-roll footage” of the bird strutting, drumming, and gobbling; and maybe even the capture of a little compelling video to boot.
This is the reason why he almost always uses a turkey decoy when he hunts and films in an attempt to dance with the stars of springtime's greatest outdoor waltz between hunter and the nation's biggest upland game bird.
“I do use a decoy a lot, almost 90 percent of the time when I’m videoing,” Waddell told me in a conversation a couple of springs ago. “It usually makes for a more intense hunt because they are coming hard to them.”
But before you rush out to your local outdoor retailer and buy the latest and greatest decoy to come out onto the market this spring, keep in mind that Waddell doesn’t use decoys the same way that most turkey hunters do, or more specifically, he doesn’t use the same sex of decoy as most hunters do.
“About 98 percent of the time, I use a gobbler decoy,” said Waddell. “I very rarely use a hen decoy, but I always use a gobbler decoy.”
Why is that?
“Typically, if it is an aggressive turkey and he is without hens, he is completely mad at the world that there is another gobbler that (even) thinks he should be in there breeding,” said the popular host of Bone Collector on Outdoor Channel.
“So he’s coming (and) he’s coming to whoop butt.”
Such a turkey often ends up being a dinner table rock star on Waddell’s TV show.
“Once you call him to the point where he could get hung up, if he’s a turkey with that kind of attitude, once he sees that gobbler decoy, you might as well push your safety off because he’s on a fast trot and you’re going to have to shoot him off the decoy," grinned Waddell.
What if he isn’t a frustrated longbeard with a chip on his shoulder?
“If he’s a subordinate turkey, a lot of times they see a gobbler, and then all of a sudden, a lot of times, it’s like they want to make friends,” said Waddell. “They’ll subtly come in, kind of half-strutting, act like its cool, and want to be buddies with this other turkey that is in there.
“Usually, even on the subordinate turkeys, a gobbler decoy doesn’t freak them out.”
Having hunted turkeys all over the U.S., Waddell said he sees proof of this every spring.
“You’ll see it so many times in a field, one turkey is strutting, one turkey ain’t,” he said. “The other one just wants to be buddies because he knows the other one has some action, that he’s got some hens there, and he just wants to be in the flock, he’s just trying to flock back up. It’s no different than a cow trying to get in the herd.”
Waddell’s use of a gobbler decoy is both effective and well thought out. He says that when filming an outdoors television show on the ground, it is aggravating for himself and the cameraman to try to haul around a lot of different decoys when one will do the trick. Especially when the right one will work and the wrong one can often cause a wise, old gobbler to hang up out of shotgun range while he’s strutting his stuff.
“What I like about a gobbler decoy is they commit and come all the way to it,” said Waddell.
“Sometimes, when a gobbler comes in to a hen decoy, he isn’t strutting two or three yards away from that hen. He’ll get back 20 or 30 yards and strut and strut and strut and his hens are 20 or 30 yards out in front of him.
“If you’ve got your hen decoy out there at 20 or 30 yards and then that gobbler hangs up 20 or 30 yards from the decoy, he isn’t really hung up. You completely tricked him, he’s just strutting and displaying for a hen that he thinks he just won.
“But guess what? He’s 50 or 60 yards away, just out of shotgun range.”
This makes for bad television footage. Not to mention a frustrating and unsuccessful hunt.
That aside, what’s the biggest mistake that Waddell sees most weekend warrior spring turkey hunters making with a gobbler decoy?
“Putting it too far out in front of them,” he said. “I want my decoy close. Very rarely do I not put my decoy close, just past about 10 yards.”
Waddell says that he also puts the decoy out of the line of sight of the gobbler.
“You don’t want the gobbler looking right through the decoy and seeing you,” he said.
“Typically, when a turkey comes into a decoy, that’s what is going to give you a chance, your son or your wife a chance, to make a final move and get on the gobbler. So you don’t want him looking right at you.”
To keep the gobbler’s attention focused elsewhere, Waddell will often not put the decoy in front of his position at all, even off to the side.
“I often put a decoy right behind me, to make them move them past me,” he said. “It makes for good video because it will really suck them in to the camera.”
And many times, it will suck them all the way to the dinner table where every spring turkey is a bona fide rock star, hot out of the oven.
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