Five Turkey Hunting Scenarios You Might Encounter This Year
April 13, 2011
Turkey hunting scenarios seem limitless, but here are five situations you cananticipate and be ready for this season.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
It was many years ago that a veteran guide gave me some advice that I have always remembered concerning the peculiarities of Rios and Merriam's. On this particular occasion, the long-time hunter told me he had been experiencing difficulty dealing with his local toms. We had risen early and, as if in response, the first monarchs of the morning sounded off.
But when the quartet of old boys greeted the coming dawn with some throaty gobbles, instead of our running toward them and setting up, the guide told me that he was tired of employing that strategy for this particular assemblage.
"Forget about running toward their roost; we're heading for where they're probably going to be in about 45 minutes," the guide told me.
We took off toward a small grove of trees that offered the only cover in the area and that was also adjacent to a food plot some 300 yards from the roost site. Before we set up in the slowly gathering light, the guide positioned several hen decoys some 15 yards outside of the tree line and instructed me to set up five yards within that same line.
"I'm making three hen yelps at daylight and there's no need for you to make a call," continued the guide. "But after I call, rest your gun on your knee, be ready to shoot, and keep watching all around."
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I did as I was told and not long after the guide had vocalized his yelps, the four toms appeared over the horizon some 80 yards away. I slowly raised the 12-gauge and when the lead bird arrived beside one of the decoys, I fired, thus tagging a fine Rio.
Merriam's and Rios offer a host of problems, and here are five categories of difficult situations that you may face this spring. Most importantly, here are some strategies for taking these tough toms.
THE GOING AWAY GOBBLER
In this region during the course of a day, Merriam's and Rios often travel great distances and seem to have their destinations already charted, many times paying no attention to our most alluring yelps, clucks, and purrs. Greg Boozer, a wildlife biologist for the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), explains how this particular peculiarity can actually work in our favor.
"Habitat really influences the behavior of Merriam's and Rios," says Boozer. "Since many times these two subspecies are found in more open areas, they are more vocal as they can see further than can Easterns and Osceolas, for example. They just don't have to be on high alert for predators all the time.
"So it's typical that when you call to a Merriam's or Rio, they often go in another direction. And they may do so not because there was anything wrong with your calling. It's just that they have set places to go."
Instead of being frustrated about this behavior trait, hunters should strive to take advantage of it, continues Boozer.
"Try to take a different angle on that particular bird or birds. Use the terrain to hide you as you move, then get out ahead of the gobbler and set up where you think he is heading. Of course, for you to be able to do that, you have to know the local terrain and where the gobblers often travel after fly down."
Obviously, the individuals who have performed their pre-season scouting should have a good idea where the local birds are ambling after first light. But so should hunters who have tried and failed to call in a bird or birds for several days.
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"Even if you are new to an area, you can still purchase a topo map and make some educated guesses where gobblers might head," says Boozer.
T.J. Williams, of Primos Hunting Calls, relates that he has experience with Merriam's that headed directly away from him and two buddies.
"It was early in the season and there was still snow on the ground," he recalls. "The outfitter told us that when we called to the gobblers in the early morning that they wouldn't listen and it didn't matter that they wouldn't. He also said that there were three places on his property that offered food and cover for the local turkeys and they would also be the places where there would be less snow.
"The guy sent each one of us to a different patch of cover, and we all three killed birds from our respective spots that morning. It was a brilliant strategy and one that especially works with Merriam's and Rios."
Williams states that if a hunter is not familiar with the area and doesn't know where the local turkey gathering spots are, he should try to follow the birds by usi
ng quality optics. Or if the terrain is open enough, debark in a vehicle, follow along and attempt to ascertain the direction the turkeys are ambling, and then move out ahead and set up and simply wait. This may not be a glamorous strategy for those who insist that they have to call in a bird before feeling good about the success, but it is an effective gambit for these two subspecies.
THE GOBBLER WITH JAKES
Yet another common Western scenario is to have to cope with a gobbler with jakes. This is a real "depends" situation regarding tactics, maintains Greg Boozer.
"A lot of how a hunter should deal with a gobbler with jakes situation depends on the relationship of the gobbler to those young males," says the NWTF biologist. "Say, for example, the mature bird is 'expressing' himself quite strongly through his gobbles and has successfully made the jakes become subordinate to him, then you may well be able to work him by using standard calling strategies.
"But if, for example, the jakes are constantly harassing the gobbler, if they are constantly trying to get in on the breeding, if they are constantly running off the gobbler, and the mature bird is not doing much gobbling, then you have another situation entirely. And it definitely can be a more challenging one."
If a hunter, after experiencing several frustrating outings because of belligerent jakes, realizes that he has the latter situation to deal with, then Boozer has a concrete game plan for him to try.
"Out west, use a strutting gobbler decoy and some hen decoys in that situation," he says. "From what I understand, it won't matter whether the decoy itself is a jake or mature bird. What you want the gobbler to do is to key in on that strutting male. Don't be surprised if that harassed mature bird comes in without gobbling, too."
Boozer believes that one of the reasons this strategy works so well is that, especially in open country, a turkey can see for great distances. Perhaps when a longbeard who has had multiple shortbeards constantly antagonize him, then sees a lone strutting bird, he feels this is a situation he can overcome. Who really knows what goes on inside a brain of a creature that relies mostly on instinct? In any event, the biologist states that this game plan has worked for him and for numerous other hunters, as well.
THE SATELLITE GOBBLER
A satellite gobbler is often described as a mature bird (almost always a two-year-old) that desperately wants to mate but is being kept from doing so by his low status on the pecking order. Often this is because very successful hatches occurred in previous years and a higher-than-average number of three- and four-year-old longbeards are present. Or the satellite's lower-than-satisfactory status could be because a goodly percentage of two-year-olds in the area have thoroughly thumped him in their pre-season battles and he is on the proverbial outside looking in. In either situation, a satellite male will often wildly wander and be wildly unpredictable.
"A satellite Merriam's or Rio can be very frustrating to deal with," says Boozer. "He can be very vocal and gobble a great deal but not move toward you, or he can be very timid and not gobble much at all and not move toward you. A lot depends on the individual temperament of that particular bird."
One thing that is relatively certain with a satellite is that he will often be very hesitant about approaching a hunter's position. Thus, a hunter is faced with the reality that he will have to be very aggressive in his dealings with the gobbler, even at the risk of sometimes spooking satellites.
"For a satellite, do whatever it takes to force him to gobble," offers Boozer. "Then once you have reasonably determined where he is, pick up and move and get within his comfort zone. If you can slip within that zone without alarming him, you can work him and have a reasonable chance at killing that bird."
Don't be surprised that given your proximity to a satellite and this tom's previous beatdowns, that he moves toward you without gobbling or even strutting. This is the type of tom that seems to materialize out of nowhere and will even take a long time to do that. Commit to sitting still for at least an hour; two is even better. The long wait can be very worthwhile.
Williams adds that an outstanding tactic for making Merriam's and Rio satellites sound off out west is to employ boxes and slates that have the capability of issuing forth very loud, aggressive yelp and cutting hen music. Of course, as is true anywhere, start with soft clucks, purrs and yelps to see if a satellite will respond to those calls. But don't, emphasizes Williams, be afraid to turn up the volume.
THE GOBBLER WITH HENS
One of the most common scenarios in this region is mature Merriam's and Rios with hens. Indeed, this is often one of the most maddening situations for a western hunter to try to overcome.
"We need a lot of patience when we are faced with a gobbler that has hens," says Boozer. "A Merriam's or Rio will almost always stay with the hens that he knows and sees are with him, instead of going off to hen sounds coming from somewhere else. I think a hunter is most likely to be faced with this situation early in the season when breeding is still taking place. But it can also happen early in the morning, just about any time in a given season."
One of the best ways to solve this problem, continues the biologist, is for hunters to readjust their thinking. Stop making sounds that will lure in a longbeard and initiate calls that may result in the main matriarch coming your way and perhaps having the entire assemblage follow her.
"Make very aggressive hen yelps and try to make the dominant hen check you out," explains Boozer. "By no means will this strategy always work. But for henned-up early season birds and henned-up morning gobblers, it's one of the best things we can try."
Another possible gambit, particularly when the hen challenge game plan fails, is for hunters to sit still and do ... virtually nothing. This stratagem can be especially effective later in the season when hens go off to nest, says Boozer.
Bass fishermen often speak of their "never leaving fish to find fish." Western chasers of Merriam's and Rios may want to adopt this mantra as their own. If you know turkeys are in the area and if nesting season is taking place, hold your position until well after 9 or 10 a.m. Try some gentle clucks and purrs every 20 minutes or so and remain alert. Don't be surprised if you see a tom approaching you.
THE FIGHTER, NOT A LOVER, GOBBLER
A hunter is more likely to be faced with gobblers that are fighters, not lovers, later in the season when hens are spending less time with the males because of nesting obligations. The toms are often in small gangs and the individual toms still want to mate but are having less and less success finding willing hens. And the gobblers ar
e becoming more "quarrelsome" with each other.
"Let's say it is late in the season, you have three or four gobblers that you are trying to work and you are not having any success doing so," says Boozer. "This is a time when you should use the terrain to get as close as you can to these birds. In other words, in their comfort zone that I mentioned earlier.
"If you can move to within 50 to 75 yards of these gobblers, try soft yelps and purrs. Really, really tone down your calling. As long as you can, stay in the area and wait for one of those birds to break off from the rest."
From my many years of chasing after gobblers, I have learned that no strategy works all the time or even most of the time. But when we seem to have nothing going for us, these five game plans will certainly give us a better chance to ride home with a gobbler in the bed of the truck.