The 1930s and ’40s actress Mae West was famous, or infamous, for her line: “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?” I’ve been thinking that this tantalizing approach is one that we turkey hunters should use more often, especially late in the season when toms have been exposed to a wide variety of calls and experienced their share of hunting pressure. Instead, now’s the time to tease a tom to death, and here’s how to do so.
FIRST, ROOST HIM
Chris Walls is a pro staffer for Hunters’ Specialties and believes successful late season hunts start with what has become an increasingly underutilized tactic — roosting.
“Of course, you can roost a gobbler anytime during the season, but few people do anymore at any stage of the season,” he told me. “But roosting is a great tactic for late-season, heavily pressured birds because when the gobblers are becoming increasingly unresponsive that’s when I want to find them the evening before. That way I can crowd them when I set up the next morning. I want to make it as easy as possible for a gobbler to fly down and have to walk just a short distance to check me out.”
From previous encounters with a longbeard, Walls hopes that he will have a general idea of where a tom is roosting, that he will hear the turkey fly up for the night, and that he won’t have to utter any sounds to cause a gobbler to sound off. But if he isn’t fortunate enough to hear a gobbler flap his way to a roost tree, he forgoes the hen chatter that he would normally make early in the season and instead uses barred owl, crow, and coyote calls to cause a tom to shock gobble. As a last resort, Walls will gobble a few times in order to elicit a response.
Once he successfully roosts a gobbler, Walls waits for full darkness to descend in order to ease out of the area.
“The next morning, I move in really close, I mean within 40 or so yards if the terrain and conditions permit it, and I set up well before sunrise in the pitch dark,” he continued. “If a gobbler does hear me walking to my setup, I want him to think that it’s just the normal movement of animals in the night.”
The next morning it’s time to begin to tease the tom. Walls will emit some soft tree yelps then transition to a few tantalizing yelps and the odd cluck or two. Then perhaps the next best step in the teasing process is just to go silent as Walls is often so close to a roosted bird that future calling — because the “hen” is not visible — may cause a longbeard to become suspicious since no visible cues exist to prove that a hen is in the vicinity.
“I want the gobbler to feel that he has to take just a few steps to find that hen,” explained Walls. “Then when he flies down and walks just a little ways toward me, I’ve got him!”
LATE SEASON CALLING IS LIKE RATTLING FOR BUCKS
Jerry Paitsel operates Struttinbird Turkey Calls and compares late season calling for gobblers to hunting for trophy bucks.
“One of my best deer hunting tactics for big bucks is to rattle,” Paitsel told me. “My usual calling routine is to rattle very softly, then wait for an hour-plus before starting another sequence. Some big bucks prefer aggressive rattling, some prefer soft rattling, but many bucks of both categories and even does can be curious about soft rattling and come check it out.
“Late season gobblers are the same way. Then, some gobblers will respond to loud calling, but most won’t. Both of those categories of late season gobblers can be lured in with soft calls.
“Now, sometimes those late season gobblers will come roaring in, gobbling every step it seems. That can be true especially if the hens have just recently left the toms to nest. But it’s more likely that you will only hear a gobble or two and a bird will slip in, maybe strutting, maybe not. After you set up, make a couple of soft calls, then prepare to remain motionless for an hour or so. I’ve killed a lot of late-season birds by just sitting still.”
Paitsel states that a soft, seductive tempting yelp is a superb initial sound to make. But equally good are light clucks and purrs.
“I prefer a slate for light calling,” he continued. “I might make a soft cluck or two, then add in a few purrs. Maybe a half hour later, I’ll offer up a few little yelps. Again, it’s just like rattling: call a little then wait a lot. That buck or gobbler knows where those sounds are coming from. If they want to, they’ll come check out those sounds. And a suspicious turkey can come slipping in just like a suspicious buck.”
Paitsel says deer hunters who rattle often make the sounds of scuffling in the leaves. This can be done, of course, with the antlers themselves or simply a stick. Similarly, turkey hunters can mimic a hen scratching among leaves by using a hand to overturn the forest duff or a handy tree limb.
“Leaf scratching is an especially good tactic if an unresponsive gobbler is still on the roost, is nearby in his strut zone, or if he has been heavily pressured,” continued Paitsel. “Hunters should definitely use this tactic more often in the late season.”