A buddy of mine has a saying when we are introducing a new hunter to wild turkey hunting. He tells them, “We are turkey hunting experts. We have made every mistake in the book at least twice.”
Where we grew up, the reintroduction of wild turkeys was relatively recent; we weren’t brought up in a turkey-rich environment, with centuries of hunting tactics and tradition under our turkey vests. We learned the ropes by reading books and magazine articles and trial and error. Lots of error.
Mistake Number 1: Getting Busted
The temptation to get closer to a gobbling bird can be overwhelming. It doesn’t matter if you roosted the bird the evening before, struck him on the roost, or after fly down. You want to close the distance and see that gobbler!
The problem is the terrain and thickness of the woods can distort the distance between you and the bird. Getting busted can be avoided with pre-season scouting so you know intimately the lay of the land you hunt.
Roosting a bird can give you a gauge as to how close you can creep in and set up. After a few failed attempts in various scenarios you get a sense of what that distance should be.
But always set up further than you want to. The bottom line is that if you can hear a bird gobble, no matter how far away, that bird can hear your calls and can be worked. For instance, I was calling to two strutting gobblers in a small clearing below the trail I was set up on.
While calling to these Toms I heard a distant gobble behind me that sounded miles away. I ignored it and remained fixated on the birds in front of me. All of the sudden that far-off bird gobbled less than 20 yards behind me and I almost dropped my shotgun.
Mistake Number 2: Calling Too Much or Not Enough
The temptation to use our calls to get a hot gobbler to go off is irresistible.
Often when you keep hammering on the calls to hear that gobble the bird hangs up. It’s quite content to answer your calls hundreds of times if that’s what you want to hear, but it’s not budging. Put the calls away and use an underutilized call: Silence.
Chances are good that bird will become curious about what happened to the hen that he was serenading. Give it time, and after a good 10 minutes let out a light yelp. If he doesn’t answer, give it some more time: gobblers often commit silently.
But if he hammers back at you at the same distance, it’s time to move to a different angle, which may break him, or find a more cooperative bird.
Some new hunters are led to believe you need to be a champion caller to kill a wild turkey, so they do little squeaks and hope they don’t scare away a Gobbler. You may need to be pretty good caller to bring in a woods-wise tom 4 years old, but 2- and even 3-year-old birds can be quite cooperative.
Keep it simple at first. Push pin calls have buried a load of turkeys, and it’s not hard to make decent yelps scratching a slate or working a box call. Diaphragm mouth calls have a reputation of being hard to master. Trim off as much of the tape surrounding the latex membrane and frame as needed and start squawking.
I once “called” a gobbling 2-year-old across a road when my truck door squeaked. True story.