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5 Tricky Tactics for Call-Shy Gobblers

Textbook calling isn't enough to lower the hammer on sensitive, call-shy tom turkeys; you have to change up your hen-talk and setup strategies to harvest educated longbeards

5 Tricky Tactics for Call-Shy Gobblers
Smart, educated, call-shy tom turkeys, such as the ones living on public land, can be extremely difficult to harvest without a fine-tuned strategy in place. (Jeff Phillips photo)

Make no mistake; a call-shy longbeard who arrogantly ignores your best calling efforts or simply gobbles and walks away in the opposite direction is a true turkey hunting nightmare. That kind of treatment will make you want to bend a Benelli shotgun right around an old hickory tree.

Uncontrollable factors such as lopsided hen-to-gobbler ratios, extended periods of intense hunting pressure and harassment from four-legged predators can make any longbeard tight-beaked and difficult to pull into shotgun range. When you find yourself in these notorious situations during spring turkey season, simply switch gears and attack call-shy gobblers with customized calling and setup tactics.

Play Turkey Mind Games

Many years ago, I accidentally stumbled across a calling strategy most stubborn gobblers can’t resist. At the time, I was aggressively working a defiant longbeard that refused to gobble much and didn’t want to leave his strut zone. He would proudly strut, drum and gobble sporadically, but the hardheaded joker simply wouldn’t budge an inch.

Finally, I stopped calling and tried to sneak within gun range of the puffed-up strutter. Unfortunately, before I even made it half-way to the gobbler’s strut zone, he had already reached my original calling position and busted me in the process.

I felt embarrassed, frustrated and gut-punched after that gobbler took me to school. However, I learned a valuable lesson on how to get inside of a longbeard’s head and toy with his emotions. The trick is to send mixed signals to mess with his mind. Start out with some aggressive calling tactics consisting of seductive yelps and emotional cutts to sound like a lonely hen that’s a little on the easy side.

Next, abruptly stop calling all-together and wait him out. This hot-to-cold treatment will often trigger a sudden flurry of gobbling from the longbeard. Fight the urge to answer him back and patiently sit-tight without making a sound. However, you need to be on high alert and make sure your scatter gun is in the ready position. In some cases, the tom will sneak in quietly to your calling position, or lightly spit and drum as he approaches your setup.

Calling: Dial Back and Tone Down

Without question, veteran longbeards hammered by a lot of loud, aggressive calling can be ultra-sensitive and extremely difficult to work. For good reason, they’ve spent the last several days judging all of the local calling talent and are probably dealing with shell shock at this point of the season. The last thing you want to do in this situation is overcall or call too loudly. In fact, assertive calling strategies will often make a call-shy gobbler turn and walk away in the opposite direction.

With this common scenario, one of your best options is to simply rely on soft and subtle calling tactics more seductive in nature.  Calling sequences consisting of muffled yelps, light clucks and whispering purrs can really turn the table on a call-shy gobbler. The key is to appear uninterested in the longbeard and play a little game of hard-to-get. If you really want to add some realism to this particular calling strategy, then try rustling the leaves with your hand as you softly cluck and purr. In most cases, this type of finesse calling will leave a call-shy gobbler love-drunk, mesmerized and eager to make a move.

Shy Tom Turkeys
Changing positions to simulate hen movement is sometimes enough to get call-shy longbeards to commit. (Jeff Phillips photo)

Drift and Fade Away

Another good strategy for call-shy gobblers is to start out calling from one position and gradually ease away from a gobbler before hitting him with a second round of softer calling. This drift-and-fade calling technique emulates the actions of a hen that has lost interest and is leaving. In order for this tactic to work, you need to make contact with the gobbler first and then slowly drift away from his position while continuing to call. After sneaking several yards back, setup and softly call again. This down-and-dirty tactic basically bruises a longbeard’s ego by making him think his hen is leaving him behind, or she’s being carried away by another gobbler.

When at all possible, try the drift-and-fade technique with a hunting partner to increase your shot opportunities. It’s crucial to make sure the designated caller stays in direct line with the shooter when retreating back and calling. Drifting and fading is definitely a proven turkey hunting strategy, especially for call-shy toms that like to hang-up just out of range. In most cases, the caller who is drifting away will pull the longbeard right into their hunting buddy’s lap.

Change Calling Positions

Turkey hunting legend Harold Knight once told me that being where an old gobbler wants to be is half the battle. In other words, don’t get stuck in a single setup or calling position when working a tough gobbler. If a longbeard hangs-up or doesn’t want to cooperate, then try completely changing your calling position by moving to another setup. Sometimes circling above, around, or even below his current location and calling is all that’s needed to close the deal.

It’s important to remember we’re actually reversing roles in nature when calling and convincing a gobbler to come to us. In reality, a longbeard is supposed to gobble, strut, or spit and drum to attract and pull the hens to him. Making a gobbler go against his natural instincts is tough, which is exactly why you need to try to setup in areas where he already wants to go or expects to find hens. How and where you setup on a particular gobbler can make all the difference in the world.

Call shy Tom Turkeys
Getting a gobbler to answer your call is one thing; getting him to come to you is another. Try changing calls or use multiple calls at the same time for hung-up, call-shy toms. (Jeff Phillips photo)

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