These days, most people know Michael Waddell as an Outdoor Channel rock star who serves as the chief antler collector for hunting’s woodsy “Brotherhood.”
And for good reason, as the longtime Booger Bottom, Ga., hunting pro has tagged numerous white-tailed deer, Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, caribou, moose, and African big game before the cameras of Realtree Outdoors; Realtree Road Trips; and Bone Collector.
Can you imagine the taxidermy issues that Waddell faces? As in "Dear Easter Bunny, this spring, fill my mailbox full of tags and let me have the taxidermy bill that Michael Waddell has."
But long before Waddell was turning on his southern charm and chasing big antlers on camera, he was a self-described “redneck by the grace of God” and a spring turkey hunter who could, and still can, by the way, make a turkey call sing better than just about anybody in the land.
In fact, Realtree’s Bill Jordan discovered Waddell a number of years ago after he won a turkey calling contest that the camouflage maker was a chief sponsor of.
But as good as Waddell is on a call, like nearly every other turkey hunter out there, he’s eaten plenty of humble-pie delivered at the hands of the springtime malady known as “hung-up turkeys.”
In other words, those longbeard wise-guys who strut their stuff, bellow out their love for all to hear and refuse to budge another inch into shotgun range no matter what brand of kitchen sink a hunter throws at them on that particular day.
With a couple of decades of dealing with such hung up gobblers across the U.S., Waddell has learned some valuable strategies that he’s more than willing to pass along. Advice that he graciously passed along to yours truly when we both attended a fundraising dinner a couple of springs ago for the National Wild Turkey Federation, a gathering of the brotherhood down in Redneckville.
“Hung-up turkeys are the most aggravating thing because usually a hung-up turkey means that you’ve won the battle but lost the war, so to speak,” said Waddell. “That’s because usually you’ve gotten them to cover a lot of ground (in coming your way) but they’ve gotten out there just out of shotgun range, that magical line that they’re not crossing.”
Period. End of sentence. End of story. Pack it up and go home. Thunder chicken game over like a snake jacked up in a weed eater, right?
Not necessarily. Waddell says that when a turkey hangs up like that, especially when a hunter is not using a decoy, one of several things is usually happening.
“One is he (the gobbler) is really smart and he basically knows that there could be danger in the area,” said Waddell.
“But more times than not, that turkey is looking for something,” he continued. “He’s looking for what he can’t see. He’s (like) ‘Wait a minute, what’s up? I can’t see that hen, I don’t see anything happening, there’s nothing moving, I’m just going to hang out right here and make sure nothing is happening.’”
What about when a hunter is using a decoy and the turkey still hangs-up?
Waddell says that the pecking order of a local flock could be coming into play.
“A lot of times, it could be a subordinate turkey and he’s looking for maybe that other gobbler that’s going to put another spur in him,” he said. “(So in that case), it’s not as much that he’s that smart, it’s that he’s just got enough instincts to realize that he shouldn’t be there anyway trying to breed that hen.”
So how do you get a hung-up turkey to advance those final few yards into scattergun range?
“There’s several little things I try to do,” said Waddell. “The number one thing I try to do, when I have the opportunity, is scratching in the leaves.”
This is to imitate the subtle sounds of turkeys feeding and moving semi-quietly through the woods.
“And then (I also try) really soft yelps,” said Waddell. “I’ve found that if you can learn on a mouth call (how to make) really soft, sweet, subtle yelps — and a lot of them, but not loud — and keep it pretty steady (you can) see if it piques his attention.”
If the gobbler keeps strutting and doesn’t advance into range of a load of copper-plated #6’s, Waddell reaches even deeper into his bag of tricks.
“What I try to do at that point is I try to just completely shut up and see what he’s going to do,” said Waddell. “A lot of times, what will happen with that turkey is once he gets to the point where he’s hung up and you completely shut up (after) doing a lot of different things, he doesn’t know what’s happened. And a lot of times, you only need five or 10 yards (to get him into range) and that’s all it is going to take.”
What if the bird still refuses an invite to the dinner table? Then the man from Booger Bottom pulls out one last trick.
A trick that Waddell acknowledges is off-the-charts crazy according to most sound turkey hunting logic. One that should only be used when a hunter is tucked away safely on private ground and knows there is very little chance that he is going to be mistaken by an unknown hunter traipsing through the woods.
“You’ve got to keep in mind that a turkey is looking for movement,” said Waddell. “And if my hand is on the gun, a lot of times I will just turn my head very slow, just a little bit, and show him a little movement.“
"Completely crazy (I know) but a lot of times when that turkey is in the brush and he sees just a little movement, and it’s about tree level and not out in the open, he thinks ‘There’s that hen I’m looking for’ and that might bring him that 10 steps (into range).
"But the gamble is that if he sees too much, he’s gone the other way, he’s putting and running off. Again, it’s a last ditch effort.”
Waddell acknowledges that the move is counter to what most old-time turkey hunters would recommend. And that it should only be tried when a hunter is as certain as he can be that it can be done in a safe manner (in other words, NEVER try this on public land or land where numerous hunters are hunting).
But sometimes this trick can be the last straw for that particular gobbler, one way or the other.
“What hangs them up a lot of times is no movement at all,” said Waddell. “That’s why with today’s decoys with the tail feathers (and heads) that you can move, they really help you kill a lot of turkeys because they see that movement, they focus in on it, and they see action and that brings them on in closer.”
And when the curse of hung-up turkeys looms large across the springtime landscape, that’s all you can ask for – that those wise-guy longbeards will take just another few more steps.
So that the scattergun thunder can roll one more time through the springtime woods with a little bit of Waddell's famous call of "Shaka-Laka-Bam!" rolling in on the breeze.
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