Sleep In For Big Spring Gobblers
September 28, 2010
Not having any luck with the traditional predawn raids on turkey roosting sites? Sleep in and head for the woods when everyone else is coming out. Our expert explains. (May 2008)
Late-arriving hunters will find plenty of lovesick gobblers waiting for them after 10 a.m. Let the predawn hunters clear out and then get down to some serious calling!
Photo by Steve Carpenteri.
"See you boys at lunchtime," my buddy, Bob, said as he rolled over in his bed. Three of us were headed out the door long before sunrise to try to catch a gobbler coming off the roost on a spring turkey hunt. Bob hates getting up early, and he said he'd just wait until midmorning to hit the woods.
"I'll hunt for one of those toms whose hens have all gone off to sit on nests," he'd told us the night before.
Dawn broke to the sound of turkey gobbles thundering down the mountain valley. I crept toward the source of one of the gobbles and set up when I figured I was about 100 yards from the roost. The tom gobbled his head off in the tree. And right on cue, I heard yelps coming from all around me. By tracking the moving sounds of the hens, I could tell the birds all were converging on the gobbler's location.
Before long, I heard the telltale sound of flapping wings as the gobbler left his roost and flew down to meet his ladies. When he hit the ground, he let out one gobble and I never heard a peep out of him again. I called and called for a good hour, but I got no response. Obviously, the flock moved away from my position. (Continued)
Sleepy and with a grumbling stomach, I hiked up and down the mountains for the next three hours trying to get a gobbler to respond to my calls. Finally, at around 11 a.m., I heard a bird gobbling in the distance.
It took me a good 15 minutes to cut the distance between us to a few hundred yards. As I was trying to pinpoint exactly where I thought the turkey was strutting, I heard a loud "Boom!"
I waited on the logging road to see if I knew the hunter who'd just shot, and who comes out of the woods with a limp gobbler slung over his shoulder?
"Did you have a nice morning?" Bob asked with a big grin on his face. "I got up, cooked some breakfast, watched a little TV and got out here about an hour ago. This guy came right in to my calls."
BREAK WITH TRADITION
Turkey-hunting tradition says to be in the woods before sunrise to be successful on spring gobblers. There are times when you get under a bird on the roost and he flies down right in front of your shotgun barrel. But how many times have you been out there at first light only to have a gobbler fly off the roost to his hens and then walk off with them, no doubt thumbing his spurs at you?
Ever since that day a few years ago, when Bob showed me how successful the mid- to late-morning period can be in the spring, I've found myself more inclined to sleep in before heading out for my gobbler.
LATE MAKES SENSE
Why should you consider this tactic, which breaks one of turkey hunting's cardinal rules? Simple. Just think about how turkey courtship and breeding works. Many hunters think the females lure in the males, as happens with most other game animals, such as deer and moose. With turkeys, however, it's the gobbler that calls in the hens.
When a tom gobbles on the roost, he's letting his harem know where he is and that he's ready for them to come meet him. The hens dutifully flock to his position and then he flies down to them, leaving you high and dry with your calls and decoys.
As the morning wears on, the tom will breed every hen he can find. By mid- to late morning, those hens will peel off one by one to go to their nests and lay eggs. Eventually, the gobbler will find himself alone but still in the mood for love. And now he has to go looking for some new girlfriends.
That's where you come in.
Also, consider this. Most hunters follow turkey-hunting tradition and hit the woods before dawn. That's when you have the most competition. If they don't bag their bird quickly, they will eventually become tired and hungry and head back to camp or go to the nearest restaurant. Often, you'll find the woods devoid of hunters come midmorning. Less competition for you means there's less chance someone will cut in on you while you're working a hot gobbler.
So let's talk about how you should tackle midmorning gobblers after you've slept in and eaten a good breakfast.
Scouting is just as important for midmorning hunts as it is when you're trying to locate roosting sites for early-morning excursions. Turkey flocks usually have a standard route they take once they come off the roost in the morning. Typically, that route will take them through feeding areas and past water.
As long as they are not disturbed, a flock's daily routine is fairly predictable. It's up to you to get out there and figure out where they go once they fly down. Naturally, you'll want to set up somewhere along that path, so that once the hens in a particular flock have gone off to their nests for the day, you'll be right there to call in the gobbler.
As I said, this routine is fairly predictable so long as the flock isn't disturbed. Well, we all know, a flock can easily be disturbed by other hunters in the spring turkey woods -- especially on public land. That makes scouting all the more important.
You have to stay on top of an area to figure out where the flocks go as the season progresses. The knowledge you gain about an area and its turkeys before the season opens might not do you any good two weeks after the shooting starts.
If you aren't able to track a specific flock, find out where the preferred midmorning hangouts are for the turkeys in your hunting area. Fields, for instance, often attract turkeys once the sun climbs high in the sky. Hens that have not yet gone to their nests will utilize these fields to feed. And you can rest assured the local gobblers know where to find the ladies.
Go Get 'Em
When you sleep in for your gobbler, you have two basic hunting methods to choose from -- "run and gun" or "hunker down." The run-and-gun method involves checking out multiple locations for hot gobblers. With luck, your scouting will have helped you find several locations where you're likely to find turkeys around midmorning.
When you run and gun, you drive or hike to one of these hotspots and spend a few minutes calling to see if you get a response. If you hear no gobbles, you move on to the next hotspot. If a tom answers your calls, set up and work him.
Don't rely solely on hen calls to locate your gobbler. Remember, you're coming into the game after most other hunters, and birds might be call-shy by the time you get to them. Because you're running and gunning, you need a bird to gobble to convince you to set up. If a tom comes in silent to your calls, you'll probably be long gone by the time he shows up.
Shock calls are good bets for getting even the most call-shy gobbler to sound off. My favorites are the crow and pileated woodpecker calls. Notice I didn't list the owl hoot. There's no point in hooting at 10 a.m. because most owls gave their last hoots of the morning before sunrise. You need to work calls that produce sounds turkeys expect to hear later in the day.
In areas that are heavily hunted, I opt for the woodpecker call. Not too many turkey hunters work this call. Conversely, just about every turkey hunter I know has a crow call in his vest. Pressured gobblers seem to get wise to the crow call after hearing it every day for several days during the season. But the woodpecker call is rare enough and sharp enough to produce results on most days.
I can recall one day when a bird I was working would answer only my woodpecker call and nothing else. I was running and gunning my way along the top of a ridge about 10:30 a.m. when this tom replied to my woodpecker call. Judging by the sound of the gobble, I figured I was going to have to drop down into the valley on the south side of the slope I was on, climb the opposing ridge and then work the bird on top of that mountain.
As I made my journey toward the turkey, I made a few hen yelps with my mouth diaphragm to make sure I was still on the right track. The turkey never responded to those yelps. So, I hit the woodpecker call. He answered that call every time with thunderous gobbles.
Shock calls are good bets for getting even the most call-shy gobbler to sound off. My favorites are the crow and pileated woodpecker calls.
Closer and closer I trekked toward the source of the gobbling, checking the bird's location periodically with my woodpecker call. Eventually, I figured I had moved close enough, so I planted my decoy on the spine of the ridge and I backed about 20 yards away. I sat down at the base of a huge oak tree and then started hen yelping.
Not one time did the gobbler respond vocally to my hen yelps. But he and a buddy followed the calls right to my decoy. I shot the bird with the longer beard as the two toms stood within inches of my decoy.
Hunkering down for a gobbler basically is the exact opposite of running and gunning. When you hunker down, you find a spot where you believe a gobbler will show up and you don't move. Either the bird shows, or you run out of hunting time.
If you're going to hunker down, your scouting had better be on target and up to the minute or you're going to be lonely out there.
Which brings up the next issue for the hunker-down hunter -- comfort. Since you could be seated in one place for a couple of hours, it's best to be comfortable. The more comfortable you are, the longer you can sit.
Carry something to sit on -- a cushion or one of those low-lying, metal-framed turkey-hunting seats. Where legal and practical, set up a portable camouflage blind. You don't have to worry about approaching birds seeing you move and you can stretch out for a nap when things are really slow.
One season, my buddy, Ed, located a gobbler that would show up in a field every morning between 9 and 11 a.m. Ed never could figure out where this bird roosted, but he could always count on the tom showing up in this particular alfalfa field.
For three days, Ed got to the field ahead of the gobbler, set up his decoys and called. The tom never showed any interest and always stayed out of shotgun range. Finally, on the fourth day, Ed took out a portable blind, set it up about five yards back into the woods from the field edge, crawled inside and waited quietly. He didn't put out a decoy and he never made a call. That day, Ed bagged the bird.
In my opinion, there is no better time of day to employ the two-man setup than in mid- to late morning. That's because there are sure to be several gobblers out there that are still looking for love. After those toms have been courting their ladies all morning, they seem to be easier to talk into shotgun range.
In the two-man setup, there's a caller and a shooter. Once a gobbling bird is located, the shooter sets up to kill the turkey and the caller slips 40 to 50 yards behind that spot. When the shooter is ready, the caller should go into his best routine to get the gobbler fired up.
Here's where it helps to have the caller and the shooter separated. Every turkey hunter has experienced "hang-ups." You know the situation. A tom gobbles and gobbles, strutting back and forth, but he reaches a certain point in the distance and he decides he's coming no closer. Again, this goes back to the biology of the turkey's spring courtship ritual. The gobbler wants the hen to come to him, not vice versa.
If you aren't able to track a specific flock, find out where the preferred midmorning hangouts are for the turkeys in your hunting area.
If you are calling for yourself, that gobbler knows by sound exactly where you are in the woods. He's apt to stop approaching and start strutting and gobbling in one spot in an attempt to get you to go to him. Now you're in a stalemate. However, by having a separate caller, that person can move away from you if the gobbler hangs up. Fearing that he might be losing a prospective date, the gobbler is likely to run after the caller -- and right down your gun barrel.
One reason I suspect the two-man setup works so well later in the morning, as opposed to shortly after first light, is you're less likely to get interference from live hens. Early in the morning, a gobbler knows that all he has to do is gobble and a hen will show up. Come mid- to late morning, most of the local hens either have gone off to their nests or they're hanging with their boyfriends for the day. Either way, a midmorning tom walking around the woods without hens in tow is ripe for the taking.
GIVE IT A TRY
Waking up at 4 a.m. every day and trudging out to the spring turkey woods can get very old, very quickly. As the season progresses, you'll probably find your hunts growing shorter and shorter and you go back to the diner or your bunk earlier and earlier.
Why put yourself through this aggravation?
Sleep in for your gobbler this year. There's nothing like hitting the wood
s after a good night's sleep and taking your tom after everyone else has called it a day!