Old-School Turkey Hunting: Of Mice, Men and Longbeards

Old-School Turkey Hunting: Of Mice, Men and Longbeards
Sometimes, killing a spring longbeard isn't as easy as merely getting out of the truck at dawn and blowing an owl hoot or two. (Lynn Burkhead photo)

Watch a spring turkey hunting episode on Outdoor Channel or one of the myriad of turkey hunting DVDs available at your favorite outdoor retail store and it would seem that spring turkey hunting is a fast paced, can't miss kind of adventure.

You know, the hunter gets out of the truck at dawn, owl hoots a couple of times and is almost instantly greeted by a thunderous chorus of gobbles.

The hunter then moves a couple of hundred yards away from the roost, waits for fly-down and then calls a bird in to shotgun range.

As that lusty longbeard loudly bellows his affections for the whole world to see – in front of the camera and behind it – the hunter waits for the magical moment. And when it arrives, he downs the big gobbler with a single load of well-placed copper plated No. 5s.

All of which is followed by a backslapping celebration, tagging the bird and beating a hasty retreat back to the lodge for a steaming plate of biscuits-and-gravy, just mere minutes after the sun has breached the horizon.

Cut. That's a wrap. And tune in again next week.

Old School Hoot
(Jeff Phillips photo)

But sometimes the best laid plans of mice, men and spring turkey hunters don’t actually turn out that way. Trust me, I know from far too much personal experience.

When that happens, a hunter has got to punch the clock in an effort to earn his baked longbeard in the oven, trying to outsmart a battle-tested bird that wins more times than not.

Sometimes, a hunter gets a turkey these days when playing by the modern television and magazine formed set of rules.

And other times, a spring turkey chaser has got to throw the modern rule book out the window and revert to old-school turkey hunting tactics, the kind that this legendary springtime affair has been built upon for many generations.

If this strikes a chord, then realize that old-school tactic number one is this: Instead of running and gunning, it can still pay to sit down for a spell and exercise some extreme patience.“If you’ve done your scouting and you know there are birds in the area, sit and call and be patient,” said Mossy Oak pro-staff member and turkey hunting guru Kevin Faver in a news release on the subject.

“No matter what you hear about turkeys, there are very few easy hunts. So when you go, be patient.”

Why be patient? Because heavily pressured gobblers – longbeards that get that way from either hunters, predators, or both – will often make their moves quietly and slowly, scarcely uttering a peep as they case the woods for any sign of would-be trouble.

With a silent tom approaching like that, the hunter often never knows the longbeard is there until the bird is spooked by said hunter moving a body part or getting up to relocate.

Again, been there, done that, have the t-shirt to prove it.

A second trick to going old-school for spring turkeys is to hunt much deeper into the morning.

Again, this seems to fly in the face of what you read in magazines and see on Outdoor Channel programming. In those hunts, it most often seems that this spring pastime is a quick and easy affair that is all but over once a tom hits the ground below the roost tree.

Most days, nothing could be further from the truth as a longbeard gathers his harem and proceeds away from a hunter’s softly pleading calls, not towards them.

But give the tom time to court his lady friends and they will eventually leave him high and dry as they head for a nest or other parts of the woods as the sun gets higher in the sky.

When that happens, mid to late morning, it can suddenly be game on when most hunters are punching out and heading for the truck.

“If you don’t kill that bird from the roost then give him an hour or two to hang with hens,” said Faver. “That 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. (time-period) can be magical.”

While Faver is a much better turkey hunting guru than yours truly will ever be, I've found this tactic to be true an awful lot of the time. In fact, more often than not, if I kill a bird before noon, it's closer to lunchtime than it is to sunrise.

A final word of advice to spring turkey hunters willing to go old-school is to reach into their vests and find a way to throw the local longbeards a change-up or two. As opposed to delivering a steady diet of the same old hunting pitch, day after day.

“I think too many hunters go by the book,” said Faver. “Sometimes you have to think outside the box.”

Especially when a tom is henned up, as they almost always seem to be when I'm hunting them.

“If you sit on a bird that you know has hens more than likely he’s not coming to you,” said Faver. “You have to figure out a way to either call the hens to you or make a move to get in front of the birds.”

Of course, making a move on a bird should only be done when such a move is safe to attempt. Be especially careful of doing so on public land or heavily hunted private land, making safety — not the tagging of a bird — the one and only consideration of the day.

If all of this seems a little unorthodox as compared to what a hunter sees on most television programs these days, well, that’s kind of the point.

Because despite what TV and filmed hunts might attempt to show, there is often very little about spring turkey hunting that goes by the book. Especially when it's the modern rule book that we're talking about.

“Always keep in mind no two hunts are alike,” said Faver.

That’s a sentiment to which I'd have to add a hearty amen to, especially when chasing modern-day longbeards.

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