Roosted Ain't Roasted: How to Take a Spring Tom Turkey's Temperature
A cagy old longbearded gobbler can be tough to harvest; paying attention to how he responds to calls reveals a clue how to proceed and pull him into shotgun range
I'll never forget the first time I was able to talk with turkey-call-maker Will Primos.
Because in that long-ago interview, he said something that I'll never forget, a line that has in many ways become one of the trademark phrases of the Primos Hunting Calls empire.
A line that today gets repeated often in seminars, in the company's popular hunting DVDs and on the weekly Outdoor Channel television show, Primos Truth About Hunting.
In fact, it might be one of the most iconic sayings in the modern turkey hunting game.
What is that saying?
"Roosted ain't roasted!" said Will Primos with a big bearded smile.
After more than 20 years of chasing aggravating longbeards from one end of the country to the other, all I can say in response is this: Ain't that the truth?!?
Because no matter how easy the television cameras seem to make the art of spring turkey hunting – and the Primos cameras do a pretty good job of it – not every longbeard wants to be a TV rock star.
"No doubt, those that you call to and they come running are great," said Primos, who began to sell mouth diaphragm calls back in 1976 in Jackson, Miss.
"We call those kamikaze turkeys. They're certainly great for the ego."
But day in and day out, not every gobbler out there in the spring woods is going to be fired up, ready and willing to waltz right on in.
Which is why Primos recommends keeping a thermometer handy in your hunting vest.
Ok, well maybe not. But the idea does illustrate one of his core turkey hunting principles that has remained true for many years.
"We'll take a gobbler's temperature," said Primos. "If he's hot and gobbling (his head off), we'll respond by calling a lot. But if he's quiet (and uncooperative), we'll back off and call more softly and sparingly."
"It's kind of like chess," he added. "Your playing partner makes a move, then you make a move. If your chess partner moves fast, then you move fast. If your partner moves slow, then you move slow."
In other words, as a hunter engages a longbeard in woodsy conversation, it's important to recognize the mood tthe bird is in and respond accordingly.
"He can be hot and heavy, he can be lukewarm or he can be ice (cold)," said Primos.
Once a hunter has an idea of what type of gobbler he is dealing with on a given day, then a proper calling strategy can be formulated.
"You want to figure out how vocal that bird is," said Will's cousin Jimmy, another mainstay in the Primos call making company.
"If he's real vocal (and gobbling aggressively), you want to go right back at him when he calls back to you."
To further illustrate this point, Will Primos points to a concept most fishermen will understand.
"He's like a bass," said Primos. "You want to keep him coming your way. If you quit reeling, you may lose him.
"This is not something that you'll want to do every time, but (on a hot gobbler), you want to keep the line tight when you've got that relationship established."
What about if the bird is a little more on the non-committal side of things?
"If he's lukewarm, you want to try a variety of things to see if you can excite him," said Primos.
On such a middle-of-the road turkey, keep the calling spicy enough to spark some interest in the old boy while not going overboard and overselling the romance.
Possible ideas include tossing in some soft wing flaps, maybe a kee-kee or two to simulate a young turkey or even (on private land where no one else is hunting and it is safe to do so) a throaty gobble to spark some jealous rage in the old boy.
What about a bird almost completely on the frosty side? Then you want to play a hen that is hard to get, if not outright impossible.
"You've got to act nonchalant," said Primos. "Make some soft purrs and scratching noises in the leaves, things like that."
One of my most memorable turkey hunts ever followed this particular scenario as I chased a wise, old longbeard that had given me the slip all season long.
On the final morning of that particular spring campaign, I decided to all but sit on my hands and call hardly any, if at all.
After a couple of soft yelps before morning fly-down, Mr. Johnny Gobbler responded in yawning and disinterested fashion, half-heartedly gobbling twice from the big roost tree he was perched in a few hundred yards away.
Once he hit the ground, it was total crickets.
But a half-hour later, my silence was more than he could stand and he let loose with a more interested gobble, alerting me to the fact that he had already cut the distance between us in half.
My response? A couple of soft purrs and a cluck or two and then nothing more from my end.
Finally, another 20 minutes later, the old boy with the paintbrush beard and limbhanger spurs couldn't stand it anymore and let loose with a thunderous double-gobble from only 75 yards away.
And when he did so, I could see his strutting form steadily advancing on my position as I smiled big behind my camouflaged facemask.
Knowing full well only a few seconds later I would finally be clicking my shotgun off safety.
Because this old tom's temperature might have started out ice cold that day, but it ended up as red-lined and rising, something that every gobbler hunter across America dreams about heading into spring.