Turkeys After Rush Hour
Three ways to stay in the game for gobblers.
Turkey hunters have a passion for the first hour of morning hunting but the result is frequently a “fly-down flyaway” rather than “fly-down and get the shot” scenario. It may be the gobbler doesn’t respond to the calls, he gets henned-up or just sets off on a mission elsewhere that simply doesn’t involve you. Don’t take it personally; it’s what longbeards do.
After the initial “rush hour” of roost hunting ends, proven strategies exist for coping with gobblers later in the morning. While no turkey hunting technique is foolproof, here are ways to keep you in the game for longbeards on the property you hunt.
DEALING WITH HENS
A common unsuccessful end to a roost hunt is a gobbler moving off in the company of real hens, even if it seems you have him on a string and he’s gobbling every breath. Part of the problem can be that you’ve convinced the hens he’s with that you are a hen — and hence their competition. When a gobbler is suddenly surrounded by multiple live hens, clucking and yelping within his sight, most hunters have more than met their match.
All may appear lost in that moment when hens arrive, but actually you’re still in the game.
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One of the first tactics is to make a move to pique his interest. If the gobbler walks off with the hens, pinpoint where they go. That’s usually not difficult because he’ll often still be gobbling, even at your calls. If you’ve scouted the area and know the land you can make a move and put yourself in the better position. Gobblers have areas they prefer, such as strut zones, and if you can get to one of these places you have a chance to call him off the hens. Use a crow call to elicit gobbles to ensure you know his position until you reach the targeted place.
Then use hen calls, beginning with subtle sounds and getting progressively more aggressive if required.
If raising the stakes by using aggressive calling doesn’t get him to approach, it may upset a boss hen and that’s almost as good.
If a boss hen gets truly annoyed with your calling she may respond with aggressive calling of her own. If she does, give it right back to her and up the ante by mimicking her calls aggressively. A sharp sounding slate or a piercing mouth call seems to rile hens up.
This can be an incredibly exciting method because if she comes looking for you to settle the feud the entire flock, with gobbler in tow, will likely approach. Be careful with your own movement if that happens; a lot more turkey eyes are looking for you.
WALK AND CALL
Multiple versions of “walk and call” exist and another popular version is referred to as “run and gun.” In these strategies, basically the same principle applies — a hunter moves around calling, attempting to elicit a gobbled response. The walk and call is literally what it says, while the run and gun typically means a fast-paced approach. Run and gun may involve using a vehicle to move quickly to potential hotspots. It’s a matter of your style and how much property you have at your disposal.
I love the walk and call method. As exciting as hunting birds off the roost can be, walking and calling is my most successful way to kill a gobbler. When the roost hunt ends unsuccessfully I may leave that gobbler and seek another. The first bird will still be in play later and I’ll come back to catch him after the hens are gone if I haven’t tagged one before then. After the hens leave he’ll be much more susceptible to calling.
In the meantime, I’ll slip through the woods quietly, often using an old logging road for stealth or work from a ridge top to have better listening posts. I move slowly, listening for any natural turkey sounds. It’s common to hear a turkey gobbling without you having to call at this time of the morning, and that’s one that may be eager to respond to your calls. If that doesn’t occur, I’ll stop about every 200 yards and I’ll slip behind some form of cover and make a couple series of calls. The first series will be a subtle run of yelps with clucks and purrs often with a mouth call. If that gets no response, I’ll use a friction call to send out louder yelps and even cutts.
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If no immediate response occurs wait an extra minute or so before moving. Often a gobbler will hammer back immediately. But occasionally he’ll simply walk into view without gobbling. If I’m already walking when the gobbler shows up silently, the bird almost always wins.
If I see the gobbler before being made, that’s a significant edge in my favor. At this point it’s truly the one-on-one matchup turkey hunters live for. But often when I first see him he’s already in range.
My theory is that a gobbler that’s close may gobble, but he’s also very prone to simply walk in unannounced. He’s already close and willing to come the rest of the way, so from his point of view there’s no need to gobble. On the other hand, if he’s some distance away he might be more motivated to gobble to let the hen know he’s interested.
As I course through the woods, I’ll use most of the calls in my arsenal, varying them at each stop. I’ll use an assortment of mouth, slate, box, scratch, push-pull and tube calls. Each call has distinct sounds and on certain days for specific gobblers one of those calls may ring his bell when the others don’t.
For the “run and gun” scenario the technique is essentially the same except you’ll cover much more territory. Many hunters with ample property at their disposal will move via vehicle from one tract to another, stopping and calling at good listening posts.
THE BUDDY SYSTEM
Often two calls are better than one and the buddy system actually has two advantages. First, the sound of multiple hens is deadly on a solitary gobbler.
This works whether you’ve set up at place where gobblers frequent, such as natural feeding areas or a food plot, or one of the hunters strikes a gobbler. It’s best if both hunters know exactly where the other is located. My turkey hunting buddy and I like to be close enough to be in sight for safety reasons as well as to communicate by hand signals. We’ll alternate calls, using different types of calls, with soft and subtle sounds at first. If that doesn’t produce, then one will elevate the calling and we’ll often mimic hens fighting, literally cutting one another off.
When we get a gobbler headed our way we’ve already set parameter on who takes the shot based on the turkey’s approach angle. If two hunters work in unison and are not greedy, this method is lethal on mid-morning gobblers.
A second advantage is on a hung-up gobbler. If a bird responds but will not approach, one of the hunters can begin to slip away, calling as they go. It’s crucial for the slipping away caller to continue to listen for gobbles and keep the turkey and shooter in as much of a direct as line as possible.
Often this is more than a mature gobbler can stand and he’ll make his move. He may approach gobbling and the shooter will know he’s approaching. But if he’s been gobbling then suddenly gets quiet, he’s likely on his way and the shooter needs to be eagle-eyed. Odds are good the bird will walk very close to the shooter on his trek to the caller.
In this “win-win” turkey hunting strategy etiquette calls for the shooter to buy the caller breakfast.
If all this doesn’t produce, go back to where it all began and give that fly-down gobbler another try. If he’s in the area and the hens are gone, he may be eager to hook up with another hen.
When you can, get in the woods before dawn and hunt birds off the roost. But if you can’t make it early or don’t kill that rush-hour bird, the rest of the morning can provide exceptionally good hunting.