Sometimes a loudmouth gobbler won’t come into range. You wait and try every call and the tom keeps gobbling but just won’t budge. Soon the clock is running down on your hunting time and you decide to try something bold, maybe desperate. Necessity is of course the mother of invention … . All the tactics here were devised in such trying circumstances. Each of these somewhat-outlandish tactics has worked to get a wily gobbler into shotgun range. Naturally, such strategies only work in specific terrains or given certain conditions. Nevertheless, these last-chance maneuvers are worth squirreling away for those desperate times when they might just work on a not-so-featherbrained tom.
The Tornado Tom
The panhandle of Texas is as flat and open as any country I have ever hunted and this bird used distance for protection like an antelope. We hunted the gobbler for days, but never could get him into shotgun range. That’s because he would always hang up on the other side of a long, narrow slough about 250 yards away from the closest place we could belly crawl without being seen.
We tried to sneak closer, using some cattle for cover. That worked just like it did for Jeremiah Johnson with his horse; apparently turkeys, like elk, don’t count legs. We closed the distance by a hundred yards, but the slough was still the problem. It was too wide to shoot across and we never could get him to our side.
The final morning the wind was blowing at gale force. We had experienced some wild weather the night before that actually had us cowering in the tornado cellar around midnight. It was still blowing so hard a man risked baldness without a hat. The cows were gone, proving they were smarter than turkey hunters, so Tad Brown and I walked, bent over, head to butt, trying to look like a big, ugly, disjointed, camo cow. We didn’t dare get as close as when the cows provided a movable blind. We sat down 200 yards from the far side of the slough with nothing but a barbed wire fence for cover. We anchored against the fence post, pretending we were bushes trying not to go airborne. This is barren prairie and we were the biggest objects in sight and I could not imagine how a turkey could miss seeing us. The bird was at least 500 yards away, in the wide open and trying to strut in the wind and fighting every step.
I had made a change that morning; I brought a rifle. This is a perfectly legal thing to do in Texas, but a lot of turkey hunting purists consider it to be a mortal sin. For me, it’s another tool in the box as long as it’s legal. I figured I’d shoot the bird where he had hung up the past three days in a row on the far edge of the slough, about 200 yards from us. For those who think there is no sport with a rifle, I would challenge them to hit a turkey’s spine at that distance when the wind is blowing hard enough to tip over a Volkswagen.
As soon as we started calling he gobbled multiple times. We could see him answer, even at 500 yards, but we never heard a gobble. It amazes me to this day how that tom could hear our yelps. The bird ran up to the slough and before I could even think about shooting, he flew across and charged. It was almost self-defense when I shot him at 35 yards…with the rifle.
Over my first couple of decades of hunting America’s big-game bird I repeatedly encountered “hung up” gobblers. Frequently lovelorn toms would suddenly insist on holding their ground within sight but out of range. Every die-hard turkey hunter confronts this conundrum, but what made the situation different for me was the fact that at the time I was a university professor. I had to be in the classroom when time for a late-morning lecture arrived. Repeatedly, patience in waiting a tom out found me glancing at my watch. Finally I tried everything from a gobble shaker to crawling within range. The latter might have worked, as old-time sporting scribe Archibald Rutledge put, “if the gobbler had been blind.”
Of course those senseless sallies were little worse than what happened on other occasions when I tried to sneak away in hopes of resuming the battle of wits on another day. Rest assured that if you can see a turkey, he can see you. It finally got so bad that my dreams were being haunted by visions of dealing with hung-up birds as the clock ran out.
Finally, inspiration born of desperation led to a solution, or at least a partial one. I recalled reading that sometimes turkeys that have been chased by dogs and flushed would become so focused on the dog that a hunter could make a mad dash to the tree where the turkeys had landed.
With that information in the back of my mind, I was determined to try a turkey charge. On the last day of a season where I had been victimized by hung-up birds far too often, a fine gobbler stopped out of range. When the moment of truth arrived (the time when I had to leave if I was going to make class), I decided to perform my best rendition of a 19th century berserker or whirling dervish, absent the yelling.
I gathered myself and made a mad 125-yard dash toward the longbeard. To my amazement and delight, he squatted in place. At a distance of 32 yards my run came to an abrupt halt. At that precise instant the gobbler commenced his own dash. He was too slow, however. A swarm of No. 6’s paid tribute to the adage that he who hesitates loses.
Obviously this is not a tactic to be employed routinely, and it compels me to admit that in five subsequent tries over the years it has succeeded only once more. Still, two out of six isn’t bad when it comes to hung-up gobblers.
Put the Sneak on Him
So I said to my friend, “Crawl up there and shoot him!” He wouldn’t do it. He was from the East and crawling toward a gobbler was anathema to the sport. I was from the West, and if the mountain wasn’t coming to me, I was going to the mountain. In this case, on said mountain was one long-bearded tom turkey that had been thumbing his beaked nose at me, my friend and four other hunters in camp all week. Our hunt for Merriam’s in South Dakota’s Black Hills had been a classic to this point.
We roomed in huge Cabela’s canvas wall tents, complete with pellet stoves for heat. We breakfasted in the dark and headed into the woods with flashlights. We located gobblers by their calls, sneaked as close as we dared and called. And waited. And called. And waited.
Nobody shot. Because the gobblers we wanted were sashaying through woods and meadows close behind the hens they wanted.
The current tom, the one my Eastern turkey hunting buddy was unwilling to stalk, had the gall to start shouting at us from a draw not 150 yards from the cook tent. We set up against a pine trunk on a flat 50 yards back from the lip of the draw. This was the closest tree to the bird. It should have been closer.
Mr. Handsome immediately answered our call, then put in a personal appearance by poking his red, white and blue noggin out of the draw. But when he saw no hen, he dropped back. After that he only engaged in small talk, which was our signal to crawl.