Hunting > Turkeys

On Hung-Up Toms

Birds hang up, but barring mistakes, most hung-up gobblers can be un-hung. The next time you experience a hung-up bird, try these ruses.


Plenty of times I locate a gobbler and have him vigorously answering my calls from the roost. I’ll be home for breakfast and have him de-feathered by 9, I think. But by 10 a.m. my stomach is growling and my calls are nothing more than pathetic cries for attention. Meanwhile the bird is eating, breeding and strutting around. I can hear him, so I think he’s telling me there’s still a chance. So I continue calling, hoping that something will change. It rarely does. This is a hung-up bird.

The hard truth is a gobbler has feet, wings and a libido the size of a Sam’s Club sausage. If he’s hung-up, then he doesn’t really want to come to you, or else he would. So you have to make changes.

Last April I took two friends turkey hunting. We heard absolutely nothing until 10:30 a.m. when we finally struck a bird. The gobbler cut off my yelps before I could finish, and in no time we saw him at 80 yards through the woods. But just before the tom closed the distance, he swiveled his head and strutted back in the opposite direction, gobbling the whole time. The bird was suspicious of something he did or didn’t see—or perhaps he just wanted his prospective lover to show herself.

Whatever the case, the tom was as hung-up as a treble hook in a brush pile. After an hour on an emotional roller coaster which we endured statue-still, our nerves were worn thin. The bird had retreated out of sight and hadn’t gobbled in 20 minutes. Considering this and Virginia’s no-hunting-past-noon law, it was time for a change. We crawled back to regroup, then made a quarter-loop around the bird’s position and slipped back in. I positioned the two shooters 30 yards in front of me before setting up.

With a slate call that I hadn’t yet used, I gave some very light clucks and purrs. After 15 minutes of nothing in return, I was about to concede when boom, a shotgun blast rang out, followed by a gleeful shout of “I got him!”

Birds hang up, but barring mistakes, most hung-up gobblers can be un-hung. The next time you experience a hung-up bird, try these ruses.

Switch Calls
Switching calls can be the easy fix. It’s the reason noted gobbler-getters carry a vest full of them. Birds are individuals with finicky tastes. One particular call sounds like rap music to an old-fashioned bird, whereas another call might be like the Pied Piper’s pipe. So before moving or giving up, break out a new call—perhaps switch from your loud box call to a soft mouth call—and see what happens.

Cut the Distance
Moving closer is only advisable if you have some way to do it without bumping the tom. Mark the location where the bird is and back out. Then sneak in from a different angle. Use a locator call—not a turkey call—to keep track of the bird if you must. Keep your eyes up and if you feel that you are as close as you can get, get your gun ready, set up and call with a diaphragm to avoid unnecessary movement. Twice in the last three years I have snuck in and seen a strutting bird before it has seen me—both resulted in dead toms.

“Strut” In

In areas with large crop fields, gobblers often fly out in the middle and call hens. They are reluctant to move closer to the edge of the field because they know that’s where danger hides. These gobblers are notorious for “hanging up” in the middle of the field and have been known to die of old age. If you are hunting on private land where you know other hunters aren’t present, try a strutting gobbler silhouette decoy. Hold it out in front of you, stay low and “strut” toward the turkey. He might just stare at this new “suitor” long enough for you to get a shot.

Study the Terrain
Sometimes the reason a bird hangs up is because there is a physical object between you and the bird—a fence or a creek—that you didn’t know was there. Study Google Earth, aerial photos and the land itself to identify possible obstacles before hunting. Then, when you hear a bird, negotiate your way past the obstacle before calling to him.

Find Another Bird
If you are running out of daylight and/or hunting season and have nothing to lose, get aggressive with the tactics mentioned above. Try using decoys and try hunting with a partner and have him walk away from the bird while calling. But if you’ve tried everything and the bird just won’t come in, don’t waste your time while you still have it. Go find another, less hopelessly hung-up bird. 

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