Profile a Tom
If you don't have much room to roam, getting to know the routines of your local gobblers is probably your best chance to fill tags this spring. Not sure where to start? Here's a little know how.
April 02, 2013
It isn’t considered normal to know a particular gobbler’s hourly schedule. No, I wouldn’t tell someone who doesn’t hunt how well I’ve gotten to know a few birds. The thing is, patterning gobblers has helped me tag a lot of tough toms. Running-and-gunning to find a hot gobbler is effective if you have room to roam, but for most of us getting to know our local gobblers’ routines is a surer way of filling tags.
Last spring, for example, I spent six mornings targeting the same wise, old bird. He evaded every ruse. The tom’s favorite trick was circling me with his head peering like a periscope just over a ridge line and out of range. But when I heard him gobble at 10 a.m. I knew his hens had gone to nest. He was lonely. Even better, I knew just where the old boy was going. I ran up a wooded mountainside. I was still sucking air when the gobbler came pecking along. The only call I made was a yelp to make him stretch his long, red neck.
Pattern a Gobbler
Find locations where you can listen for gobbling just before sunrise and just after sunset without bumping turkeys. Some gobblers will wrap their toes around the same limb every night; most roost in several consistent locations in the spring—the dominant hen in a gobbler’s harem sets the routine.
Scouting also helps you decide which bird to hunt. You might, for example, decide to leave a henned-up tom for your second tag as you first go for a group of lonely 2-year-olds. Scouting also keeps you in tune with the turkey’s breeding cycle. Gobbling activity has two peaks. The first comes when flocks break up in late winter or early spring (typically before the season). The next comes during the peak incubation time when most of the hens are leaving the gobbler mid-morning to lay and incubate eggs.
Another thing to keep track of is how the turkeys are using available habitat. After flocks break up, individuals and small groups may disperse several miles. This is especially true in mountainous regions where spring comes first to bottoms before creeping up hillsides.
Sunrise: Start Close
When possible, slip to about 75 yards of a roosted tom and set up in the direction the gobbler most often goes. Also, pick a position where you can hide from any hens—a dip in the ground, an area where brush comes up to your knees … . A decoy can also distract hens and bring in the gobbler.
While he’s still in the tree, let the gobbler start the conversation. If you call, keep it simple and brief. If hens are talking, repeat what the hens say. You can also use a wing to mimic a fly-down. This can be a convincer for a tom that has been hunted before.
Be careful. If you don’t get him right off the roost and he moves away with his hens, let him walk.
7 a.m: Hold Tight
Remember, you’re playing chess, not checkers. The aggressive-calling, run-and-gun style is a different technique. You’ve scouted, so you have an idea where the tom is going. His hens are taking him to a food source. By now you should know your turkey’s current food sources. In the spring turkeys typically eat insects, buds, seeds, fruits, clovers and grasses.
If the gobbler moves off, consider staying for a while. Often subdominant toms you haven’t heard are around. Studies show that dominant toms usually gobble more than subordinate gobblers. Give these birds a chance to check you out. Call softly and wait an hour.
8 a.m: Make a Move
If the tom that left isn’t gobbling, try a crow call or other locator to make him sound off. The home range of a dominant gobbler during the breeding season varies by habitat, but averages about 350 acres from mid-March through May. Then back out and circle. As you move slowly, continue to crow call and use ditches, stream banks or ridge lines to hide your movement. This is low-impact turkey hunting. You don’t want to burn out your hunting area.
9 a.m: Get in the Strut Zone
By mid-morning dominant toms will be strutting in the backs of fields, in forest meadows and in other areas where feeding hens can see them. You can sometimes find strutting areas by looking for strut marks in sand on a dirt road or for “J-shaped” gobbler droppings and dusting areas. You want to be where a gobbler likes to strut before he arrives. Set up hen decoys and a jake. Call lightly and slowly increase the volume.
10 a.m: Waylay Lonely Gobblers
Even if you haven’t heard a gobble since sunrise, don’t go walking along hoping to find another bird. You’ve done your scouting and you know gobblers are in the area. Unless you hear a very active bird in a place you can access, wait. Most likely—given the timing of most seasons—the hens will leave the gobbler to go to their nests in mid-morning. Hens lay a clutch of 10 to 14 eggs—usually one egg per day. A hen begins continuous incubation within a day or two after laying the final egg.
11 a.m: Last Call
You can either stay in the area where your gobbler has been strutting or you can quietly back out to a location that bottlenecks activity between woodlots, swamps or other terrain features. In late morning some gobblers begin to wander. They’re trying to find hens. Be patient. Pressured birds may slip in or a gobbler might lose his last hen and become vocal. That’s what you’re waiting for.
Regardless whether you are successful, log the activity you witnessed and heard on a map. As years pass you’ll find that turkeys maintain similar patterns. This way you’ll always be one step ahead.