Hunting > Turkeys

Gobblers on a Deadline

Bagging a turkey when you don't have much time requires a good mix of calling skills, stealth and on-your-feet strategy.


As any turkey hunter knows, hunts that should play out quickly—from setting up on a roosted bird to locating a tom that gobbles at your every call—seldom do. But sometimes, a hunter can't afford to let things play out. Approaching bad weather, a legal end to shooting hours, your job or even your kid's baseball game can mean you have to make something happen quickly. These hunts require a good mix of calling skills, stealth and on-your-feet strategy. Here's how to pull it off.

Tactic: Call and Vanish
On a hunt for California Merriam's last year at the famed Tejon Ranch north of Los Angeles, I found myself paired up with Winchester Ammunition public relations representative Jonathan Harling. Looking at the weather before the hunt, we realized we had a problem: A weather system was moving in that would blindside the last two days of our three-day hunt with ridiculous wind and rain. The first day was going to be ideal weather, so if birds were going to be killed on this hunt, it was going to have to happen then.

That morning, we set up on a draw above a roosted and gobbling tom right where our guide, Steve Ryan, said the bird walked up every morning after flying down. Of course, that morning, it didn't. It went up an adjacent mountainside. Our only option was to go up and try to keep level or above the bird. It's rare you'll ever call a bird down a hill without him spotting you first. The bird gobbled at our calls as we climbed, before stalling on a bluff about 150 yards away. We poured the calling on for a few minutes, getting him fired up and then shut up completely.

Twenty-five to 30 minutes passed without a sound, and just as we thought our strategy of trying to make him think the hens had left and he better come looking had failed, a gobble boomed from less than 60 yards away. The tom was looking for us. As he slipped into range, Harling took the bird down with a face full of Winchester Xtended Range No. 5s.

Tactic: Call and Close
That afternoon, we got on what sounded like three gobblers and a handful of hens working a creek drainage. The toms gobbled at our calls, but refused to leave the hens. The best we could hope for was to stick to them until we could shake one lose. We did that for almost two hours and, with California's 4 p.m. legal end to spring turkey shooting hours fast approaching, found ourselves separated by a large hill. We couldn't wait any longer.

Ryan and I slipped up the hill, closing more than a hundred yards between us and the birds. Peeking over the ridge, we spotted a gobbler 70 yards below. We slipped back below the skyline and tossed out some soft yelps and purrs and scratched in the leaves. Despite being in the open, we kept low behind the rise, and when one of the curious gobblers popped his head over the top to see—he was only 28 steps away—it was a fatal mistake on his part.  Five minutes later and we would have had to call it quits. Oh, and when the weather rolled in, nobody else on that hunt had killed a bird.

Tactic: Early Morning Ambush
Henned-up, early season birds can be tricky. Yelp and cutt, and the jealous hens may lead big boy in the other direction. A gobbler decoy can fire up the temper of a dominant tom and bring him running, or it can fill him with uncertainty and send him away. Hen decoys can have little impact as well. One thing these flocks do tend to do is, if not hassled by people or predators, they roost in the same spots and head the same way after flydown every morning. Scout these turkeys out and set up along their usual travel route.

A week before the season, I scouted out a flock of 30-plus birds, including seven strutters, and then, on opening day, I watched four of those gobblers and hens enter a field in the same spot but couldn't get them to come to my calls. So, the next time I went in I set up under the cover of darkness in the spot where I had seen them enter the field every time. I only had an hour to hunt before blowing out for my kid's soccer game, so I didn't make a peep or do anything to betray my presence. When the birds flew down, they walked by within minutes and I shot a nice longbeard fewer than 30 steps away.

Tactic: The Puppet Show
Turkeys are creatures of keen instinct, but perhaps not as much intellect as humans would like to give them. Latching on to the amazing success of today's gobbler decoys, I've found that, oftentimes, the fan of a strutter is all you really need. For safety's sake, I cannot stress enough that you can only try this on private land and in places where you are certain no other hunters are around. You also need to be in a spot with a good view so you can spot another hunter's approach.  But, faced with a bird hanging up out of range or sticking to the middle of a field, you can slip in to where the tom will be able to see you upon rounding a bend or coming over a slight rise. At that time, you should open and spin a turkey fan as if it is actually on the derriere of a live tom. This is often enough to convince the real gobbler that he is looking at a true challenger and bring him running right in.

Tactic: High-Plains Drifter
While hunting open terrain, it is not uncommon to encounter gobblers that will hang out far from cover. There they will strut and gobble, but never move closer to your calls, preferring instead to wait for the hen they think you are to come to them. In those cases, you need to figure out a way to do just that.

Using hillsides, ditches, scattered piles of brush or small saplings, and even slight humps in the ground that will afford enough cover to belly crawl behind, close as much distance as possible between you and the turkey. I've used this trick to close what was several hundred yards between me and a bird to less than a hundred, and in so doing, you often get inside the gobbler's comfort zone and can bring him the rest of the distance with soft calling. Many of these shots may be taken from the prone position or without the benefit of a wide tree to comfortably sit against, so be sure to practice those shots before the season.

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