When I first started turkey hunting, I didn’t care what it was; a legal bird was a legal bird. I thought everyone hunted the same way. So when I picked up a turkey hunting instruction tape featuring Dick Kirby sharing an excerpt of an actual hunt—“The Boss Gobbler of Letchworth Canyon”—I wondered how anyone could tell one turkey from another. I just continued to plod along, chasing any gobbler and occasionally taking one. But that was all about to change.
Last spring, I was introduced to a mature gobbler that I named Obble. The bird’s chop gobble was deep and very distinguishable, and it was obvious that he was the boss gobbler of the area. Obble put on quite a show fending off other suitors after his ladies, and he got the best of me. I’m not ashamed to admit that I sometimes lay awake at night thinking about him.
I have turkey hunting legend Ray Eye to blame for this addiction. He carted me to his hideaway where this same gobbler got one over on him just a couple days earlier. He, at least, had a legitimate excuse, a firearm malfunction. I, on the other hand, just missed outright—on video, I might add.
I needed a crash course on hunting mature birds, and few are more adept at doing that than Eye.
“You can tell an old gobbler by the sound of its gobble,” said Eye. “He will have that deep guttural gobble. It’s hard to explain, but the instant you hear it you will know what it is. Old gobblers don’t gobble as much as younger birds; he might only gobble once or twice and then you have to make him think you are coming to him.”
Of course the problem with hunting mature birds is that they are used to hens coming to them. “They’re not like two-year-old birds,” said Eye. “Young gobblers gobble their heads off at anything that sounds like a hen and come running in. Old turkeys are a different bird. You have to be more precise with your scouting and your set up. You have to get really tight on these birds, especially if they are with hens.”
Eye contends calling is everything, but even he admits calling isn’t effective if you don’t get close to the birds. He also says turkey hunting is very different from what it used to be.
Of course, Eye’s secret weapon isn’t new. The secret lies in the method Eye uses to roost mature birds. “Knowing where the birds are is important, but to hunt mature birds a hunter needs to learn the bird’s habits; where they are at different times throughout the day, where they fly up to the roost, which direction they come from and which direction they head when they fly down,” said Eye. “I want to know what limb they are sitting on.”
Eye’s method of taking mature birds is simple: “Get between him and the hens and then get on the call right away so he doesn’t get to the hens."
Eye likes to challenge mature gobblers using gobbler yelps, purrs and putts. If this strategy doesn’t produce and the gobbler gets with the hens, Eye will switch gears and challenge the hens using the pecking order of the social network.
“Every turkey has a place in the pecking order. When a hen, especially the dominant hen, hears a new hen (the hunter) she will come to investigate to see where this newcomer ranks in the pecking order. The hens come in and the gobbler is close behind them.”
Think Outside the Box
Other tactics include using the terrain to get as close as possible. “If you can get in the turkey’s zone where you can hear him spitting and drumming, set up on any available cover and put the call to him,” said Eye. “If you are close, he will come to you.”
You can also try skipping the traditional early morning hunt, as hens often leave the gobblers by late morning, but the guys still want their hens. However, you have to be patient on late morning birds.
Break the Rules
Hunt the Late Season
If you want to step up your game and start targeting mature turkeys I must warn you: These birds will haunt you and consume your thoughts. Never again will you think a turkey is just a turkey.