On your last hunting venture the woods were alive with turkeys. Gobblers sounded off on the roost in every direction and you were lucky enough to work a bird or two. But then things completely changed. Instead of gobbles, you near nothing but the distant cawing of crows and maybe a few songbirds. The gobblers that were so vocal last time have shut up.
So what’s your next move? Many hunters head for their trucks, assuming the birds are dead, gone or simply unkillable. A few, like Knight & Hale special promotions coordinator Jim Strelec understand that any number of factors influence gobbling activity. Instead of throwing in the towel and coming back another day, Strelec hunts because he understands that a day in the woods is better than a day on the couch. Even more important, he knows that silent woods aren’t necessarily void of gobblers. In fact, many gobblers never utter a peep on a typical day. The birds are there, but they just aren’t talking.
“They might have been hunted hard, they might be with hens or it just could be one of those days where they don’t gobble for whatever reason,” said Strelec. “Just because they aren’t talking doesn’t mean you can’t kill one.”
In other words, that silence is just a curve-ball in the standard turkey hunting game, a new challenge on an already-challenging sport. Pulling a gobbler into gun range when he isn’t talking may be difficult, but it’s hardly impossible.
Run and Gun
“I’ll try a gobble call early in the morning. A lot of times, they can’t resist a challenge, so they’ll gobble back,” he said.
If that doesn’t draw a reply, something like an owl or crow call might “shock” a gobbler into gobbling. Both can work, but in heavily hunted woods they can turn off gobblers as much as they might coax one into giving away his location.
Instead of the standard crow call most hunters use, Strelec tries to mimic the pleading and aggressive calls of a crow dive-bombing an owl. It’s louder and faster than a normal fly-over call and it can be the ticket to making a gobbler talk. Crow calling may not work on the shyest birds, but it certainly can’t hurt, especially if it sounds realistic. Instead of simply blowing into a closed-reed call as you might blow into a duck call, put a little rasp into it as if you were clearing your throat as you blow.
Sit, Stay, Be Quiet
Strelec will sit tight for an hour, even longer if he’s confident he’s in the right neighborhood, but he’s careful not to overcall. Hens tend to talk less as the morning fades into afternoon, so loud, aggressive hen calling may not sound realistic to a gobbler, especially if he’s heard it a lot. Strelec will instead offer an occasional series of yelps or just a cluck now and then. If there’s one within hearing range, he just might slip in for a closer look.
Gun Up, Eyes Open
“I keep my gun on my knee and I’m constantly listening for the sound of footsteps in the leaves,” said Strelec. “I’m also looking. I’ve had many birds come in from where I didn’t expect them to come from, but I saw them before they saw me, so I was able to get turned and ready.”
“If you aren’t hearing anything at first light, consider going straight to a field and setting up a decoy. It may take a while for a bird to show up, but if you can get there before he does, you have a good chance of killing him,” said Strelec, adding that a Carry Lite Pretty Boy gobbler and Pretty Hen decoy combination can draw birds from across a large field.
He’ll also head for a field when it’s raining because turkeys spend hours feeding and strutting in fields during a light spring shower. It may not seem like a fun way to spend a Saturday, but sitting in the rain during turkey season sure beats sitting at home.