Picture this: It’s the evening before your turkey hunt. You’re atop a ridge, listening for gobbles. You soon hear one a few hundred yards away in a swamp.
The next morning you quietly return to that area and set up. As the sun rises, several toms cut the silence with booming gobbles. They fly down, and you make a few cuts, followed by raspy yelps, with your slate call. The toms respond, each gobble getting louder as they approach. You get ready to shoot. Then, just as you dreamed, three long-beards strut into range and you make the perfect shot.
Turkey hunting sometimes plays out like that, but more often it doesn’t. Like a well-prepared football coach, turkey hunters need a play for every scenario. Let’s discuss plays you can try to help handle those times when turkeys don’t follow your script.
A basic deer-hunting strategy is to sit patiently where deer often appear, like trails, feeding areas, or near bedding cover. You can try the same tactic with turkeys by scouting before your hunt and setting up a ground blind. This tactic shines when turkeys get pressured and call-shy.
Success depends on preseason scouting, which can be as easy as spotting turkeys feeding in a field, and learning how they enter and leave it. You should also listen for gobbles early and late in the day to pinpoint roosting sites. Also look for turkey sign like tracks, droppings, feathers, dusting sites, and areas where they scratch for food.
Once you find your spot, set up a blind, get comfortable and sit quietly. If legal, consider setting up a few decoys to coax a tom into bow range.
Midway through turkey season, you’ll encounter toms that gobble at dawn, but go silent after flying down. They likely have a hen with them. Toms gobble to bring hens to them. If they already have a hen, they don’t need to gobble. In other words, they’re “henned up.”
Here’s how to handle that challenging situation: If you can’t call the tom close, try calling in the hens. If you hear a hen yelp or cutt, mimic her calls. If you call in the hen, the tom will be right behind. Decoys—especially a hen and strutting-tom breeding pair—are effective.
If a gobbler responds to your calls but stops beyond your effective range, he’s considered “hung up.” To prevent toms from hanging up, set up where it’s easy for them to come within range. Position yourself so the gobbler doesn’t have to cross a creek, fence or difficult terrain. If you’re on the wrong side of a creek or fence, back out and reposition yourself.
“Buddy calling” is another great way to pull toms into range. Have a friend sit 30 yards behind you and call. The tom will think the hen is behind you and, even if it hangs up, will be in range.
The bigger your turkey-hunting playbook, the better your odds for success. As you gain experience, you’ll learn when to try each play to outsmart turkeys.