By Luke Clayton, Outdoors Editor
There is something very special about being out in the spring woods in pursuit of a long beard turkey gobbler. With Indian Paintbrushes and Bluebonnets in bloom and the sweet smell of plum or dogwood blossoms permeating the cool spring air, a turkey hunt during the spring is a true sensory overload. I know. I’ve been addicted to hunting spring gobbler for a long time but, not nearly as long as my now deceased friend of many years, the late Bob Hood. Bob was the outdoors editor for the Ft. Worth Star Telegram for over four decades and was definitely the most experienced turkey hunter I have ever known. Through the years, we’ve had a great deal of fun hunting turkeys together.
Bob began hunting turkey in Texas almost fifty years ago and after spending many spring time days afield, learned a thing or two about getting these wary birds within shotgun range. On a hunt with Bob in Hall County several years ago, I asked Bob just how many birds he has harvested with his old single shot, lever action shotgun. His best guess was somewhere between 80 to 100 birds harvested in Texas and other states. “I’ve probably called up twice that many more for friends, and while photographing. Turkey hunting is truly one of the most exciting and challenging endeavors in the outdoors. No two hunts are ever exactly the same. There’s something very special about seeing a brilliantly colored strutting gobbler appear from nowhere and head toward what he thinks is a hen seeking companionship,” said Hood.
Bob has a saying; “Patience accounts for more harvested turkeys than anything else.” I agree wholeheartedly. I’ve seen Bob hunt an area hard for hours when he knew birds were nearby without getting a single gobbler to respond to his calling, and then harvest a big bird that slipped in to his set up silently.
Text book turkey hunting goes something like this: The hunter, wearing full camouflage from head to toe, locates a gobbler by getting him to sound off by using a shock locator call, such as an owl hooter or crow call. Once the gobbler is located, he puts out a couple of decoys, hides nearby and begins a series of hen yelps on the box, slate or diaphragm call. The gobbler hears the hen, gobbles, struts and comes closer, stopping to gobble and strut every time he ears the “hen” yelping in the distance. The bird eventually closes the distance, usually within 35 yards, and the turkey hunter takes the shot. This is the way a turkey hunt is supposed to unfold. In truth, things seldom work out in this classic textbook fashion.
Even biologists that have spent a lifetime studying turkeys can’t explain why one day, the gobblers are silent and the next, they will sound off at anything from a slammed truck door to a clap of thunder. In turkey hunting, as is the case in everything in the natural world, there are few constants. But, here’s a list of tips and tricks that have helped Hood and I outfox wise old gobblers on past hunts. Hopefully, some of this information will help you get that old long beard within shotgun or bow range in the next few weeks!
FIND THE BIRDS FIRST – You can’t harvest gobblers that aren’t there. Get out during late afternoon the day before your hunt and use a locator call such as an owl hooter, coyote howler, or crow call and get the gobblers to respond from their roosts. Then, locate a spot at least 100 yards away to set up and call the next morning.
USE DECOYS – The combination of a hen and Jake decoy can be highly effective in attracting mature Toms. Turkeys have excellent eyesight, but they can’t see decoys unless they are set in an area that affords good visibility. Field edges are great places to set decoys. Gobblers have the uncanny ability to somehow lock in on the location where sounds are originating from a great distance. When your calling entices the gobbler to your area, your decoys should be easily visible so the bird will close the distance.
PATTERN YOUR SHOTGUN – It’s head and neck shots that cleanly harvest turkeys. Make sure you spend the time patterning your shotgun and know where to hold in order to place the center of your pattern on the bird’s head. Turkeys are very hardy birds and it’s important to head directly to them after making the shot. When hunting with a bow, portable pop-up blinds are very helpful, but they do hamper mobility. It’s next to impossible to draw a bow on an approaching gobbler without the cover of a blind. When bow hunting, set your blind on a field edge where you know turkeys are feeding and, remember Hood’s tip about being patient. I’ve harvested several gobblers with my bows through the years and it can be done. Just make sure and draw your bow low in the blind and slowly raise it into shooting position.
CALLING IS EASIER THAN YOU MIGHT THINK – You don’t have to sound like a turkey calling champ to bring a big gobbler in close. Turkeys don’t all sound the same. If you can make the basic hen yelp on your call, you can call turkeys. When gobblers are at the peak of the breeding season, they sometime throw caution to the wind. I remember a turkey hunt with my long time friend Mark Balette out on the western edge of the Edwards Plateau many years ago. This was Mark’s first turkey hunt and it coincided with the peak of the breeding season. There was a heavy population of turkeys on the ranch we were hunting and using my trusty old box call, I had two big gobblers strutting about 20 yards in front of our blind. I dropped the wooden call on the hard ground, which made a great deal of “racket.” Both the gobblers responded by gobbling and strutting. Previously, I had stressed to Balette that we must remain quiet in order to get gobblers within bow range. Any experienced turkey hunters understand that the birds appear almost dumb one day and the next become almost impossible to call within shotgun or bow range.
Luke’s book, “Kill to Grill, the Ultimate Guide to Hunting and Cooking Wild Hogs” is now available through Amazon or www.catfishradio.com.