Photography by Levi Glines
Written by Bob Humphrey
After a day of futility trying to call up a wily old field bird my hunting partner and I came up with a new plan. We gave him the morning off, then slipped into a hardwood finger that jutted partway out into the pasture. It was 2:30 when I sat down. For 5 hours I barely moved, making only a few faint purrs on my slate and scratching in the leaves every 30 minutes. At 7:15 the bird shock-gobbled to a crow, which was the only way we knew he was coming. At 7:30 I spied him sneaking along in our general direction. At 7:45, I put him in my vest. He only weighed 14 pounds but he had inch and a half spurs.
Turkeys, like people, have different personalities. Some are bold and reckless, others are shy and some may seem downright sagacious. First you need to be able to recognize these traits. Then you may need to adjust your approach. Here are a few examples.
Woke culture would probably prefer us to use a different term but the fact remains, they exist. These are longbeards that have been beaten so far down the pecking order they won’t even consider approaching a hen for fear of getting their fan kicked, and they’re certainly not coming to a call; at least not directly. They can be as challenging to kill as a henned-up boss. However, their propensity to avoid danger may result in a longer life, and therefore longer beards and spurs, making them worth the effort. They tend to be loners, occasionally visiting flocks rather than following or joining them, perhaps to see if anything has changed in the pecking order. Then, they almost always get run off.
If your goal is one of these outsiders, you want to set up on the periphery rather than in the middle of the action. It’s a bit like hunting mature bucks on a food plot. They might come out in the open, but they’re far more likely to hang up inside the woodline and check things out from a distance. It may take several attempts, but if you notice the wimpy bird approaching and departing in more or less the same location, you’ve got a prime ambush spot. Just sit and wait for the other birds to do the dirty work.
It is said that turkey hunting is like elk hunting, except if they could smell you, you’d never kill one. There’s a certain amount of truth to that. Dominant bulls gather and defend harems like boss toms tend their flocks. And both must be ever vigilant of rivals. There’s always some subordinate male out there waiting to commit kleptogamy, or what some scientific journals refer to by a term we can’t share.
They’re not going to saunter in while the boss is nearby but be patient. After he and his harem have wandered a safe distance away, there may be a few stragglers or lingering hens around and it is they the sneaky fellas seek. In addition to being patient, you also need to be vigilant. Instead of announcing their arrival, these subordinate or satellite toms are more likely to sneak in silently, and very carefully. They’re also likely to be on full alert so take the first shot you get.
Photography by Levi Glines
Where I live, we have exceptionally heavy hunting pressure and occasionally severe winters. Some years about the only longbeards left come spring are wily old veterans that have survived 2, 3 or even 4 hunting seasons. It doesn’t matter if it’s 2 weeks before the season opener, when the urge to breed is peeking, or 2 weeks into the season when most of the hens have gone off to nest, they’re not coming directly to a call. In fact, they may avoid it.
Since the basic premise, in fact the very foundation of spring turkey hunting is to call a gobbler into gun range (25-30 yards, not more) and shoot him in the face, you’re going to have to compromise your standards. Ambush is a viable option, and requires a good deal of intensive scouting to tease out patterns.
Extreme patience, bordering on endurance is another. These birds might gobble to your calls, but won’t come to them. I’ve watched solo toms gobble and strut for hours in the middle of an open field. If they do that, shut up and wait. They know exactly where you are and while they won’t come to a noisy hen now, they may eventually make there way over to where she was. You might have to wait 3 or 4 hours but it may be the only way to kill that bird.
Everybody loves movie stars. Just like their human counterparts, they’re arrogant, vain impulsive and they think with their... hearts. They saunter boldly into our decoys in full strut and parade around like fashion models. These are the birds that give us satisfaction, confidence and validity. They make novices feel like heros and provide veterans enough reassurance to keep going back. Beyond that, there’s not much more you need to know.
You could be the worst caller in the world and set up in the worst possible location. But if they see your decoys or hear your call, they’ll run across a field like a fat lady in a hoop dress, puff up into full strut and almost nothing short of a shotgun blast will discourage them. Still, it doesn’t hurt to do things right because they’re not always quite that eager to be shot.