Editor’s Note: Tracy Groves, the Mossy Oak Regional Pro Staff Manager for Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York, is a licensed minister. He’s also the founder and president of Heartwood Outdoors, a nonprofit organization that works with children who come from single parent homes and has a 160-acre farm in Big Pool, Maryland. At the farm, Groves helps teach the children about the outdoors, including archery and hunting skills and moral values.
I'm often asked, “What’s a turkey doing when he quits gobbling?” You have to remember that a turkey thinks that everything in the woods is trying to kill him and eat him. So, the turkey is very cautious. Usually, turkeys don’t walk in straight lines. Too, some thick cover, a wire fence or a ditch or creek the turkey doesn’t want to cross may be between you and the turkey. There are a lot of reasons that the turkey won’t walk straight to you. Many older, smarter birds will circle you and come in from behind you. If a tom sees you move, he’ll be gone, and you won’t see him.
When you call, that turkey uses his internal GPS to pinpoint the exact spot from where you're calling. Turkeys don’t carry pocket watches, and they don’t know what time it is. Usually, they are in no particular hurry to get to you. That gobbler operates off of turkey time, meaning he knows where you are, he doesn’t care what else you have to do that day, and he'll take his time getting to you. He’ll spend time studying bushes, blown-down trees and fence rows. He looks for any place that a predator may try to hide and attack him as he comes to you. That tom knows he's not the only critter in the woods with a pair of ears. He realizes that bobcats, foxes and coyotes can all hear you call and him gobble, and just as the turkey can pinpoint your position, those predators can identify where he is.
On the way to you, he may meet a hen. Don’t forget that hens have ears too. When a hen is ready to breed, if she hears a gobbler gobble, she’ll often go to that gobbler to be bred. If a turkey stops to breed a hen before he comes to you, he'll spend some time with her. Too many times I've seen hunters get up, leave and spook the turkey they’re trying to take. Or, they may go off and leave a turkey that’s coming to them. When you hear a turkey gobble, and you hear him coming to you, gobbling and drumming, I believe your time is better spent waiting on that tom for an hour after he stops gobbling. Don’t get up and spend that same hour, trying to find another turkey that will gobble. When a turkey quits gobbling, I've learned that about 90 percent of the time, he's still coming to you. I want to emphasize that your greatest chance to take a gobbler that morning is to sit still for at least an hour and give the turkey time to get to where you are.
Last year I was hunting in pouring down rain and thunderstorms. I’d been sitting in one place in that bad weather. The turkey was gobbling and gobbling and gobbling. Then, he shut up. After about 20 minutes of sitting in a driving rain, I questioned my sanity and began to wonder, “What am I doing sitting in this pouring rain waiting on a turkey that I can’t hear?” So, I got up. Just as I did, I saw the gobbler squatted down next to a tree looking in all directions, trying to see me. I spooked that bird. If I just had sat still a little longer, I know that turkey would’ve walked closer to me, and I probably could have taken him. Remember, in nature, the hen is supposed to go to the gobbler. So, while I was waiting on the gobbler, he was waiting on me - thinking I was a hen. This older bird was smart. He wasn’t going to come walking right in like a 2-year-old gobbler would.
I'm often asked, “What do you do when you’re sitting still in the woods for an hour, and the turkeys aren’t gobbling?” The first thing I do is I look at all the things that have been created for my enjoyment that are around me in the woods. The second thing I do is give thanks for all the many blessings that I have. Many times, we tend to forget all the things with which God has blessed us. Instead, we think about our problems, we think of things we need to be doing, and we think about things we want. When a turkey is slow coming to me, I've found that dead time is a great time to count my blessings. Whether I take the turkey or not, I feel much better when I get up to move, or when I take the turkey than I have before.