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Shoot or Pass?

Schuyler Semar

It has been a morning of extreme ups and downs in both emotion and elevation, but it was something that turkey hunters relish. It was a chance to chase a gobbling turkey all morning and eventually get a chance to harvest that turkey, the conditions just weren’t right. It’s a decision that all hunters will make at some point in their hunting life. Do you shoot or pass?

turkey jakes

We begin the second to last day of a tough Missouri turkey season with our wives annoyed that we’ve been hunting so much. I am supposed to be at a birthday party sometime this morning. The sun is shining, but I don’t expect much gobbling, because we are in the middle of a low-pressure system moving through. Conditions are not in our favor for anything on this hunt really.
Jake and I got started early to hike into an area where he knew turkeys would be roosted. We wanted to take our time and be as quiet as possible because we knew we would be close, we just didn’t know how close. I do not hear very well at all and Jake has bionic ears, so I am looking at him for a reaction to a gobble that I might not hear. I think I hear a turkey yelp to our left and not very far at all. From the look on Jake’s face, I know he heard it too. It was a deeper yelp than a hen and we have a feeling it was a gobbler yelp.
Out of nowhere, from the same spot in the tree where the yelp came from, came a power gobble that about blew our hats off. We are separated from this turkey by about 20 yards of pine trees. I have no idea how we got this close to this turkey without him hearing us, but I guess getting in here early and taking our time was the ticket. We sit right down in the middle of this trail and listen to this turkey tear it up 20 yards from us.
He finally pitches down, and into an area where we cannot see him, of course. We are hunting on the edge of this very steep ridge and we’re both just waiting for him to pop up right over the ridge. If he comes over the ridge he will be about five yards from us. We are really in a bad spot but have no other choice because of how our morning started. We can hear this turkey walking in front of us and he is making a circle below us and is going to our other side. We try to make a move to follow his path and we only move about five yards, but we think we can get to where we can see him.
Jake leads the way. I’m following, picking up the stuff that is falling out of his vest - binoculars, rut wipes, strikers, pretty much anything that is in his hunting closet he carries in his turkey vest. But, the longbeard doesn’t show himself, not even the top of his head.  He makes a big circle around us and gets behind us and back down the ridge where he started, gobbling the whole time. We mess with him for an hour, and he goes silent. 

We sit for a little while and decide to repel, off the side of the ridge to get down to where we think he went. We get down and follow the creek that is at the bottom and make calls along the way and nothing happens for about two hours of moving and calling. After some personal reflection on what the heck happened that morning off the roost, Jake and I decide to get back to the top where we started and work our way towards the truck and see if we can get a bird to fire up. It’s starting to hit the 10 o’clock hour when the hens start leaving the longbeards to nest.
We are back at the top of the ridge and there’s a perfect tree to sit by. We are concealed on both sides and there’s a food plot in front of us with a couple of decoys out. We sit and scheme for another hour or so. Then we decide to get up and make calls off the sides of the ridge. Jake goes off one side of the ridge to call to see if he can get something to answer, and I go off the other side. One of my favorite late morning calling tactics is to gobble. I gobble with a mouth call. I sound off a few times with no response.
I turn around and Jake waves at me to come over to him, so I figure he got an answer off his side of the ridge. He tells me he thinks he heard a gobble, but it may have been me echoing around this ridge. We stand for a couple minutes and listen but there’s nothing. I decide to gobble and the turkey cuts me off and power gobbles back. It is the same gobble we have been hearing all morning. He’s close, 75 yards. We aren’t far from where we set up an hour before and our decoys are still out, so we high tail it back to that spot and sit down. I gobble again, he answers and he’s only 50 yards.  A few seconds pasd by and Jake says he can see his head. There are three of them, marching towards the decoys. A few seconds pass by and then I can see them, only their heads though because in between us is some tall grass. They need to take five more steps and it’s hammer time for us.

After a long chess match with this turkey all morning it is about to come to an end in our favor. Our safeties are both clicked off and then the three turkeys step out and that’s when Jake and I hit peak frustration. These are super jakes with only 4-inch beards, but old enough to gobble.
Missouri allows you to shoot jakes but as a farm practice, we decide not to shoot jakes. I already shot a turkey this season, but Jake has not which gives him more of a sinking feeling, I’m sure. We sit there in disgust for a while and contemplate never hunting again before we realize it wasn’t the end of the world. Anyone who turkey hunts experiences this, it’s just part of it. Eventually we get to the point of laughing about it.

Tactics for Calling and Taking Turkeys
Everyone gets excited about learning to call turkeys better, and all my life I've been a student of turkey calling. But it’s just as important to know when NOT to call turkeys. If you call to a turkey when he doesn’t want to hear your call, you'll do more to keep him away from you than you'll do to bring him to you. Each gobbler is different and responds to various calls in different ways.

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