I guess some of the most frustrating hunts I've had were hunting and taking turkeys that didn’t gobble. On one hunt this year, I had scouted and seen plenty of turkey sign, and I knew turkeys were in this particular area. If you’ve hunted turkeys long enough and you understand how to scout for turkeys, oftentimes you'll walk into an area, and even though you haven’t seen or heard a gobbler, you just know there has to be a longbeard within calling distance. So, you sit down, brush-up and prepare to take a turkey. On this hunt, we found a place like that, and we set-up to call a turkey. I called several times, but I didn’t get a gobble. I just had a sixth sense that a gobbler should be there, so we waited. Sure enough, a hen came walking out in front of us. Behind her was a gobbler. I was thinking to myself, “I'm going to take you for a ride in my pickup truck, ole boy.” But from out of nowhere, three jakes came running in to attack the gobbler and try to steal his girlfriend. Even though there was a hen, a gobbler and three jakes - not a single one of those turkeys made a sound. The gobbler came running past me, but the cameraman couldn’t get him in his viewfinder, and I would’ve had to take a running shot, which wasn’t a high-percentage shot on turkeys. So, I let that longbeard run out of sight.
Another time when I was hunting down in Alabama with Dave Lyon, one of the owners of the Southern Sportsman Hunting Lodge, I heard a turkey answer me one time. When I called, he gave a very-aggressive gobble. So, we waited and waited and waited, but the turkey didn’t show-up. In the meantime, Dave and our cameraman said, “We need to move.” I said, “No, that turkey is coming. He's just coming in silent.” Dave and our cameraman were really irritated, because I didn’t want to move. But 45 minutes later, that gobbler showed-up, and Dave was able to take him.
To know when to stay and when to go, you have to have hunted turkeys long enough to be able to read a gobbler’s gobble. One of the things we often overlook when turkey hunting, or we forget is that a turkey is a smart bird. If he gobbles all the way in to a hen, he knows that he may be calling in predators. An older bird seems to say, “Okay, darling, I'm going to answer you back, but I'm not going to gobble all the way back to you. If I gobble, a two-legged or a four-legged predator will try to kill one or both of us.” From the way a longbeard gobbles, I think a hen often understands that he's coming to her, but he's not going to talk anymore. Many times when I hear a turkey answer me back one time and then shut up, I know that gobbler has probably been hunted before, or he's been attacked or spooked by a predator in that same area.
One of the misconceptions that we often create on TV shows is that all turkeys gobble and strut from the time we first contact them with our calls, until we pull the trigger on them. But that’s not always the way the hunt happens. Many times after we call to a turkey, he’ll come in silent. However, no one wants to sit and watch a hunter call to a turkey, and then sit there for an hour before he has an opportunity to take that turkey. This is one of the overlooked parts of filming turkey-hunting shows.
Many times patience will produce more turkeys than good calling does. When I'm calling to a turkey, and he gobbles while I'm still calling to him, I'm pretty sure that turkey will come in, even if he doesn’t answer me when I call two or three more times. Oftentimes a turkey will walk a certain distance and stand dead still for 15 minutes, while he's looking for a hen to come to him. If the hen doesn’t come to him while he's standing still, more than likely, he’ll come in silent. Another tip is: if you call to a gobbler that doesn’t answer you for 2-3 minutes, more than likely, you'll have to move closer to that turkey. So, my general rule of thumb is: if a gobbler cuts me off (gobbles while I'm still calling to him), I assume that turkey has packed his lunch, and he’s going to come to where I am. So, I’ll wait longer on that turkey than I would on a turkey that didn’t answer me back for 2-3 minutes.
Day 2: The Turkeys That Get Away with Paul Butski
Tomorrow: Paul Butski: I Turkey Hunted with Roy Rogers – the King of the Cowboys