How to hunt quiet turkeys
Gobblers aren't gobbling? You can still have a succesful hunt with these tips
Hide and seek: Use natural cover and the terrain to stay hidden while moving in on your tom
Nothing gets the adrenalin flowing like hearing a big tom turn himself inside out gobbling to your calls. As they say, once you get a gobble, you’ve got a turkey hunt. But when it seems as though every tom in the woods has his beak tied in a knot, you’ve got a turkey-hunt challenge instead.
Not that you can always call in a gobbling tom.
Some noisy gobblers will never leave their strut zones to investigate your calls-they expect every hen to come to them instead. On the other hand, half the toms I’ve called in over the years came in silently, not giving me a clue as to their presence until I saw their neon jelly heads bobbing through the woods.
So, when you’re getting the silent treatment, don’t give up. In fact, you’ve got two options: you can try to locate toms by using shock calls to jump-start them into gobbling, or you can set up and wait patiently in a place where you know turkeys hang out. Whatever the case, tough it out and you can still harvest a shut-mouthed gobbler.
Run & gun
If you have access to several farms and woodlots, or the property you hunt is at least 1,000 acres, this is the time to use shock calls-simply drive or walk from spot to spot until you hit a bird willing to gobble. And when that happens, it’s time to set up. This tactic works best late in the morning and in the afternoon, when the hens are resting or on their nests, and not interested in toms.
The key here is that even though toms may have gone into silent mode, they can still be shocked into gobbling-if there’s a tom nearby and you use a loud locator call, chances are he’ll respond. This knee-jerk response is triggered by the volume and pitch of the call, with a shrill sound most likely to trigger a gobble. Coyote, elk, goose and peacock calls will usually jump-start a gobbler when lower-pitched owl or crow calls won’t. Be sure that your call is not drawn out too long. A loud, short burst is best so you don’t drown out the reply, which can be instantaneous.
The good thing about locator calls is they generally won’t give away your presence. Long beards will answer, then promptly forget about it after a quick look around. This lets you move slowly and quietly through your hunting area, calling every few hundred yards or so. Always remain alert, peeking over ridges and around corners in the trail. If you spot turkeys without bumping them, you can set up and immediately call with soft clucks and purrs.
Gobble calls, as well as excited cutting and yelping, can also shock a tom into gobbling. Among the friction calls, a loud box call or a high-pitched pot call is best. The most effective mouth calls for this tactic are tube calls, as they have the greatest volume. Whether you use yelps or gobbles to locate a turkey, first find a good spot and set up-if you do get a gobble, you could have a hot tom tripping over his beard to get to you in two shakes of hen’s tail.
Keep in mind that while a gobble call can incite a boss tom to come storming in to check out the intruder, it can also drive away a gobbler that doesn’t want a confrontation. As for making a short string of loud cutts and yelps that elicits a single gobble, get ready-lonely young toms often gobble just once before sprinting toward the feathered beauty they think called. A single gobble followed by silence can also mean a cautious tom is coming in, even though he won’t gobble again.
If the shock gobble came from within a few hundred yards of your set-up, allow the bird at least 40 minutes to reach you. Call sparingly with quiet clucks and purrs to reassure him; when turkeys are in quiet mode, a lot of yelping can work against you, making them suspicious. If the shock gobble was more distant, close the gap to about half and set up again to call quietly. While moving toward the gobbler, use whatever terrain or cover is available to stay hidden-either your tom or another bird could already be on its way to find you.
Do the gobblers in your neck of the woods have lockjaw? There are various reasons why toms sometimes decide to go silent. Here are some of the more common causes:
- If it’s the active breeding season and a tom is already with a hen, he doesn’t need to call.
- If a tom has been thrashed by a dominant bird, he may be afraid to gobble for fear of attracting the boss bird back for another whipping.
- If a tom spots a predator, whether four-legged or winged, he’ll go silent for a while.
- Rain, snow and wind tend to reduce gobbling.
- A tom that has been messed with by hunters quickly learns to recognize their fake calls and clams up.
- Some mature toms have simply developed the ability to survive without much gobbling; woe to us turkey hunters if we let these hush-mouthed monarchs pass on their genes.
This article was originally published on April 24, 2009