5 turkey hang-up cures
How to get tardy toms on the move—and into range
Many years ago, the first long beard I ever shot had serious hang-ups. He started by gobbling his innards out on the way to my set-up, but at 60 metres he stopped in the open hardwoods to strut and display. An hour later he was still there. Being a novice at the time, I quit calling because I thought I might have stopped him with a sour note on my mouth call. Eventually, he walked away in search of another potential mate.
But I persisted. As I scrambled in a wide circle to get in front of the bird, I tracked his position by using my crow call to make him shock gobble. This time, my plan was to lure him in using my push-pin yelper, and once I was ahead of him I kept a little ridge between us to shield my set-up. He gobbled once after my first yelps, but dallied getting to me. Finally, I could hear his footsteps below the crest of the ridge. But there he stayed, out of sight—my best clucks, purrs and yelps on the push-pin caller wouldn’t budge him, or even make him gobble. Hung up again.
I thought he might come in for two hens, so I clucked on my mouth call. Instantly he gobbled and I saw his tail fan coming up over the rise. I shot when he broke strut, and my first-ever tom was flopping on the ground, free at last from all his hang-ups. But why the delays? I’ve since discovered five main reasons why toms hang up and what can be done to get them moving again—or better yet, avoid such problems in the first place.
1. He’s waiting for his hen
When a tom approaches the place he thinks he heard a hen call from, he fully expects to see her there, and looks for signs of responsiveness. If he doesn’t see the hen, he hangs up waiting for her to show herself. (Keep in mind, toms can be pokier than a snail with a limp—I don’t consider it a hang-up until he’s stayed in one spot for at least a half-hour.)
In the case of my first tom, he could see my location, but there was no hen. He clearly wasn’t spooked by me or my calling, or he wouldn’t have strutted for an hour just out of gun range. He simply wanted to see the hen make the next move. When that didn’t happen, he walked.
The cure: Move your set-up
By total beginner’s luck, I did the right thing the day I shot my first tom—I set up on him again from a spot where he couldn’t see me until he stepped into range. The ridge blocked his line of sight to me so he had to crest it to see the hen (me) he heard calling. By then, he was in range and mine.
Keep your tom coming by choosing your set-up carefully. Use wrinkles in the terrain to find a spot he can’t see until he’s within your shooting range. If you set up poorly and he hangs up in sight, quit calling, let him walk and try again from a better location.
Decoys, when visible from a distance, may entice a jake or a hot two-year-old to come into range. An experienced long beard, however, will often hang up when he sees a decoy, expecting the hen to come the rest of the way to him. To keep your tom walking and talking, place the decoys in a spot he can’t see until he’s close enough for a shot. An added bonus of this tactic is that he will be focused on the dekes, not you, when it’s time to shoot.
In field situations or on level ground where you can’t use the terrain to hide, use a pop-up blind. And to help overcome a tom’s natural caution, use a jake or strutting tom decoy, along with hen decoys, to make him jealous and play on his need for dominance.