I am sick of snow, ice and cold weather. So, join me in closing your eyes and imaging a warm April day in the woods. Sweet Williams and violets cover the ground with an occasional morel mushroom.
The trees are quickly turning green mixed with new ground cover. Sunlight is warming mother earth and all wild creatures are celebrating new life while a distant wild turkey gobbling seems to quiet the woodlot for a moment.
You answer back with a couple of hen clucks just to see how the big boy will respond. Then quiet and nothing for 10 minutes and you “cluck” again. Suddenly, a loud gobble a few feet behind your seated position makes you slightly jump. The big gobbler has circled back and is coming in. Your breath is much deeper than before and heart rhythm is off the charts. The movement to your right is the gobbler and he is glaring straight at you. Now it’s a chess game for who makes the biggest mistake.
That scene will play out many times in just over a month, Are you ready?
I love preparing for spring turkey season. Checking camouflage and getting all equipment ready is like preparing for a holiday, but preparation is necessary. Success as a turkey hunter hinges partly on being prepared – and that includes shooting.
Target practice is important, even for veteran hunters. Recently we switched our brand of turkey shotgun shells and found big difference while shooting targets. Our Federal loads generally shot high through my choke system while Hevi-Shot throws patterns slightly to the right. Adjusting my aim to the left peppered the point of dead instead of wounded.
There is nothing wrong with these shotgun shells, but many don’t realize that all shotguns pattern different shells and loads differently. This is why practicing on a paper target often means the difference between dead and wounded birds that fly or run away to suffer and die later.
But turkey hunting should be excellent this year. We are not suffering from a wild turkey shortage. I often watch strutting gobblers while driving down the highway. Turkey numbers are good because of fair nesting weather last spring, but don’t let better bird numbers make you think turkey hunting is easy. The only difference is, now you have more smart birds in the woods.
So how will you find and take a trophy gobbler? Let’s look at some ideas that may help. These suggestions will inform novice hunters and will serve as a reminder for the experienced.
SHOCK CALLING: Shock calling is the beginning to most successful turkey hunts. Gobblers are king of the woods when breeding and will answer with a thunderous gobbling at sounds other than turkeys.
For example, a barred owl call is used before daylight to roosting and just landed on the ground gobblers. Crow calls are used as the morning progresses. But there is only one problem. Some gobblers seldom gobble and maybe not at all.
I have watched gobblers walk in to calling in total silence. Others will gobble their heads off from the roost, on the ground and when moving into to find a clucking hen. The gobbling versions are certainly the most fun, but it does not always happen.
I like to sit and call in areas where I know turkeys are visiting. Nothing has sharper hearing over a gobbler. They will hear your clucks and yelps. You just might be surprised to see a big boy sneaking in, quietly and without warning.
A close friend who guides has watched big gobblers stand in the middle of fields and ignore hen calls. She loves to take the old boy off guard with a gobbler call or shaker. The big guy occasionally charges in to find out what swine bird is trying to steal his hens. Be cautious about using this type of call in public areas. Make sure your back is against a wide tree to avoid being shot in the back by a gun-toting moron.
CALLING: Calling is important and necessary. I strongly recommend that you buy practice tapes or even watch videos of successful turkey hunts. Then imitate each expert’s sounds, including real wild turkey calls. You do not have to be a champion caller to fool dominate gobblers – a fortunate fact for me. Basic clucks, yelps, cutting and purrs have constantly worked.
Start by calling softly. A close gobbler will leave the area when a loud hen hurts his ears. Call softly for a few minutes and then increase your volume later. But don’t over-call.
I have listened to hens in the woods and noticed that sometimes one will yelp over and over. But she will eventually stop and listen for a while. Constant calling is not always successful and often a determent. Note that all toms are different. What will work for one does not always work for the next hardened old gobbler. Sometimes you have to experiment.
For example, you might bring in a wary old bird with very little calling. Watch a hen in the woods feeding. Only occasionally will she cluck or purr – sounds of contentment. At that moment she is more interested in the pleasures of dining while not thinking about a date. The gobbler just wants to know her location. He has other thoughts in mind besides feeding. That occasional cluck just might get his attention.
BASICS: Make a checklist before turkey hunting. Camouflage from head to toe is necessary. Then make sure you have a 2018 turkey tag, shotgun shells that are allowed by law and calls. And don’t forget that cushion to sit on. That ground gets mighty rough on the old posterior without one. You will sit longer and more alert when comfortably positioned and ready.
Let the chess match begin.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at email@example.com.