Troubleshooting Troublesome Toms
If you haven’t had a tom hang up on you, then you either haven’t turkey hunted enough or you have the keys to a top-notch turkey-hunting property. Last season my daughter and I were on our third spring hunt of the season. A distant, sunrise gobble spurred us to close the distance. When we felt like we were in the brushy neighborhood, we slipped to the edge of an opening, staked a decoy and commenced to calling. Immediately the blast of the gobbler roared from across the glade. He had to be less than 200 yards away and I felt confident that a turkey dinner was in our future.
Before you even get into a troubleshoot situation, outfit yourself with the most realistic decoy available. The best decoys included real, mounted turkeys. They work for one simple reason: they’re real. Instead of light reflecting from plastic, light shimmers off of iridescent feathers and those feathers ruffle in the slightest of breezes providing stimulation to a testosterone-charged gobbler. Add a few lovesick yelps to this scenario and only nearsighted gobblers would miss the flashing neon of a mounted turkey setup. A mounted tom works the same magic, but with a dominant approach.
If you’re budget won’t allow taxidermy, there are many new models that have nearly the same look of a mounted turkey minus the real feathers. Avian-X, Dave Smith and others have molded, and artistically painted their decoys with the iridescent colors for turkey realism.
Take it one step further and give your turkey decoys added motion on windless days. Use strong fishing line and attach it to your decoy. Run a length back to your ambush position. When a stubborn gobbler peeks into your neck of the woods, tug on the line to catch the eye of a bird in long-term parking.
Traditional turkey hunters stubbornly find a spot and stay put until a turkey arrives. Toss tradition. The rules of nature actually call upon the excited hen to move toward a gobbling tom so it’s no surprise that gobblers stubbornly wait for a seductive hen to arrive. Even if a gobbler begins your way, other unseen obstacles can cause a gobbler to suddenly cement its position. Steep coulees, creeks, ponds and even fences can stop a gobbler cold. If a gobbler suddenly sounds locked down, it may be time to consider moving. One tactic is to circle behind the bird.
By circling behind a gobbler you place yourself in an area the bird has recently been. Since he’s safely walked through that area, he oftentimes has no fear about retracing steps for a potential hookup. To keep track of the gobbler as you circle, use locator calls instead of turkey calls to entice a gobble. Crow caws or hawk screams can safely make a gobbler give away its position without using turkey calls. Turkey sounds could cause a gobbler move toward the call during your maneuver and before you’re ready.
Another strategy to consider on a pig-headed tom is to leave and call as you slowly walk away. Turkeys have top-notch hearing and any gobbler will realize the hen is leaving. That antisocial moment could be enough to make a tom gobble and chase down the suspected love of his life.
There’s nothing wrong with aggressive calling strategies, but if a gobbler doesn’t leave his parking spot you could simply shut up. Make him think he’s not as special as he first thought. Think about this. If you aggressively call with nonstop pleading, you could make a gobbler believe you are on the way to him. That alone makes him think he’s something special. Shut up for awhile and make him believe that there’s another Tom Selleck waiting in the wings. That abrupt quietness could spark desperation and he may just stroll on over for a looksee.
To make the tom hunt harder and arrive within shooting range, set up inside thicker cover and avoid field edges. Make the gobbler hunt you. You’ll still want to sit near a shooting lane, but choose a small opening to allow for a close shot when the gobbler sticks its head out to see if Tom Selleck is wooing his gal pal.
Some of the best hunting calls mimic fights. Rattling for whitetails, bugling for bulls and even coyote growls have a fighting atmosphere that attracts curious sideliners. Gobblers also have a fondness for fights. Whether they believe toms are fighting for breeding rights or they just want to see a Rocky Balboa blowout, consider faking a fight to bring a gobbler running.
To mimic the best gobbler fight mix cuts and yelps with fighting purrs. For additional authenticity, use a wing to create flapping noises and scratch at the leaves to replicate the sound of prizefighter turkey feet in action. A strutting tom decoy also adds into the dominance theatrics if a tom arrives.
The road-blocked gobbler my daughter and me were dealing with in the article opening still hadn’t budged, so I hatched a plan to crawl across the opening and see if we could spot the bird behind a small rise. The crawl worked and in a hidden, prone position I staked a hen decoy in front of us. It only took a series of yelps for the gobbler to scream back. Tail feather tips told the story of a bird on a mission and in less than a minute Katelyn tipped that turkey over with a load of Hornady 5s.
Before we could celebrate three more toms charged in to put the wallop on the flopping bird. With a tag in my pocked, I whispered for Katelyn to hand me the CVA single-shot before reloading and taking aim. The morning ended with a pack load of more than 40 pounds of turkey dinner thanks to successfully troubleshooting troublesome toms.