Wyatt Manek’s first Indiana gobbler weighed 23 pounds. The tom came to Wyatt’s decoy at 5:30pm and was dropped at 15 yards with a 20ga Remington 1100. Photo by Jarrett Manek
There is no wonder so many folks have caught the turkey fever across America. Turkey fever has become the remedy to cabin fever for many outdoors people and for good reason. There are few things greater than to see a big gobbler strutting along a ridge-top on a cool spring morning especially if they are heading your way. The woods is greening up and the birds are singing as you hit the slate lightly to keep them coming and two of the old strutting toms let out a gobble then swell back up. Another begins to spit and drum as they slowly approach. Getting outdoors after a long winter can be exhilarating but add the above mentioned and you have the ultimate cure for cabin fever. This article will touch on a few tips and tactics to filling your tag this season and finally get springtime rolling in the right direction.
Locating The Gobblers: Locating gobblers is a whole other lesson to learn and time in the woods is your best teacher but here are a few things to consider when you are trying to locate gobblers. There are owl calls, crow calls, and gobble calls and any of these will shock a turkey into gobbling and it is important to carry all of the above calls. One of the calls may fail to work at all or sometimes a turkey will just stop responding to a call if you use it too much but a different call could fire them back up.
I use a crow call, a gobble call and a big maglite flashlight as my shock calls. Yes you read that right my favorite shock call for locating gobblers is a big maglite that I hit on the side of my aluminum jon boat as I search along the shoreline for active birds. I usually always hunt public land and most have lakes around them so I use a jon boat to access the turkeys. The flashlight method works great and I have used it all times of the day and it will get a gobble when other calls won't.
I do use the crow call once I have located some gobblers and I leave the boat to try to “get in their way.” I will crow call to the turkeys once I'm in a position where I think one more gobble should line me up with their route and then I set up and wait several minutes before I begin to call with my box call or slate. I try to refrain from using the gobble call unless I just can’t get the gobblers to respond to anything else. It seems as though the gobble call can spook some turkeys especially a young tom. The gobble call will also call other hunters and that’s no good. The gobble call even when it works can pose another problem. Turkeys have keen eyesight and the last thing you want or need is a big mature tom actually looking for you and the gobble call will pinpoint your position and you become the hunted.
To Call Or Not To Call: Many turkey hunters love their calls and they should it is a big part of the hunt and to some more important than harvesting a turkey. I have hunted with guys that had every call known to man, and knew how to use them all, and I have hunted with guys that only used a box call or only used a slate call. I'm not a great caller but I always seem to get one into range when I hunt and all I use is a box call and a Turkey Thugs® glass call. I say this only to make the point that calling a turkey can be as simple or as complicated as you want and I would say that under some circumstances the hunter with a call in his mouth, one on his knee and a push/pull call strapped to his shotgun will be more successful but for the most part simplicity rules at least for me.
Oftentimes not calling at all is the best decision when hunting highly pressured gobblers. An old timer once told me, when I first started turkey hunting, that if you could determine which way the gobblers were traveling you would eliminate 80% of the calling. If you are able to quickly decipher the terrain or you already know the terrain that you're hunting you can usually tell where the turkeys will be traveling. Setting up near where the turkeys will be makes calling them to you much easier and with much less calling. Just remember that most often if a gobbler responds once to your call he has you pinpointed and is probably heading your way so keep this in mind before over-calling and sending him the other direction.
Decoys Or Not? Again this is a question that gets about as many yea votes as nay. Personally I like to use decoys. They give me confidence and I just like to use them; however, all of the old timer turkey hunters I have ever hunted with snickered when I pulled out my decoys before a hunt. I always left them behind when I hunted with these guys because I knew they knew what they were doing and I usually harvested a gobbler without the hassles of setting up decoys.
These guys suggest that decoys are just a hassle and exposes you to an interested gobbler way too much. To set up decoys they have to be in sight of the turkey you’re calling therefore you must expose yourself and possibly spooking a gobbler without even knowing it. We were mostly hunting pressured turkeys and these guys really believe that these turkeys are way too smart to put out a plastic replica to fool it. Again I like to use decoys myself and it’s a personal preference. Maybe one day, when I’m a bit wiser turkey hunter or a better caller, I too might leave the decoys behind but for now they are a part of my system.
If you do use decoys there are a couple set-ups that has done well for me over the years. I always carry two hen decoys and a jake decoy. I rarely use the jake decoy and here is why. Hen decoys will do the job 90% of the time. If the area I’m hunting has a lot of jakes running around then I don’t want to set up the jake decoy. It seems to spook other jakes. On the other hand if I am seeing a bunch of mature gobblers then I might set up the jake decoy with the two hens. A strutting tom decoy is a great way to bring in a mature gobbler looking for a fight but since I am not a trophy tom hunter and enjoy harvesting jakes as well as gobblers, I just never use a strutting decoy for fear of running off the jakes.
There is one trick that works well when you think the turkeys are decoy shy. Sometimes after the turkeys have seen several decoy set-ups and barely survived a couple they can really shy away from decoys. If this is happening in your hunting area try using a burlap sack or camo mesh to cover the decoys until you need them. Tie a length of fishing line to the sack or mesh and If you have the gobblers coming without showing the decoys then great but as soon as they hang up out of gun range just slowly pull the string uncovering your decoys to see if they will come on in. If you use a stationary blind this is also a great way to leave your decoys set up for the next hunt. You don’t want turkeys seeing your decoy set while you're not there so just cover them when you leave. Now you can ease into your blind and pull the string to uncover your decoys without exposing yourself to nearby roosted gobblers. You might need to place a couple rocks on your cover to keep the wind from blowing them off.
Turkey hunting has always been my cure for cabin fever and this season after the long winter I can’t wait to get out there. Some say that a long winter will delay the turkey breeding and if that’s the case the second half of this season should be the best. So get out there and enjoy a great turkey hunt and take a kid along. Turkey hunting is a great way to hook a youngster on hunting for life. Good luck.