When A Gobbler Won’t Come In: Putting The Move on A Locked Up Gobbler

Locked Up Gobbler

Unless you are hunting turkey land delight, you have experienced when a gobbler won’t come in. We always called these turkeys, locked up gobblers or hung up turkeys. Oftentimes you can see a gobbler locked up within sight but out of range for a shot. Fences, ditches, and field edges can all cause a gobbler to lock up and not come in even when you have decoys. It is frustrating and if you move to get a little closer, you are sure to be busted. There are times when a tom will lock up out of sight of your setup. You can tell by the gobbles that the turkey is not getting any closer. This is when putting the move on a hung up gobbler can pay off in a punched tag.

When To Make A Move On A Locked-Up Gobbler

Normally I will call to a turkey until it finally starts to move in my direction. However, when I’m sure of the terrain and whether or not the gobbler will spot me moving, I will move a little closer with my set up. I do sometimes use decoys, but this is the perfect example as to why I prefer to leave the turkey decoys at home.

There is nothing like having a group of turkeys move in to investigate a couple of decoys. The show can be awesome. However, when hunting public land or pressured turkeys, you have to be a bit more stealthy with your movements. Setting up turkey decoys, usually beyond where you plan to sit and call, can and will alert a weary tom. This will end a turkey hunt real quick. When you have the turkey gobbling back at you approach very cautiously. It can be tough to discern the distance of a gobbling turkey in the woods. Survey the surrounding terrain and woods and make a decision as to where to set up. Don’t get too close and bust your bird. Rely on your calling to get the turkey into range. 

So, as for decoys I have an article or two on here that touches on using decoys or not. The decision to move a little closer to a gobbler that you feel is locked up and not coming to your setup is usually a thought-out plan. At first, you think you will be able to call the turkey in. It takes several gobbles to realize that the turkey has not moved from its original location.

It can be difficult to figure out for turkey hunting beginners, time in the woods is all that can help with that. Learning whether the turkey is coming toward you, moving away, or locked up ain’t easy for turkey hunting beginners and can be difficult for seasoned turkey hunting veterans if they don’t have good hearing. This is because of the direction that the turkey is turned when it gobbles in response to your calling. When a turkey is turned away from you it sounds like it’s moving away when it is only turned away. He might be strutting and turning, all puffed up, sending its gobble all over the place.

Turkey hunters are naturally optimistic when they have successfully struck a gobbler. They initially, at least I do, feel that the turkey is coming. This alone will slow the decision that the turkey isn’t moving. So be patient and scrutinize every gobble you hear. This is all part of learning the turkey for turkey hunting beginners.

If the gobble is loud and clear then a bit less so then the next gobble is loud and clear again log that into your senses. Continue calling and continue to scrutinize every sound from him. After several confrontations like this you might make the decision to move in quicker. The reason you don’t want to move in on a locked up turkey too soon is because it could break and begin to move in your direction. Mix up your calling. A combination of calls can trigger a gobbler into seeking out your position so give it some time. This might be the most difficult thing for turkey hunting beginners to grasp. Be patient.

There are certain situations when the terrain his known and if you hunt a piece of ground that you know like the back of your hand you might even know exactly where the gobbler is likely strutting and you can make a move into its direction with little worry of spooking it by using the terrain. Just be careful and you can get closer. Getting closer can help trigger the turkey into moving.

Why Gobblers Lockup

The usual reasons for a turkey to lock up is fences, ditches and other obstacles. This could happen out of sight and unless you know the land where you are hunting turkeys you just don’t know why the turkey is locked up. While I have called mature gobblers across multiple ridges I have also had gobblers lock up with seemingly no obstacle at all. Over the years I have noticed a common thing between both situations. Pressure.

Hunting pressure, at least from what I have seen, is the number one reason that gobblers will lock up. Last season I had three different gobblers that answered my call aggressively for at least an hour without moving any closer. I did this for three mornings in a row and each time the turkeys would not come in. Finally, I decided to move into the turkey’s direction to see if I could get into range or get them to come in.

I knew pretty much where the gobblers were located. They were close and on three different points or fingers of the ridge I was on. This is why I didn’t want to move on them and chose to be patient. I may have been too patient. I moved in on the fourth morning slowly to where the gobblers were gobbling the three morning previous. The turkeys were still there and still gobbling at nearly every call I made. As I moved in the turkeys shut up. I continued to where I thought they should be and found that these two birds were back up on their roost limbs. I spooked them off their limb. It was 10 am.

I continued toward the third finger where the third turkey was gobbling but had shut down. I made some soft calls as I eased in its direction and finally got a response. It was a gobble but not as aggressive. I knew I was close even though it didn’t really sound like it based on its gobble so I slowed way down. Finally, I saw the turkey happily strutting exactly where I thought he had been all three mornings before.

Everything seemed great and I had the turkey in sight. It gradually moved over a small rise and I felt that I might call him back. I set up on the tom as it gobbled down a ridge without me calling. I had decoys and was able to get those set up for the hunt and get into position against a big log next to a beech. A couple of soft calls and the gobbler answered. It was out of sight by now but I thought maybe I had a chance to get a reaction and a shot. That didn’t happen.

I shut up my calling when the turkey went silent. I wasn’t sure where the turkey was so I didn’t want to call if it was closing the gap. Potentially spooking it. I waited. I hoped that the turkey would see the decoys and move on in. That did not happen. It was late morning by this time and the breeze was getting stronger. It was nice and sunny and the woods had that feeling of shut down. Every turkey hunter knows that feeling when it seems like nap time and many, like myself, have probably taken a nap along with all of the turkeys it would seem.

So with that, nothing is going to happen this morning feeling, I slowly gathered my decoys. I eased down the spur following the route that the gobbler had taken. It wasn’t long before I found out where the turkey went. It was in a tree. Looking at the ground below the roost I saw that it was the turkey’s roost tree. The big gobbler flew off its limb across the ridge and disappeared.

Turkey Hunting Pressure

All of this was for sure due to hunting pressure. It was a ridge I had never hunted. I found it opening morning when the place I normally hunted was covered up with hunters with every possible parking place filled. This location has a lot of turkeys and I am confident that there still is. These turkeys know when to lock up and shut down with the coming of hunters that show up early to scout and then to fill the woods to hunt. I learned on this hunt why calling from the road system is and should be illegal. I watched three trucks stop and call from the road I was near. Luckily the hunters either didn’t hear the turkeys, they all gobbled at their call, or they didn’t want to climb the mountain that I did to get on the ridge they were on.

I’m sure this calling had been going on for several days before the season. It definitely had these turkeys spooked and leery of calls. When this is the case I have noticed that mature gobblers will call for the hen to come to them and will refuse to go to her. This is a way they survive and in this case, I’m confident that these turkeys will be there next year. Hopefully will be a more successful turkey hunt on public land.

Hunting Public Land Turkeys

About Ken McBroom 307 Articles
Ken McBroom is an accomplished outdoor writer and photographer. Growing up in Lynchburg Tennessee allowed him many opportunities afield as a boy and young man. Later in life, after Desert Storm, Ken’s wanderlust took him to Alaska to live and work and experience the last frontier. Married now with two beautiful children, Ken now calls Kentucky home where he continues to communicate our American outdoor traditions and the lifestyle it offers.

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