Originally Published in the Spring 2011 Edition of Rifle & Rod Magazine.
To many the spring season brings promises of flowers in the garden, fish on the lake and time outside after a bitter winter’s cold. But, there are a few who’s favorite spring moment is a thunderous gobble from a granddaddy tom turkey as the morning sun rises. These are the ones who follow the wild turkey every spring in hopes of killing that tom (male turkey) with just a little bit longer beard and spurs than the one they killed the year before.
Turkey season begins March 24 in Georgia and lasts until May 15. For some spouses it can be a long, lonely seven weeks, but for those in search of a trophy turkey, seven weeks seems hardly long enough. While wild turkeys seem abundant and carefree during most of the year, the arrival of turkey season brings the turkey mating season when even the youngest tom turkeys (often referred to as Jakes) can be the weariest creatures in the woods.
Calling a tom turkey within shooting range is probably one of the most difficult tasks a hunter can ever accomplish alone. For most it takes years of hunting with a veteran to find out just how raspy a call should be, and just how many times you should call back to a gobbler in order to coax him into the range of a shotgun. There are thousands of different calls, decoys and strategies that can be used to tag a gobbler, but with the advice of three seasoned pros, things might be a little bit easier for anyone who heads their advice this year.
Joe McGlincy is a wildlife biologist with more than 35 years experience managing wildlife. He has been a wildlife consultant for about 15 years with The Wildlife Company, a division of Southern Forestry Consultants. Joe began turkey hunting in 1973 and killed his first gobbler in 1976. Since 1976 he has killed at least one gobbler every year, and usually more.
Joe said to find out as much about the property as you can before your first outing in the woods.
“First thing I would do would be to look at the tract on Google Earth to get an idea of how the road system is, what the habitat types are, if there are any fields. Then, if I had time, I might take a ride through the property to see if there are any tracks on the roads,” said Joe.
Joe said he doesn’t do a whole lot of walking through out a property looking for feathers and scratchings, but while on the property for the first time he does look for high points which would be good listening sites at daylight.
Joe is an old-fashioned hunter that grew up before turkey decoys and long-range, non-toxic loads became standard issue for turkey hunters. He believes that you should be able to call a turkey within the range of a standard lead 12-gauge turkey shell.
His no-excuses mind-set has seen more turkeys take dirt naps that most folks have every even thought about.
Joe usually waits for the birds to gobble first, but if they won’t he will take the opportunity to call to them for a response if he knows it is time for them to start calling.
As far as locator calls are concerned, Joe said there are different calls for different times of the day.
“I like to use a hoot owl call at daylight, and will use a crow call later in the day,” said Joe.
When asked how much calling is necessary, Joe explained that each turkey is different, just like people.
“It depends on the situation (how much to call) and almost every situation is different. Each gobbler is different, some you can be aggressive with, others require very little calling.”
Joe said some gobblers won’t call back at all and will continue to be silent. These types of birds are usually the hardest ones to kill.
“If gobblers are with hens they may not gobble at all. The trick is to get in the area where they are and try to figure out where they are going. Silent gobblers are harder to kill but it can be done,” said Joe.
Like Joe, Keenan also suggested to find out as much as possible about the property before hunting a piece of land. He says to go to the land and listen at the crack of dawn for the turkeys to gobble to try and pin point their location. Keenan sometimes use an owl or crow call to help find these locations, because turkeys will gobble back to both of these calls on occasion.
While it is important to know where the turkeys will be at sunrise to aid in harvesting one, Keenan said you still shouldn’t call to them before the season begins.
“Never call before the season because it increases your chances of the bird recognizing the sound the next time you call and you could also possibly spook the bird,” he said.
Since Keenan normally hunts with a bow, he usually sets up in a ground blind as close as possible to where he thinks the birds are roosting.
Unlike gun hunters who only need to point the gun and pull the trigger, Keenan must first draw his bow before releasing the arrow, adding tremendously to the difficulty of killing a turkey. Wild turkeys have some of the keenest eyes in the woods, and even a small amount of movement from a great distance can spook a turkey into the other direction.
“Hunting with a bow is different from a gun. The challenge is more exciting and you have to be more aware as to how the gobbler is going to approach your setup. Drawing your bow back while a turkey is just within a few steps of you is a challenge all itself,” said Keenan.
Keenan says since he is hunting from a ground blind with a black interior, he doesn’t wear camouflage but black clothing and face mask to blend in with the inside of the blind and not allow the turkeys to pick up on his silhouette.
Keenan said all types of calls from slates to boxes are useful in certain situations, and he uses all of them depending on what his needs are. “I use all of them for different reasons. When I’m trying to locate a bird I will use the box call (because it is louder and easier to hear at distances.) A slate comes in handy for trying to lure him in. I use mouth call a lot when the bird gets to within 100 yards or so and I can’t move or else he will see me,” said Keenan.
B.J. started making calls when he was in high school as a hobby because, “Anyone can go to the store and buy a call to call in a turkey, I wanted something that I made to be able to outwit a turkey,” he said.
B.J. has quite a few turkey tactics, one of them is to always wear a turkey vest with a padded back and seat which allows him to be very patient and wait out even the most uncooperative gobblers. He also carries a variety of calls including, boxes, slates, mouth calls and a gobble tube. He said the more calls you have to try, the more likely you are to have one gobble back. He also always hunts with a partner, usually his granddad or dad, which gives him twice as many calls to try for even the most stubborn birds.
“Some folks call it cheating, but I always hunt with someone, because with two people, you’ve got twice as many calls to try on them as you do with one person. That turkey may not talk back to a single call you have in your bag, but he just might like that box call your partner has in his. That’s when that person takes the lead calling and the other person just sits back and gets ready,” he said.
B.J. also carries a worn foam hen decoy and a wing from a previously harvested bird at all times. He beats the wing in the morning to imitate the sound of a bird dropping down from the roost and he said the decoy gives him just a little added advantage for weary toms.
B.J. said there are also those times when you’ve always heard, “You just shouldn’t turkey hunt in the wind or rain.” He said he likes to use these days as an advantage, because it usually means that there won’t be as many hunters out that day. Windy days are another day that B.J. uses his knowledge of the land to help him locate turkeys.
“If the wind is blowing 15 mph on top of the hill, it might be blowing 5 mph in a bottom, so I find a bottom to set up in. The turkeys are going to be where the wind isn’t. The only time a turkey usually deals with wind is on the roost, and he’s usually asleep when he’s there,” he said.
B.J. also said to make sure you know the landscape around where you are hunting, not just on windy days.
“A turkey is generally not going to get its feet wet, and it’s not going to cross a fence. They know where the holes in the fence are, and where there is an easy creek crossing, and there’s where that turkey is going to cross at,” he said.
“You’ve got to be at the crossing and wait on him, you can’t expect him to do something different just because you’re calling to him. Turkeys are just like people. The men expect the women to come to them, and the women expect the men to come to them,” he said. All turkey hunters are just hoping they’ve got just a sexy enough yelp to talk that granddaddy tom in to a full run because he just doesn’t know what he’s missing out on.
While reading a few pages on turkey hunting will surely not make you an expert, you can now consider yourself far above the learning curve of most rookie turkey hunters. The best education for turkey hunting you’ll ever get is experience, and you’ve just got to get out of the bed in the mornings to get it. You might not get one your first day, or even your first season, but with the help of these experts, you’ve got a pretty good shot now.