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oldbirddogman

Turkey Hunting Tips       Part 5

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oldbirddogman

It seems to me that during the last, say 50 years, there have been two prevalent, and opposing, turkey calling theories.

Sure-nuff old-time turkey hunters around here stuck, pretty much, to what I'd call the "Yelp three times and lay your caller down Theory." Perhaps, because they didn't have much in the way of good callers to call with, they limited their calling to just an occasional short series of yelps. And set there. Lots of turkeys were killed this way. Lots of turkeys lost interest on the way in and walked off too. I know. I called like this a lot myself.

In the mid '60s, a big country boy from down in South Alabama came along with a new idea. Oh, he didn't exactly originate the idea. He just got it a lot of national exposure, and made it a popular way to call. His name was Ben Rogers Lee. People called him Old Ben, but he wasn't as old as I was, and he told me one day while on a visit to my house that he really preferred to be called Roger. Anyhow, Ben was a very knowledgeable turkey hunter, a caller that was, perhaps, ahead of his time, and a good entertainer. He put on seminars all over the country. His calling theory was a radical change from the cautious calling of the past. Because he was such a good caller, he liked to hear himself call. He liked for turkeys to hear him call too. We called his theory the "Call the feathers off of 'em Theory." Ben called almost constantly from first contact with the turkey until the gun went off, if it went off. Many folks picked up on this method and there have been many turkeys killed in this manner. There have also been many turkey run off that didn't like the incessant calling too. I know. I called like this a lot myself.

Through the years, my ideas about calling have changed, evolved, let us say. I no longer adhere to either theory. I am presently what is called a "flexible caller." That is, I adjust my calling to what the turkey tells me to do.

Here are some thoughts about calling turkeys in the spring. Calling turkeys in the fall is an entirely different matter and not discussed here. Keep in mind that I am not trying to tell you how you should call. Your situation may be entirely different from mine.

1. On first contact, treat all turkeys as if they are "bad turkeys." By "bad" I mean that they have heard a lot of calling, been scared a time or two, and no longer respond well to calling.

2. Begin by calling very sparingly. You can always pick up the tempo later if you need to. If you pour it on hot and heavy to begin with, you have left yourself with nowhere to go.

3. On private land, or with no other hunters around, call a time or two, (or until you get a response) to a turkey that is on the roost. When you know he knows where you "a hen" is, quit calling. Hopefully, at this point, you have gotten his interest and he has turned around on the roost and is now facing you. (His gobbles will sound louder.) They fly down in the direction they are facing, and, when he does, the distance between ya'll will be shortened.

4. On public land, or where other hunters are around, I suggest not calling to the turkey at all until he gets on the ground. When you call to a turkey in a tree you are encouraging him to gobble, and gobbling turkeys draws other hunters. Plus, calling to one in the tree may cause him to sit there longer waiting on the "hen" he heard to come to him. There are several ways to look at this.

5. Let the turkey tell you how much to call. I have done seminars on turkey hunting for the last 25 years. The most frequently asked question is this. "How often do I call to a turkey?" I doubt I have ever given a satisfactory answer. Too many variables are involved. So I say this; GENERAL RULE OF THUMB -- When you hear a turkey gobble and are trying to get set up on him, pay attention to how frequently he is gobbling. When you get set up, listen to him a while longer. In a few minutes he is going to tell you how often to call you need to him. For example, let's say this particular gobbler was gobbling approximately one time a minute before you set down. When you call THE FIRST TIME, you notice that it is , say, 5 minutes before he gobbles again. What has he told you? He said very clearly that he didn't like what he heard, he'd heard that before, and he sure wasn't coming your way if he heard a lot more of it. OK. So now you know. You need to handle this turkey very gently. No hard stuff now. If you yelped the first time, try clucking. Change to a softer, more subdued sounding caller. But, most importantly, don't call much to this turkey right now. He may get in a better mood later and you can step it up a notch, but too much calling now will shut up this turkey. On the other hand, the turkey that was gobbling one time a minute before your first call, answers your first call and begins gobbling more frequently. What has he told you? He said he liked it and he wants to hear some more. Give him some more. Call all you want to. What I'm trying to tell ya'll is that you gauge the frequency of your calls by the gobbler's reaction to your first series of calls. There is no set amount of time between calls. I cannot tell you that.

6. Don't play all your cards too soon. Begin calling with basic yelps and/or clucks. Stay with them as long as the turkey is responding to them. Save your cutts and cackles for situations in which the turkey has hushed and you need to make him gobble again. If you have been cutting at him all morning it's effectiveness may have worn off. ALWAYS SAVE SOMETHING FOR A LATER TIME.

7.  Don't continue to call when there's no use. Let's say you're watching a gobbler who is surrounded by 20 hens. You have called to him for quite a wile, and you've called to he hens trying to get them to come over and drag the gobbler along. They have not moved an inch. Well, give it a break. Put down your caller and just watch a while. Sooner or later, those turkeys will deside to go somewhere. You can tell when they are about to leave. Now is the time to call again. You have a chance to get them to head your way. This is particularily true of turkeys in a field, which are generally much harder to call than turkeys in the woods.

8.If you are using a turkey caller for locating purposes, SIT DOWN BEFORE CALLING. If you make a habit of sitting down before you yelp, or whatever, on your turkey caller, you will eventually kill a turkey that you would not have killed had you been standing in the middle of the road when you called. If you persist in calling from the open, one of these days, a big 'en that was standing out of sight by the road 70 yards down there, is going to step out in the road and THERE YOU STAND. Oh hello. And goodby. If you had set down, chances are good you could have killed him. If you locate with an owl hooter, crow caller, hawk caller, or anything else except a turkey caller, it doesn't matter whether you are standing or not. Turkeys are not going to come to those sounds.

9. It does not matter to a gobbler that has hens on his mind whether you yelp or cluck, high pitched or low, clear or raspy,

or any other way. He just wants to hear a hen, it does not matter what the hen sounds like or what she says. Let's say you are a young fellow cruising bars on a Saturday night and the long-legged blonde on the end bar stool says, "Hello, big boy." Would it have mattered to you if she had said, "Hi, guy." I didn't think so. You don't care. The gobbler doesn't care either. Just make him think an interested hen is over there where you are, and he'll be along, if he's coming.

10. Don't call to gobblers that are on the way. Let's say you are walking out across a field looking for girls and you hear one shout, "Hey." What do you do? Well, you STOP and LOOK around to see if you can see where the sound came from. A gobbler does the same thing. He stops. The problem with that is that a stopped gobbler often becomes a strutting gobbler and a strutting gobbler often becomes a "hung up" gobbler that won't come any closer, and see what you caused by calling when you should have just let him come on in? Forget what you see in those turkey hunting videos. Those old boys are just trying to sell you callers. Now, if the turkey stops on his own, or veers off to the side, or turns around to leave, that's a different matter. Better call now.

11. As to turkey callers: They all have their strengths and weaknesses. It matters little what kind of caller you use. It matter little how well you call on it, except to say that you need to sound reasonably like a turkey instead of a dog, and all thing equal, good calling is better than bad calling, and you need to have a caller that you have enough confidence in that you will not be afraid to use it when you need to use it.

There is much more on this subject, but I'll have to leave it here. I'm a very slow typist and my hands are beginning to swell. (Really, it's stopped raining and I need to go back hunting.)

Questions. Comment.

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Rick Hall

Well, it was bound to happen.  I find myself taking serious exception to number 9.

One of my early mentors worked with the Forest Service and was active in the reintroduction of turkeys into Ohio.  And, big surprise, much of the initial stocking took place on National Forest land surrounding his country home.  As one might also guess, it came to be perhaps the most hard hunted area in the state.

Place was crawling with "scouting" hunters each spring, most of them caterwauling away with squeaks and squawks of all possible manufacture.  And by the opener most of the numerous gobblers to be found there had their fill.  They seldom gobbled and even more seldom responded to calling.  If not for all the sign, you'd have thought the place abandoned or "shot out".

Yet, my friend kept right on shooting buster gobblers there, spring after spring.  You see, he did his scouting, too.  More than most folks probably, because he could pretty much just sit on the porch and listen.  Sure, he was picking up on favored roost sites, travel corridors and strutting grounds, but mostly he was listening for a particular hen or two.  Hens with distinctive tone and/or cadence that he'd get set in his head, then go home and try to replicate with one of his calls.

So when the season opened and my friend invited one of those wisened gobblers to come play, they'd come running for a familiar romp, instead of shying from one that might have a guy with a gun waiting in the parking lot.  Has worked for me, too, both there and elsewhere.

Which brings us back to your friend Ben Lee, who was pretty famous for saying that the best sounding turkey he'd heard was a man (14 yr-old boy?) and worst sounding call he'd heard came from a hen.  Don't know how many times what I've thought to be overworked box calls turned out to be hens, but can promise it's sure 'nuff embarrassing when it turns out so after you've told a guest, "Here comes some fool with a box call."  But there are also some pretty distinctive hens out there, and I'm inclined to feel I'm holding three aces when I'm lucky enough to hear one I can mimic.

Least I used to be.  Haven't been mad enough at 'em to call with anything but my voice for what's becoming a lot of years, and that whittles me down to variations on just two mighty generic "hens".  Unless my mouth goes dry, that is.  In that case I get can get pretty "distinctive" my own self.

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oldbirddogman

Rick,

Keep in mind that I am speaking in general terms when I say that it doesn't matter to a gobbler whether a hen yelps high or low, clear or raspy. I certainly don't think that there are no exceptions to that statement, or to any other statement I make here.

In general, the many people I hunt with and I, have called up untold numbers of turkeys sometimes calling high, low, raspy or clear. We do ocassionally encounter a particular turkey that wants a particular sound. We always assumed that was because there was a favorite hen around that sounded that way. However, no matter our pitch or tone, our cadence is always the same, roughly 2 1/2 to 3 times a second when calling like a hen, as best as I can tell.

As we are discussing turkeys sounds here, conventional wisdom has always been that a young hen has a high pitched yelp while an old hen is raspy. Absolutely untrue. The drove of turkeys that I raised, 5 gobblers and 5 hens all whistled, kee-keed and yelped very high until they were 4 months old. After that some of them yelpd clear, some raspy, some in between. Sometimes a turkey that had just yelped, say, clear, would cut loose with the raspiest string you've ever heard. A turkey can yelp however it wants to. I'm not saying that old hens don't sometimes, maybe most of the time, yelp raspy, or that young hens don't yelp clear most of the time, but for a fellow to think he's hearing an old hen just because he hears a raspy turkey is fooling himself. And too, the easiest two different turkeys to confuse when a hunter hears them yelping is a mother hen assembly calling in the fall and a young gobbler lost calling in the fall. And while an old gobbler normally has a deep tone, the MAIN difference between hen and gobbler yelping is not in tone but in the speed in which they yelp. Most old gobblers, unless he's lost calling, yelps about 1 to 1 1/2 times a second, roughly half as fast as a hen. With that said, one of the oldest gobblers I ever killed yelped exactly like the sheepiest little hen I've ever heard. I would not have believed it had a not watched him yelp for about 10 minutes before I shot him. Excuse me, this is not what we were talking about.

Anyhow, I really don't think we are disagreeing here. You're just speaking of specific occasions and I am talking about things in general.

I assure you, I could take exception to everything I have said here too.

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Brad Hire

Enjoyed the post, obdm.

I kinda look at turkey hunting tactics a little bit differently.  My feeling is that I'm out there to have fun.  I won't sit around and wait all day for a henned-up gobbler to get done with his business and come looking for me.   Neither my butt nor my back enjoys a day of turkey hunting when my brain tells them to sit still while I wear my mouth call out to get a courtesy gobble every 20 minutes, or so, from a teasing tom.

I prefer to cover a lot of country in search of a hot and lonely gobbler.  If I find a gobbler reluctant to come to my calls, I'll either try to maneuver myself closer to his postion to intimidate and intice him into closing the distance, or I'll just get up and back out and go looking for another bird.   I'll then come back to that bird later in the day if need be.  My way of thinking is that he'll still be in the general area, and I didn't waste my time waiting him out.  I went looking for another possibility.  If I didn't find another bird, the bird I left earlier is still an option, and if he's still henned-up, I didn't waste the day waiting on him.

This strategy takes a lot of guess-work out of the duel and pretty much eliminates the chess match, but it's very effective at finding a bird that wants to come to the gun  when you want him to.  It's also a great way to get a good night's sleep when you have an aging back like I do.  I don't like to spend too much time with my butt on the wet ground and my back against a tree trunk.  If I'm gonna plant myself, I want to do so with a hot gobbler closing in fast.

Brad

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Rick Hall

Knew I'd get in trouble even as I was typing "cadence" but left it there because the most distinctive and useful hen (two years running on hard pounded public ground) I've encountered was more stuccato than rythmic in her yelping.  Harsh/sharp, like she was mad all the time, but I'd call it yelping, not putting or cutting or what I called "fussing" (like when strange/rival/whatever hens run into eachother) before "cutting" became what I gather the common parlance for such commotion.  Once compared her to a "fish wife" in an article, and that's still the image that comes to mind when I think of her.  Must have had round heels, too, 'cause come the gobblers would.

Now the fish wives will be after me, too.

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Rick Hall
Might as else take this opportunity to voice my contrarian approach to all calling, turkey or waterfowl.  I generally strive to avoid sounding like everyone else with a gun.

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oldbirddogman

Brad,

I really haven't gotten into turkey hunting tactics yet. There are so many different way to hunt turkeys, I hardly know where to start.

It seems that I must have given the impression that I am a "sit and wait 'em out hunter." I do hunt that way most of the time now. However, I spent most of my life hunting "gobbling turkeys" just like you described. I can no longer do it, frankly, because I can't hear a turkey gobble 100 yards away anymore. My hearing is shot. When you can't hear, there's no since traveling through the woods going through the motions of listening for gobbling. I had to learn to hunt with my eyes. I actually prefer to hunt using your tactics.

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Brad Hire

I figured you for a run n gunner, obdm.  

There nothing wrong with taking a stand, it's just that when you cover ground and find a hot gobbler, you don't have to worry much about what you'll need to throw at him.  THings like cadence and call choice aren't near as important to me as finding a bird that wants to come to a call.  A lonely gobbler looking for company will come to most anything.  I've had 'em gobble at the sound of me walking through dry leaves.  On the opposite end of the spectrum is an old bird that has all the lovin he needs right in front of him.  You work your calls like a maestro and more often than not he won't come in.  I'd rather walk away from a bird like that, and try for another.

I feel bad for you about your hearing loss.  I'm only 38 and for the past couple of years I've noticed a ringing in my ears.  Hope it doesn't get any worse.   There are a lot of noises I wouldn't miss, but a gobbling tom ain't one of 'em.

I think your use of visual tactics can be as deadly as any other tactic.  Last year my home state went to all day hunting.  THis allowed the kids (and teachers) to hunt after school.  My father-in-law had always wanted to try turkey hunting, but couldn't find the time since he's a principle.  One evening last year I took him and my 8 year old daughter out for a ride.  We spotted a lone gobbler picking around in corn stuble, set up on him and called him into the gun within ten minutes.  I knew where he wanted to roost and got between him and the roost tree.  The bird never gobbled, but came in on a string.  Two mornings prior, he'd gobbled his head off and put on a show, but wouldn't come near close enough for a shot.  You have to be there when he wants to come to you and sometimes your eyes can be more help than your ears.

Brad

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GANGGREEN

Lots of good stuff as usual OBDM.  I find myself nodding my head at most of what you, Rick and Brad have said here.  

I have to agree with Rick in his posts but as you pointed out, that doesn't mean that I disagree with you.  I've seen literally dozens of turkeys that were closemouthed and apparently uninterested in my calls until I pulled out an aluminum slate or a three reeded cuttin' caller or a serviceberry box call, etc..  I also hunt quite a bit with a very good turkey hunting friend of mine who also makes calls and I find it amazing how frequently a gobbler will ignore one of us and jump all over the other's calling even though we use the same cadence and similar calling styles.

Also agree with Brad's tactics.  I've got good legs and I just prefer to run and gun.  I'm also fortunate to have a fair amount of time to hunt birds so if I can't find one today that wants to die I just wait until tomorrow.  That being said, over the last 20 years or so that I've considered myself a fairly serious turkey hunter, I find myself being much more patient than I used to be.  I can think of several turkeys I've taken in the last several years that I never would have taken as a young man.

As I said before, good stuff Doug.  Keep it coming.

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Rick Hall

The expression "run and gun" puts me in mind of hunting with a timber cruiser of that bent.  For those who might not know, timber cruisers are fellows who earn their livings evaluating the worth of tracts of timber.  And they're the only people you're ever apt to hunt with who habitually pick up their pace, and I mean significantly, when they step off the road and into the woods.

Spent a morning hosted by one such who passed on roosted birds that only gobbled once or twice, birds in a field that wouldn't gobble and birds that gobbled but wouldn't come charging in.  All for the promise of a hotter bird that might be over the next ridge - or the next.  He wasn't the only one who told me he killed a lot of birds, and I don't doubt that it was so.  But it was an exercise in exercise that day.

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oldbirddogman

I'm sure everybody likes to find a turkey that's gobbling every breath and runs to the first series of yelps he hears.

But, which is the hardest to kill, one that does that or one that gobbles once or twice and hushes? How about one out in the middle of a big field surrounded by two dozen hens? And one that gobbled on the roost yesterday afternoon and said nothing this morning? Or all the others that don't come a running?

Well, the fellow that spends ALL his time running through the woods trying to find one of those "pop up" turkeys never learns how to kill the others. And they can be killed. It just takes a lot more time and effort, and no mistakes.

I don't care what kind of turkeys a fellow likes to hunt. That's his business, and I'm all for him.

I just hunt whatever kind I run up on first.

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Brad Eden

Backwoods livin has it's benefits:

It's finally clear enough to start taking my daily hike out back with the dogs. Still a bit of snow but not much. I headed above the house and immediately found in the snow where two turkeys had walked through my woodlot. One looked pretty big by the size of the track. They meandered along a ridge and disappeared into the thicker woods. I came out on a dirt road that leads to a 200 acre secluded blueberry barren that banks the side of the hill in a perfect rectangle. As I entered the barren there were turkey tracks everywhere (and a moose had been through too) in what little snow was left in patches. The cool thing were the strut marks up and down the length of road that bisects the barren. A gobbler or two have been struttin their stuff and leaving wing drags in the snow on either side of their tracks. Things like this help me stick it out in Maine even with the horrendous winters. I should be hearing gobbling in the mornings now.

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oldbirddogman

Hey, Brad,

Good to hear that you're seeing signs that indicate the turkeys up your way, in spite of the terrible winter, are getting in the mood.

Your mention of the strut marks in the road warrants the sharing of an opinion with you.

I'm sure that many turkey hunters hunt around "strutting areas" from time to time. I do. However, I do not put much stock in sitting around strut marks IN A ROAD. I've just never had much luck doing that. Often, it seems to me, the gobbler will come back to the road to strut, but SELDOM IN THE SAME PLACE. On the other hand, if I can find a place where one's been strutting in a corner of a cut-over or, maybe, a plowed field, nearly anywhere but a road, I find that he is returning to the same spot regularily, and can be killed without too much trouble.

You ever notice this?

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Michael Stenstrom
I was out tracking turkeys this afternoon also Brad.  Loved seeing the drag marks of the wings in the snow.  Hoping the turkeys start gobbling soon.  Maybe next week when it warms up a bit.  Enjoyed this post as much as the others OBDM.

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Brad Eden
. . .I'm sure that many turkey hunters hunt around "strutting areas" from time to time. I do. However, I do not put much stock in sitting around strut marks IN A ROAD. I've just never had much luck doing that. Often, it seems to me, the gobbler will come back to the road to strut, but SELDOM IN THE SAME PLACE. On the other hand, if I can find a place where one's been strutting in a corner of a cut-over or, maybe, a plowed field, nearly anywhere but a road, I find that he is returning to the same spot regularily, and can be killed without too much trouble.

You ever notice this?

I'm afraid I haven't been hunting turkeys nearly long enough to determine that really.

But considering we had the last snowstorm last week and some on Sat. and the strut/wing marks appeared to be a few days old I suspect you are right. These gobblers hadn't been strutting again on that road since they left their marks.

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