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by Scott Ellis

Top Spring Turkey Hunting Questions

Spring gobbler season is on the horizon, and I feel it was time to touch on some important questions that are asked frequently by turkey hunters all across the nation. I have enlisted the assistance of two of my friends, Sadler McGraw and Chris Kirby, to aid in answering the questions. We will all shed our views on these commonly-asked questions.

Sadler McGraw has established himself as one of the most prolific competition callers in the last decade. He’s been a member of the Woodhaven Custom Calls Sting Team since its inception five years ago. His list of accolades include: 14 Alabama state titles, Yellville National and Southern Open Champion. He also has been runner-up at the World, Grand Nationals, US Open and Grand America calling competitions. He is also no stranger to friction divisions, winning the 2008 World, 2008 Yellville National and 2007 US Open. He has won or placed in over 50 contests.

Chris Kirby is the president of Quaker Boy Game Calls. He has won or placed in over 75 turkey calling competitions, including winning the coveted World and Grand Nationals. He has recorded multiple grand slams hunting the wild turkey extensively all over the United States. He is, without a doubt, one of the foremost experts in hunting and calling these majestic birds.

Q. What do you do when a gobbler hangs up out of gun range? A. If he has answered my calling en route to where I am set up, and I am able to observe him where he is hung up, I will increase my calling intensity and frequency to provoke several gobbles. Then I will go completely silent for an undetermined amount of time. There is no set limit, just what feels right. Sometimes it will take two or three times to make him break and close the distance to those final crucial yards. If he won’t commit, let him drift off and try to relocate to a better set up. ~Sadler McGraw

Q. How often do you call when you have a gobbler answering you? A. I will bombard a turkey with excited calling from the tree all the way to the gun if he wants to hear it. But, most times I test the water to see how fired up he is. I let him dictate how much I call. You do not want to exhaust your repertoire at the start of your engagement. If this occurs, you won’t have anything left that he hasn’t heard in the first five minutes of the hunt. ~Sadler McGraw A. The gobbler dictates to me how much I call. I like to get the conversation in my favor. For example, I call, he answers, I call, he answers, I call . . . he doesn’t answer. Not a good situation, he could be coming, going or staying put. I prefer to reverse that and answer him. He gobbles, I call, he gobbles, I call, he gobbles, I wait . . . I put the onus of the search back in his court. Let him gobble two or three times and then answer. His desperation to breed will most likely bring him in. ~ Chris Kirby A. The minimum it takes to lure him into gun or bow range. I only increase my frequency of calling when he has stopped his forward progression. I hunt many of the same WMAs that you hunt, and I can speak for all of us when I say the more he gobbles, the more hunters he will attract. ~Scott Ellis

Q. How much should I call to a gobbler on the roost? A. When I set up on a roosted gobbler, I try to set up within 100 yards of his tree. As everything starts to wake up, I like to tree yelp until I receive a direct response from him. I will usually repeat this process a couple of times. If there are vocal hens roosted nearby, I do just a little more than what they are doing. Then you hope he flies down in your direction. ~Sadler McGraw A. I don’t like to “make” a turkey gobble a ton while he is still on the roost. All he is doing is calling in other hens. This happens naturally in the spring. You also run the risk of attracting other hunters. I will call enough so that he knows where I am, then wait until he gets his feet on the ground. That is when the game begins. ~ Chris Kirby

Q. What is the best shotgun and load for turkey hunting? A. The best shotgun is the one that you are most confident in. I have said before that the reason that I shoot a 3.5-inch is that there is not a 4-inch magnum in production yet. But, seriously, whatever gun, shell and choke combination you choose, make sure that you know the gun’s limitations. ~Sadler McGraw A. With today’s shotguns, shells and chokes, the turkey hunter is left with many options. Try as many loads and chokes with your gun as possible. Conduct a patterning session with your buddies with everyone bringing different loads. This will enable you to experiment without as much of a financial burden. Choose the combination that performs the best in your gun. ~Scott Ellis

Q. What are the main calls (turkey vocabulary) I should learn to spring turkey hunt? A. If I were told I could use only one sound while turkey hunting, it would be the plain hen yelp. That is the sound I hear most often from hens during the spring. It is a sound that gobblers respond to in almost every situation. It is easy to perform on any call, and with minimal practice you can gravitate from plain hen yelps into more aggressive calling if the hunt dictates. ~Sadler McGraw A. During the spring, there are three basic sounds you need to employ: yelping, cutting, clucks and purrs. Master these basic sounds and then add personality. Basic yelps are just that, add some speed and volume change and it will intensify the conversation. Mix in some excited yelps and cutting together to fire him up, and then finish him off with the relaxing yet intense cluck and purr. ~Chris Kirby

Q. What key factors should be taken into consideration when I am setting up on a gobbling turkey. A. Before I set up, I try to deduce what would be the gobbler’s path of least resistance en route to my position. I like to set up so that I can capitalize on natural and man-made terrain features such as creeks, bluffs, thickets, ditches and roads that will funnel the turkey to me. If needed, I will then decide where I will position my decoys. ~Sadler McGraw A. The set up can make or break any spring hunting scenario. It is probably the most important aspect of the hunt. Always be mindful of obstructions and barriers that could hinder a turkey’s progression to your location. If hens enter the equation, place yourself between the gobbler and his harem. If he has hens, you have little control of the situation. When attempting to locate a gobbler (if you’re running and gunning), identify a suitable set up before you make a sound. This is why it is best to first locate a gobbler with a non-turkey sound. This will give you time to search for the best available position to begin your conversation. Lastly, always consider visibility. It is futile to attempt a set up when you do not have the ability to spot the gobbler as he approaches. ~Scott Ellis

Q. What is the best tactic to employ on pressured turkeys? A. If I have a pressured turkey that I have not been able to do anything with in the morning, I will leave him alone in the morning and hunt him in the afternoon. Here in my home state of Alabama, we’re allowed to hunt in the afternoon, and it has allowed me to take a lot of long-spurred gobblers that wanted no part of me during the morning. I don’t change my tactics, except pursuing him in the afternoon. Remember, turkeys don’t get call shy, they get people shy. ~Sadler McGraw A. First and foremost, I will curtail any aggressive calling. Hunting public land my whole life, I’ve learned both hens and gobblers will become less vocal when pressured. I will imitate a lone hen in quest of company with soft three- to four-note yelps mixed with purring and clucking. I have also found that setting up and blind-calling in an area that you know holds turkeys is more productive than my favorite method of hunting – running and gunning. I will set up in areas that hens frequent regularly, whether it is due to a food source, water or roosting area. Remember, where there are hens, there are gobblers. ~Scott Ellis

Q. When a turkey gobbles but heads in the opposite direction, why is he doing this and what should I do? A. When you have a turkey that strikes out in the opposite direction, you have to make a decision: “Do I try to circle in front of him, or do I go find a gobbler that is more cooperative?” If he is the only gobbler that you have to hunt, by all means get in front of him and try to figure out where he wants to go. If you have other turkeys located, go after them and save this one for when he is ready. I always say a gobbler has five minutes every year when he will succumb to a call, you must decide if you are there for the right five minutes. ~Sadler McGraw A. More times than not, a turkey that answers but puts ground between himself and you is either following hens, call-shy or has a predetermined destination. Before he gets completely out of earshot, I elect to call with as much excitement and lust as humanly possible. Over the years this has sometimes yielded success. More times than not, he continues on his wayward track. If this fails, reposition on him. Make a generous loop around and in front of him. Ensure that you provide yourself with a generous buffer between you and him when making this move. Spooking him is a definite possibility. Set up and either make the decision to call or just perform an ambush. Sometimes turkey hunting doesn’t include pretty calling in a perfect situation. Remember, we’re not turkey-calling we’re turkey-hunting. ~Scott Ellis

Q. What should I do if I hear hens yelping and cutting in the distance? I will attempt to call any hens that are vocalizing during a spring gobbler hunt. Many times there is a gobbler either with them or in the vicinity. Sometimes you can call the whole flock to you with the gobbler in tow. Other times a gobbler may overhear all the sexy conversation and stop by to say hello. At worst, you get to learn from the master herself, the wild hen. ~Scott Ellis

Q. How long should I wait if I’m working a tom and he goes silent? A. The easy answer is 30 minutes longer than whatever you feel was a long enough wait. Patience probably harvests more turkeys than any other factor alone. Whether you’re set up blind calling or just waiting patiently on a stubborn longbeard to approach your calls, one key point to remember is how far he was away from you when he last gobbled and if he moving toward you or away from you. Common sense will tell you if he was traveling away from you and goes silent, it is time to change calling locations and attempt to relocate him. If he is advancing toward your position and then ceases gobbling, raise your level of awareness tenfold and do not move a muscle. Listen intently for soft foot steps, spitting and drumming. Search intently for that gorgeous red, white and blue neon bulb glowing in the spring woods. ~Scott Ellis

Pick up the March issue for the final five questions and answers.