A few tips for getting your gobbler
by Toby Benoit
Every year when spring rolls around, turkey hunters return to their favorite turkey fields and forests, dressed head-to-toe in their favorite camo. We can’t help but grow as excited as children on Christmas Eve as turkey hunting is just plain addicting, and it’s time to get our fix. But what makes it so addicting?
Turkey hunting is so darned unpredictable. There are times that it seems easy, calling in those hard-gobbling two-year-old toms, and you’ll begin to believe that as a turkey hunter, you can do no wrong. But, that only lasts until you run into a wise old gobbler who’s seen a thing or two, and he forces you to pull out all the stops to put him in your vest. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but every time, I’m betting that you’ll enjoy the challenge!
But no matter how smart those old toms may get, your success in the spring is still largely dependent upon your own preparedness. Communicating with and luring an old he-devil of a gobbler to the gun is extremely satisfying and will put your skills to the test, both as a turkey hunter and an all-around outdoorsman. Do you have what it takes to kill an ornery old long beard this turkey season? Here are a few tips for turkey hunting I don’t mind sharing with you.
February, for most of us, is when that turkey hunting itch really begins. And the best way to scratch that itch is with pre-season scouting. Now, by the time you read this, you should have been long ago in the woods looking for the flock. Scout food sources such as mast bearing hardwood flats, cut grain fields, and pastures for tracks, droppings, and scratching. Locating the flock with this tactic gives you the general area, but later in the month, you will focus more on locating gobblers to hunt.
Any time that you can get free, make your way out to the woods. The more you learn about the flock’s movements, the better off you’ll be. And get out to scout, especially if it’s raining. When you’re hunting Osceola turkeys, rainy days means they like to come out to open areas like power lines, clear cuts and fields. That’s a good time to take a cruise around if you’ve got some open fields and put your binoculars to work checking out the gobblers. Osceola experts like Scott Ellis, Chuck Echinique and Jimmy Jones don’t just wait until opening day and just wing it in the woods. You can bet that a majority of their success, and mine too, comes from all the work that’s done ahead of the season.
And if you really want a dress rehearsal for the big show, take a kid hunting! Florida’s Youth Season, dependent upon which zone you’re located in, allows the kids to take to the woods with a licensed adult to try and bag themselves a bird. That is the perfect time to be in the woods wiping the dust off of your calling skills and letting those youngsters bag a bird and a whole lot of great memories. It’ll give you a real idea of what to expect the following weekend when it’s time to invite your own turkey for a ride in the back of your vest.
Arguably, the preferred time to hunt a turkey is right off of the roost. And the easiest way to hunt a gobbler in the spring is finding his roost the night before. Now, turkeys won’t use the same tree night after night, so go to the roost area well before dark and without spooking the birds, get within earshot, and listen for wings flapping and light calling as the turkeys fly up on their roosts for the night. You might even employ a locator call, like an owl or crow call to get a tom to gobble on the roost as its just turning dark. By getting in close and listening to a tom on the roost, you will know exactly where to be for the next morning’s hunt.
Wake up early and walk in under the cover of darkness, preferably without using a light, and set up close to the tree. Call to the tom lightly after he begins to talk on the roost. If you let him know there is a hen below in your direction he may come and investigate.
Just know that if he doesn’t fly down to join your decoys for breakfast, the hunt is far from over. Many times when I’ve hunted the roost trees, I’ve had a big gobbler overlook my calling and head off to join his flock of hens. However, very often later in the morning, Mister Tom, having bred any hen that would stand for him, will leave the flock and double back, looking for one last piece of tail-feather from the sultry hen he’d heard that morning. That hen being your calling, of course. Many seasons I’ve taken my birds by staying in that roosting area and catching my gobbler late in the morning as he doubled back, so it really pays to stay put.
This is one tip I can’t possibly place enough stress upon. Just because a turkey doesn’t charge in chasing after your decoys, doesn’t mean he’s not going to saunter in and try to give one a smooch. Old gobblers, like us old men, tend to take our time about such things.
Last year I guided three hunters from Kansas. Each of these three gents had years of turkey hunting experience behind them, but none of them had ever hunted an Osceola. They started out calling to roosted birds and before that tom even had time to leave his limb, they were up running and gunning, chasing gobbles all over the place trying to get in close to a hard-gobbling tom. But they would stay put only a half an hour to 45 minutes before giving up on that bird and hoofing it out in search of another. I could only shake my head. They went home empty-handed…
Sometimes, you have to just sit tight. Assume that gobbler is minutes away at any given time, and when you’ve sat as long as you think you can and that the turkey has left the area, wait another 10 minutes!
Often the bird hasn’t lost interest. He’s actually just working his way in, but only taking his time about it. Can’t tell you the number of times back in the early 80s, when I would get up and head on back to the truck only to hear a frustrated gobbler sounding off from the spot I’d just left.
And this, while not entirely a tip, is just sound advice, “Don’t give up!” As the old saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.” The more you hunt them, the more they’ll teach you. And there is no better teacher for turkey hunters than the turkeys themselves!
If you have any questions or other input, feel free to contact me at RebelYellOutdoors@gmail.com