TOP 10 Tom Tactics
Spring Turkey hunting is one of my pastimes in Iowa. Cabin fever has set in and I finally get to go back to my “happy place,” the woods! Spring turkeys will really test your tools and skillset. It is one of God’s best chess games and will push your outdoor skills to the limit. I have been fooled by more gobblers than I care to remember and they all taught me something to add to my toolbox of tricks.
I can say that hunting turkeys has taught me patience and perseverance above all. I also know that no two turkeys act exactly the same and there are definitely tactics that can be repeated which will increase your odds of harvesting this elusive bird. Here are some of the tips that I have jotted down in my hunting journal over the years. I hope at least one of these tactics will be something you can use on your next spring hunt.
- Put the birds to bed. This one tip has helped me be in the right position, or at least close to it more often than not. I glass the area and wait for the last 30 minutes of light to hear the birds hit the trees. I look for large gnarly oak trees with nice parallel limbs to house them comfortably for the night. Here are some more things to keep in mind:
- Locate the easiest way into the hunting area, since it will be pitch dark when you approach. Just like setting deeks for waterfowl, everything looks different in the dark.
- Know exactly which tree you want to be leaning against and set up under. This keeps the second-guessing to a minimum in the dark and will keep you from disturbing the area in the morning.
- Know which way the bird will fly down. This takes patterning the birds and for you to start learning what conditions lead them to exit the roost in different directions. If they fly down different from your setup be prepared to execute plan B.
- Know which way the bird won’t likely go because of terrain or obstructions. GPS has been a huge help for this. Be careful not to let the roosted gobbler see your flashlight beam or the light on your electronics.
- Early bird gets the worm. I always set my alarm 30 minutes earlier than my calculated time to get to the roost tree. Usually my alarm goes off around 4:00 am during turkey season. I have an hour drive so this puts me in the field around 5 am. I like to set up in my position at least 30 minutes before the first call of the hens or first gobble. It gives the woods some time to settle down after I walk into the roosting area. It also gives you time to go to plan B if something goes wrong prior to your setup. Be careful as you get close to the roost not to spook them. Also if using location calls never use a coyote call to get a gobble when you are close to the roost. This can cause the turkeys to become nervous and bust off the roost. I find an owl call works the best. I keep the locater calls to a minimum if I have accomplished the first step and put them to bed.
- Carry more calls than you need. It is good to have several diaphragms, slates, and box calls. Sometimes the birds will especially like one call over another, for no apparent reason. Your goal is to mimic the female call that they like best. The worst feeling in the world is not being able to seduce the tom into action. Your goal is to sound like the hen they can’t resist. Don’t be afraid to take a gobble call either.
- Locator calls such as coyote howler and owl hoot don’t have to sound perfect to get a response. I remember sitting in the woods before a thunderstorm and the toms would gobble at the thunder. Remember, you are looking for a shocking response, so sometimes the worst shrieking noise you can make will be the best for getting a gobbler to answer.
- In the morning or afternoon, when the birds are already on the ground, it’s good to “spot and stalk” for birds by walking ridges and doing some light calling. When you do hear a gobble, move as close to his position as you can without being detected. Once in close, say within 100 yards, set up and try to call again. Once you sit be ready to shoot! I have missed toms by calling first and having them sprinting to call and me not having my gun up and ready. The minute they see the motion of you getting the gun up they will be out of shooting range. This works better than calling from the original position. Now if you are moving towards his direction and he gobbles loudly and in your direction, immediately get set up and ready for action. The toms are elusive and seem to get within range in seconds.
- Play hard to get! Make the gobbler want YOU and to come to you. If you get a bird gobbling, sometimes the most deadly tactic is to just shut up. I usually let them gobble twice before I call again. I want them so worked up that they shut off defense mechanisms. Usually they will come quickly if you use this tactic. You may risk a bird walking off because you shut up, but if they are even halfway interested they will be headed your way. This is where patience comes in to play. You have to fight the urge to respond to his every gobble. Use the gobble to gauge his distance and see how fast he is closing ground.
- If you don’t bag one immediately off the roost, be patient. Many toms are shot around noon, especially later in the season as they get used to pressure in the morning after roost. They may wait a while to get active after flying down and will become more active when most hunters have left the woods.
- In the evenings, be in the roost area and be patient. I like to get into the same areas I put them to bed. I sit and call about every fifteen minutes. The last 30 minutes before fly-up is prime. Let’s say it is 30 minutes before fly-up and you make a series of yelps and a gobbler answers off in the distance. I might hit him right back with a series of excited cuts and then just shut up. Most of the time he will come to inspect. If they come in but stay out of range, just sit still and watch them fly up into their roost trees. Then you can attack in the morning. Don’t get impatient and think you have to get them to commit that day. You have learned a lot about their behavior and apply that knowledge to the next day’s hunt. Again… PATIENCE. One thing to keep in mind while hunting turkeys is that they typically like to roost on a ridgeline or contour break. The birds like to walk uphill from their roost tree and then coast horizontally into the branch. This helps them conserve energy. If you sit quietly many times you can hear the thrashing of tree branches as they ascend into the roost tree. At this point just scope for silhouettes.
- Focus on the cadence of your call. I remember sitting in the woods and hearing all the different tones and pitches of the hens in the area. One thing that didn’t change much was the cadence in which they called. As I practiced this the gobblers became more consistently responsive to my calling. Once I mastered the cadence I change up my calls tones and pitches to find out what hen sounds best to a particular bird.
- Position decoys for success. Position your turkey decoys at a 45-degree angle from the hunter on the opposite side of where you think the gobbler will come in. Decoys have been a huge asset when used correctly. On the flip side, they have hurt me if they are positioned without consideration of where I wanted the birds to end up. When the tom sees the decoys that will be his main focus. If you have a jake and hen in your spread that seems to raise their attention the most for me. The toms don’t like when the jakes attempt to mate in their territory. An example of the correct way to set them up would be as follows: If the gobbler answers your calls to your left, it would be best to set the decoys out to your right 45 degrees and about 25 yards out. In this case the bird will come to your call, but when he gets close he will see the decoys and walk right by you. Remember to remain silent and very still when the gobbler gets close. You don’t want the decoys right in front of you because they will be looking for the hen they heard. If there is any movement they will quickly be out of shooting range.
I hope these tips lead you to success. Enjoy your hunting journey and remember it is just that… a journey. Take in the experience and continue to learn. That is what makes hunting so great!