By Steve Sorensen
Are the how-to lessons you read in magazines often hard to apply in your neck of the woods? Do embattled gobblers in your area behave like they’ve had the survival training and experience of an Army Ranger fresh from Fallujah? I hear complaints like that from hunters who are after pressured gobblers, so I asked a few good turkey hunters how they got to the point where they can reliably fill their tags. Their answers should be helpful as you hit the woods.
Jason Morrison: Taxidermist Jason Morrison owns Buckhaven Wildlife Art in Sugar Grove, PA, and he loves turkey hunting. I asked him what advice he’d give a new hunter, or any hunter who is going through a dry spell. He replied instantly with one word. “Patience. Without patience you will call in lots of turkeys that you never realize you’ve called in, but you won’t see them because you’ll be gone. I’ve killed several turkeys after I woke up from a nap, and there’s an important lesson in that. More than a few times I’ve shot gobblers 2 hours after making my last call.”
Jason continued, “Pressured turkeys are often slow to come in, or they come in silently. I believe as many as 50% of the turkeys will come in without gobbling because their lives are constantly threatened. Maybe they’ve been beat up by a boss gobbler, spooked by a bobcat, or hassled by a hunter. They figure out quickly when hunters are after them.”
Morrison is right. Hunters need to realize that turkeys are so overloaded with angst that they couldn’t be cured of their neuroses even on Sigmund Freud’s couch. That anxiety is why they hang up rather than come running in. I once called in a gobbler that hung up at 70 yards. That’s where he froze like a statue and clammed up for almost an hour. He never moved a wattle. If I hadn’t been able to see him, I would have thought he was long gone. I seasoned him with patience, and he was delicious!
I’ll add one tip to Morrison’s advice. When you finally do need to leave a calling position after not hearing the gobbler in a long while, offer a sharp cluck or two and wait another 10 minutes. You’ll be saying, “I’m right here. Where are you?” That might be enough to close the deal.
Dr. Paul Bialas: I don’t suppose doctors ordinarily appreciate it when you take extra time to talk turkey in the exam room, but I asked avid turkey hunter and Warren, PA physician Dr. Paul Bialas what he’d suggest to a hunter who has limited time to hunt. Almost jokingly, Dr. Bialas said, “I’d recommend working hard at getting access to good property where other hunters don’t have permission and where you can get in and out fast.”
Most of us have limited time, so that’s not a joke. It’s common sense advice for any hunter. And I have to admit—common sense is what I lacked many years ago. I hunted too many places just because they were convenient, and many other hunters went there for the same reason. Lack of access to good hunting land puts you at a big disadvantage. Whether you hunt on private property, state game lands, or national forest, don’t wait until the week before the season to explore new places.
Finding new places to hunt is a big part of pre-season scouting. Scouting will save time and usually reduce frustration during the season.
Tim Smith: The owner of Smith’s Custom Guns in Warren ought to know a thing or two about shooting turkeys—one of his specialties is building turkey guns. I pointed to Tim’s big rack of turkey beards and spurs and asked, “What should a hunter do to make sure his shotgun can produce a collection like that?”
He said, “Every turkey gun should not only be patterned, but the center of the pattern should be at the point of aim. Take your choke into consideration. Today’s chokes give very reliable results. Choose a choke between .660 and .680—the tighter ones work best with smaller shot such as No. 6, the larger ones with No. 4 or 5.” Smith also suggests testing some of the great new turkey loads on the market. “You’re looking for a tight pattern that leaves no gaps in a 30-inch circle at 40 yards. Hevi-Shot, a high density alloy of tungsten, nickel and iron, produces some of the best patterns and it retains energy for deep penetration. If recoil is a problem, I can do some things to reduce it.”
Bear in mind one caution to Tim’s point. You can lose more turkeys with a 60-yard shotgun than with a 40-yard shotgun—IF it encourages risky shots at marginal distances. The last thing you want to do is hit a turkey and let him get away. When hunters misjudge distances, or shoot at marginal ranges, they often can’t be sure whether they have missed or wounded the gobbler.
Dick Zimmerman: An article on turkey hunting wouldn’t be complete without some comments on calling, so I invited Dick Zimmerman of Russell, PA to share some calling advice. Dick has hunted several states, and killed a gobbler in every Pennsylvania spring season since 1971—except for 2009 when his string was broken.
Zimmerman doesn’t profess to be an expert caller, so instead of making perfect sounds he tries to relax when calling. “Lots of people call too much, or call too loudly. A hunter should relax, and let the gobbler come. If the hunter is anxious, his calling can reflect that anxiety and increase the anxiety the turkey already has. If the gobbler is close, a loud call will sound unnatural. A soft call will encourage him. If he’s gobbling and coming closer, don’t answer every time he gobbles. Talk back only every third or fourth gobble. Resist the urge to call, call, call.”
Dick’s advice is right on target. If you listen to real hens, they usually don’t call loudly. And calling too often will make the gobbler think the hen wants to come to him. The gobbler’s instinct says that’s what should happen, but the hunter hopes to reverse that and make the gobbler come to the call.
I know way more exceptional turkey hunters than I can name, and whose advice would cover everything from calling to woodsmanship. Turkey hunters can talk almost endlessly about virtually anything remotely related to turkey hunting: guns, loads, camouflage, setting up, decoys, scouting, blinds, calls, and more. No doubt you know some good turkey hunters where you live, but every turkey hunter should tell you to make safety your first aim—it’s infinitely more important than getting a gobbler. And remember, be considerate to your fellow hunters—courtesy goes a long way toward insuring safety in the turkey woods.
Reprinted with permission of the author.
Steve Sorensen is known as “The Everyday Hunter.” When he isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. You can contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top hunting magazines, and won the 2015 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.