by Steve Sorensen
When the spring gobbler season is racing down the home stretch, and you have an unfilled tag, you’re desperate. You’re seeing a few hens taking a break from sitting on their nests, but they’re not attracting gobblers. The silence is deafening. Any gobble you hear seems random and sounds far, far away. But hope is not gone. In fact, some things are on your side. You can still fill that tag if you figure out what those things are and take advantage of them.
1. Gobblers are closer than you think.
If you hear a gobbler that sounds like he’s in another zip code, you’re in luck. Be thankful you heard one, and seize the advantage. The advantage is that trees are leafed out.
In the early season bare trees let the gobbles rattle through the hardwoods to your acutely tuned ears. But after green-up those sounds are muffled by leaves, which act as millions of tiny baffles soaking up the sound. Those leaves give you several benefits. They block the gobbler’s visibility, giving you a better opportunity to get close. They also help deaden any in advertent sounds you might make. The foliage doesn’t allow him to think he should see that hen from 100 yards away—so he comes looking for you. Be ready.
2. Make your first calls as soft as possible.
Soft calling is always a good way to start. It makes any turkey within earshot think you’re a contented hen. Don’t allow leafed-out trees to make you think you have to blast your calls across the landscape in order to be heard. If the gobbler is closer than you think, you’ll unknowingly shoo him off in another direction and you’ll never know he’s there.
Soft calling tells the gobbler there’s no danger. Think about it—if you wake up in the morning and start talking loudly, everyone else in the house will think something is wrong. Quiet is always my first rule of turkey calling. Soft calling also gives the impression that you’re a hen just minding her own business. That can be deadly on late season gobblers.
If a nearby gobbler has been rejected by hens more interested in nurturing poults than canoodling, you want him to think “I might have a chance with her!” The phrase “Birds of a feather flock together” mean it’s the business of turkeys to hang around each other. That’s a good reason to sound like a contented hen going about her business in safety, and nearby turkeys might be interested in your fakery.
3. Call with personality.
Many hunters’ calling is just plain boring. In the 1986 movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” there’s a scene that perfectly illustrates this. The economics teacher (Ben Stein) is the classic bore. (Watch it on YouTube.) The evidence is in the kids’ faces. If your calling is like that, gobblers won’t show any more interest than Bueller’s classmates.
Lots of experts will tell you to call with aggression, or passion, but we often don’t accurately gauge those emotions in people, so I doubt we can tell the difference in turkeys. The point is that you shouldn’t be boring. Make a few rapid yelps, and a couple of slow ones. End a series on an up-note, as though you’re asking a question. Alter the tone to make it sound like a second turkey is there. Change the pace by interjecting some clucks and cutts—short, rapid, attention-getting vocalizations that sound interesting. When you’re trying to raise a gobble from a bird that has shut down, give yourself a fighting chance by calling with energy. Throw some personality at that late season gobbler and feed him a line he will fall for.
4. Gobblers might be silent, but they’re not invisible.
The gobblers I’ve called in that were silent make me wonder how many more silent birds I’ve called in that just didn’t show up before I decided to leave. That probably happens more in the late season after green-up occurs than in the early season when the woods are bare, but I’ve had it happen even on opening day. So stay put. Turn your head it at a snail’s pace. Examine anything that looks even a little like a gobbler.
By the late season he’s not as anxious for intimacy as you are anxious to kill him. He might gobble only once or twice, or not at all, but he’s still playing. And since you can’t see far he might be close. In more than one of these cases, I’ve learned that the hard way and flushed a gobbler when I stood up to leave.
5. Gobblers can be patient, too.
We talk a lot about hunters having patience, but gobblers are patient, too. They have more time than you do. You need to be somewhere when you finish hunting. They don’t. I learned this by calling to a gobbler that was coming in very slowly, and I had to leave while he was still active. My schedule was irrelevant to him, and he came in after I left. The next morning I flushed him from the tree I had been calling from.
My mistake? I didn’t expect him to be there, but he apparently decided to wait around until that “hen” came back. If you must leave a gobbler, get to that same spot the next morning before daylight. He might be patient enough to hang around and wait for you to get back. That happens in the late season more than any other time because gobblers know hens are getting scarce.
6. Try something new.
Practice making new sounds—sounds that aren’t the standard three yelps and a cluck. By the last week gobblers have heard it all. On one hunt I was at a loss about how to move two strutters toward me. They would answer my calls, but wouldn’t budge. Finally I began a series of hard cutts and raspy cackles—fighting purrs that sounded like a couple of turkeys in a boxing match with a cheering crowd.
Who wants to miss a fight? Not those gobblers. They came running like they were late for an appointment. One of them kept an appointment with a load of number five shot. If I hadn’t tried something new, nothing would have happened. They probably thought a couple of gobblers were fighting over a willing hen, and they’d sneak in and steal her away.
7. Play like you have nothing to lose.
The last week of the season think of yourself as a basketball player working to get to that spot on the floor where you can shoot your buzzer-beater. The late season is the time to go for broke. Your task might be to find a place where turkeys routinely cross. It might be to sneak into a roosting area in early evening. Or maybe it’s time to visit a place you scouted but haven’t hunted all season.
But don’t fool yourself into thinking you need to turn a gobbler on that has been turned off for a week or more. Even though gobblers aren’t getting easy lovin’ like they did a few weeks earlier, they still notice what other turkeys are saying. If quiet, contented calling doesn’t work, excited calling might shock one into gobbling and give you the chance to work him. Even if he doesn’t expect romance, he doesn’t have anywhere to go so he might come to check you out.
Turkeys can be unpredictable, but they’re not geniuses. They’re still turkeys. We hunt them in the spring, but other predators hunt them, and kill them, every day of the year. You can certainly take one any day of the season.
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.