Get those call-shy gobblers to come into shotgun range with these five can’t-miss turkey tactics.
Most turkey hunters will openly admit that every male turkey they encounter in spring is different. Just as no two hunts are the same, no two gobblers react the same way. Some like to gobble; some never gobble, but in certain situations, using the right tactic can help bring those call-shy gobblers into range.
The following are five of my favorite tactics to use on those tough-to-coax longbeards that seem to hang up just out of range. They can be applied to both public-land and private-land hunting, though I strongly advise using caution when hunting public lands and mimicking turkeys.
As a common courtesy, if another hunter gets to a spot before you, move on and find a new area. This will give you more space and hopefully reduce the danger of other hunters accidently coming to your calls or rustling sounds in the leaves. And always follow the 10 rules of safe gun handling.
Public-land turkeys are often highly pressured and educated, making them some of the most difficult to harvest. Sometimes it takes little things and quick decisions to make your hunt successful in coaxing an educated bird those last few steps. These five tips, when used in the proper situation, can be extremely effective.
For most hen turkeys, the majority of any given spring day is devoted to finding food and eating on the move. When turkeys are feeding through wooded areas they often make quite a bit of noise by scratching in the leaves and other debris on the forest floor.
A hen turkey scratching through the leaves when feeding does so in a distinct cadence. Imitating that scratching cadence can often be just enough to get a gobbler to commit and come in.
When setting up on a workable bird I often grab a good-sized stick that I will then place on the ground on my dominant side. Having this stick close by allows me to make this feeding cadence by scratching and rustling in the leaves with minimal movement and it produces a more natural sound.
Quick tip: Scratching in the leaves in a 3-scratch cadence along with some soft clucks can be a great tool for coaxing a wary tom those last few yards into range. Mouth calls and friction calls that require limited movement are best suited to these close-quarter situations.
Soft clucks and purrs while making this feeding noise are the sounds of a happy hen turkey. This technique can be used as a hunter is walking through the turkey woods calling periodically or when you’re trying to make a play on a gobbler or strike up a conversation with one.
In areas with vast tracts of timber this can be an extremely effective way of bringing home a turkey. Sometimes gobblers become call shy due to hunting pressure and no calling is needed at all. Scratching in the leaves is often enough to convince a wary gobbler there is a hen over in your direction. This trick also works great in situations where you can get in really close to a known roost location and visually see the bird fly off the limb.
In states where it’s legal to hunt turkeys in the afternoon, this can be a very productive time to harvest a bird. Many times, turkeys will roost in the same general area and, in some cases, the same tree, year after year. Sometimes a turkey will roost in the same tree each night! Find that roosting tree and you’ll be in business.
If the morning hunt proves to be unsuccessful, but the longbeards' morning shouts gave away his location, try sneaking back into his bedroom in the middle of the afternoon. Setting up and lightly calling every 15 to 20 minutes can be an excellent tactic.
Using decoys in this type of setup is also a good idea depending on the openness of the terrain. Most turkey hunters are frustrated and out of the woods by mid-morning. Going back out in the afternoon, when you may have more of the woods to yourself, can be a great tactic for hunting highly-pressured toms.
A big part of hunting is the comradery shared by hunting partners. Experiencing the ups and downs of turkey hunting provides great memories for hunting buddies, but hunting with a partner can also be used as a tactic for tricking even the smartest tom.
Having the ability to send a hunting partner behind the shooter to mimic the sounds (yelps, clucks, purrs, and scratching in the leaves) of a retreating hen can be deadly. Just be careful on public land where other hunters may be attracted to your partner’s calls by mistake.
This “drop-back” calling strategy works very well in hunting scenarios where a tom can see a long distance such as in open hardwood bottoms or early in the season before plant life greens up. The caller can use terrain features and foliage to stay out of the view of an approaching gobbler while creating the sounds of a foraging hen in an attempt to coax the incoming bird past the shooter in front of them at a killable distance.
Patience is probably the biggest tool a turkey hunter can have in their bag of tricks. Countless times I’ve worked a bird for a long period of time and made him stop gobbling, only to stand up and spook him. Each turkey is different, but oftentimes tough, pressured turkeys require a lot less calling.
Once the turkey knows your location and responds to the call, I sometimes stop calling altogether in hopes of making him come look for me. Having patience and fighting the urge to call is extremely difficult (everyone likes to hear incoming birds gobble), but sometimes not calling at all can be far more effective.
Turkeys that like to frequent large fields or always seem to have a large flock of hens with them are usually hard birds to kill. They have everything they want right in front of them and they feel safe, so why should they leave to come investigate your calling? There are two tactics I go to when dealing with a bird of this nature and both involve picking a fight.
In the first scenario, if a known tom frequents a large field and roosts nearby I tend to get in as close as possible under the cover of darkness and place a feeding hen decoy and either a full-strut tom decoy or a subdominant jake decoy in the field. Some gobblers hate to see another male turkey moving into their home turf and will leave their flock of hens to pick a fight with your decoy. Always use extreme caution when using these realistic decoys on public land to avoid another hunter mistaking your decoys for a real turkey and firing at them.
If the first tactic doesn’t work, I’ll sometimes go after the dominant hen. Early in the season longbeards tend to stick close to their hens and can be very hard to call away from the flock unless there is a mouthy boss hen in the group. If I’m calling to a group of turkeys and a hen is loudly responding, I’ll try and pick a fight with that boss hen.
As long as she is responding, I’ll continue to call with loud yelps and “kee kee” calls. (The National Wild Turkey Foundation website is a good source for hearing many of the common turkey calls.) The hen will either get irritated and head in the opposite direction or come to investigate. If they become interested, a lot of times the gobbler will follow right behind as the hen comes to check things out.
Pressured turkeys are no doubt extremely tough to hunt and coax into range, but the feeling of success when you bag one is second to none. Be safe and get out there to experience the fun.
John David Santi was born and raised on the outskirts of Memphis, TN where he chased everything with fins, feathers, and fur throughout the tri- state (AR, TN, MS) area. Later, he chose to further his education at the University of Mississippi. John David is co-owner of Team Renegade Outdoors, LLC, a digital marketing and outdoor production company. He is also an avid freelance writer and photographer. Follow John David’s adventures on Instagram and at Team Renegade Outdoors.