When there’s more gobbler season behind you than in front of you, and you haveyet to cut a feather, you have two choices: You can continue to hunt the waythat you have been since the opener and hope that the birds will somehowchange. Or, you can step up and make a change yourself by implementing a wholenew turkey hunting strategy. The three stories on the following pages detailthe aggressive tactics employed by three highly successful gobbler hunters. Soif you’re ready to get out of your rut, read them. Then grab an extra cup ofcoffee and get out there.
Take a Hike
WHEN TIME ISRUNNING OUT, MOVE IN BY DAVID DIBENEDETTO
[THE EXPERT: ANDYPRICE]
It was a typicallate-season turkey hunting quandary. Two hundred yards away a tom and a hen fedalong a field edge. Trying to call the tom in would have been difficult atbest, and sneaking up on it would have been impossible–or so I thought.
“Want to killthat bird?” asked my host, Andy Price. He didn’t wait for an answer.”Follow me. But I hope you don’t mind if we get a little wet.”
Price led me to acreek that snaked along the field edge. Twenty minutes later, we slipped out ofthe thigh-deep water and shimmied up the bank beneath a tree he had notedbefore our stalk. “When we raise up,” he whispered, “that birdshould be right in front of us.” He was right–the tom was 30 yards away.Price had a clear shot, and the bird dropped.
Price has gainedthe reputation of a late-season savant in his hometown of Abbeville, SouthCarolina. “My phone usually starts ringing during the last two weeks,”he says. “And it’s always a friend asking if I can help put him on a birdhe’s having trouble killing.”
To take birds withthe clock winding down, Price abandons typical tactics for a more aggressiveapproach. Here’s how to do it:
BE A FIELDGENERAL. No matter the weather, says Price, birds will come to fields at some point inthe day. Locate a few in your area and bounce from spot to spot. “I’ll huntif I know we’re going to have thunderstorms,” he says. “During the rainor just after, birds will be in fields preening.”
PATTERN BIRDS. Turkeys will enter or exit fields from the same points, often along powerlines, roads, or downed fencelines. Learn a bird’s pattern and you’ll knowwhere to intercept him.
CARRY FEWCALLS. At most, take a locator call and a mouth call, which is easy to carry andwaterproof. “I rarely use a call unless I need a tom to lift its headbefore I shoot,” says Price.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OFTERRAIN. When you’re sneaking up on birds, use knolls and ravines, follow creek beds,and keep to the shady side of fields. On private land, don’t be afraid to bellycrawl.
KNOW WHEN TOMOVE. Stalking birds is a game of guts, and you have to listen when your gut says go.Make sure the bird has its head down, and move in concert with rustling leaves.”Don’t get caught in a spot where you can’t slink back to cover,” saysPrice, “or that bird will bust you.”
GET PRONE. “More than likely, you won’t have your back against a tree when youshoot,” says Price. “Being able to make the shot while lying down isessential to tagging a late-season tom this way.”
LATE IN THESEASON, DON’T LET THE CONVERSATION LAG BY PHILIP BOURJAILY
[THE EXPERT: RAYEYE]
“Yelp threetimes and shut up” is a classic formula for killing a turkey, but it nolonger applies. Modern turkeys demand aggressive calling. Ask Ray Eye, who hasmade his name bucking conventional turkey hunting wisdom. Eye, 53, of Dittmer,Missouri, began hunting turkeys in the Ozarks at the age of 9 with his fatherand grandfather. Since then, Eye has traveled the country, hunting turkeys andtalking about it on radio and TV and to live audiences. Here’s what Eye had sayto FIELD & STREAM about aggressive calling.
F&S: How did you learn your aggressive calling technique?
EYE: One turkey season in the late 1960s, I came upon an article in an outdoormagazine in my grandparents’ outhouse that told me what I was doing wrong. Itsaid the only way to call in a gobbler was to yelp three times, wait 10 minutesby the watch, yelp three more times, then get your gun up and let him look foryou. The next morning I slipped up to a ridge where I knew a gobbler roosted.At daybreak the tom gobbled. I carefully made three soft yelps. The tom gobbledback. I sat and stared at my borrowed pocket watch. As the tom gobbled again, Iheard several yelps down the ridge.
After a long 10minutes passed, I yelped three more times. The bird gobbled harder, but theyelps and cutts of a real hen turkey were much closer now. The more that hencalled, the more the tom gobbled. The more the tom gobbled, the more excitedshe became. The tom flew from the roost and ran right to the hen. They met outin front of me just under the ridge, and that hen was still yelping as she ranaway with my gobbler.
You can guess howmuch I called the next morning. I carried that big gobbler down the mountainand learned a lesson.
F&S: How do you define aggressive calling, and why does it work?
EYE: Aggressive calling means putting excitement into your calls like real turkeysdo. With the success of the restoration programs, hunters have more real hensto compete with than ever. Three soft yelps rarely close the deal. From myexperience, the aggressive hen gets the gobbler.
F&S: So how do you go about it?
EYE: I use a fast cadence of yelps, mixed with cutting. You don’t have to calllouder. Just put enough excitement into the calls to keep the bird focused onyou. When a tom responds, I’ll answer right back with even more excitement–withfaster and higher-pitched cutting. My goal is to drive that gobbler into afrenzy. Once he answers me, I never give him a chance to change his mind. I’llcutt right up until I pull the trigger.
F&S: What kind of caller works the best for your style?
EYE: Box calls are great for aggressive cutting and yelping. I also like a”cutter” style diaphragm call that makes scratchy yelps.
F&S: Are there any situations where you call softly?
EYE: I can’t think of any. At the peak of breeding, when gobblers are with hens,calling hunters hear toms gobble going away from them. They’ll tell you thosebirds are call-shy and it’s time to tone it down. The opposite is true: What’sreally happening is that hens are leading toms away from the sound of anotherhen. Challenge them and they’ll come to you, bringing the gobbler along.
F&S: Why don’t more hunters call aggressively?
EYE: People think it makes turkeys call-shy. That’s ridiculous; turkeys communicateby making turkey noises. If they were afraid of turkey sounds, they would nevermate.
To hear arecording of Ray Eye calling aggressively during an actual turkey hunt, go tofieldandstream.com/rayeye_tape
CREATIVE TACTICSFOR STUBBORN BIRDS BY PHILIP BOURJAILY
[THE EXPERT: EDDIESALTER]
Eddie Salter ofEvergreen, Alabama, cuts a swath through the turkey woods. The prototypicalrun-and-gun hunter, Salter stays constantly on the move, looking for a bird hecan work.
The proliferationof turkeys and turkey hunters is the main reason behind Salter’s hurry-hurryapproach. “I want to call that turkey in before I lose him to a hen oranother hunter,” says Salter of his aggressive style. A two-time worldchampion and four-time Alabama state turkey calling champion, Salter reliesheavily on excited cutting to reel turkeys quickly into gun range.
When he does finda willing bird, Salter believes in getting as close as the terrain permits.”I always remember what Ben Rogers Lee–one of the granddaddies of modernturkey hunting–used to say in his seminars: Every step you take toward a turkeyis one step he doesn’t have to take to get to you.”
But even Salterencounters tough turkeys that don’t come running to the call. If he can’t leavethem for another bird, he gets creative. Here are three of Salter’s aggressivesolutions for problem turkeys:
CIRCLE AROUND. When a bird hangs up, gobbling excitedly but not coming into range, Salter saysit may be time for the end run. “If he’s answering your calls and cuttingthem off but not coming, maybe there’s a stream or a ditch he doesn’t want tocross. If you can’t call that bird to you in 20 or 30 minutes, circle behindhim.”
Make a loop aroundthe bird, keeping a prudent distance–200 yards or so–between you and theturkey. Use a crow call to make the bird gobble and to keep tabs on hislocation. Set up again, all the way behind the gobbler. “He’s alreadytraveled that route once and he’s comfortable going back that way,” saysSalter. “Most of the time, if you can get behind a bird, you can killhim.”
SCATTER AFLOCK. At some times during the season, a gobbler might spend the entire day withhens, often roosting with them in the evening. Some hunters spend morning aftermorning with those henned-up birds, patiently trying to pull them away fromtheir harems. Salter suggests taking the initiative. “Follow them to theroost at dusk, then charge in screaming and yelling to scatter the gobbler andhis hens out of the trees. The next morning, when he wakes up, he won’t havethose hens sitting right there with him.” Eager to find his hens, the toughturkey becomes very callable. “He’ll act like a completely differentbird,” says Salter. “Most of the time when you scatter them like thatyou can kill him 20 minutes into the hunt the next day.”
STAGE ACATFIGHT. When a gobbler won’t leave his harem, many hunters try picking a fight with theboss hen, hoping to bring her in with the gobbler in tow. Salter says twopeople can have even more success with a variation on that tactic. “Sitabout 25 yards apart, maybe with one hunter slightly ahead of the other, andcutt back and forth like two hens arguing,” he says. One hunter calls, thesecond interrupts, mimicking the first hunter’s call. Keep the argument goinguntil the hens arrive, leading the tom into gun range.
TAKE A HIKE Andy Price brings the gun to the game
KEEP TALKING Why Ray Eye never shuts up
PLAY GAMES How Eddie Salter tags turkeys by walking in circles
DON’T STALK THE GOBBLE
No matter how badly you want a bird, be ultracarefulwhen stalking. Never stalk the sound of a gobble–only go after gobblers you cansee. When you first spot turkeys, watch them for a while. “Birds that arejittery or acting strange are probably being pursued by a nearby hunter,”says Price. “And if you hear a lot of turkey talk this time of year, it’sprobably man-made.”
The best-case scenario is having exclusive huntingpermission on private land. And of course, be sure that stalking is legal inyour state.