In a world where a person can actually make a living psychoanalyzing other people’s pets, it should not come as a surprise that a hunter can improve his success by judging the emotional state of tom turkeys. It’s called “taking a bird’s temperature,” and it can go a long way toward helping you fill your tag. By paying close attention to the frequency and intensity of a tom’s gobbling, you can often determine how interested the bird is in investigating your calls, which can help you decide how to work him. Here are four common scenarios and how to deal with them:
1. You hear a distant gobble. The tom sounds off every half-minute on his own, as well as in response to croaking pheasants, lowing cows, and whistling trains.
Temperature: Hotter than a cayenne pepper. The tom’s unsolicited gobbles indicate he’s alone and looking for company.
Rx: Get on him quickly, before his incessant chatter attracts competition. Set up and call just loudly enough for the gobbler to hear you. If the bird shuts up after your first yelp, get your gun on your knee; he’s probably trotting to you.
**2. **A bird is gobbling steadily from his roost. You slip in to 150 yards, set up, and make soft tree yelps. The tom immediately shuts up.
Temperature: Very warm. More than likely, this is an old gobbler strutting patiently on his limb, waiting for a hen to appear before flying down. He’s hot but only announcing it visually.
Rx: Be patient. Don’t call until he flies down. Then beat a turkey wing (or hat) against your leg to tell him his “hen” is also out of her tree. Next, scratch the leaves and use soft clucks, purrs, yelps, and long silences to keep him curious. Expect him to come in silently.
3. A tom approaches, gobbling frequently, until he’s behind a small knoll 35 yards out. He walks away from you, still gobbling. Your yelps tempt him back, but he fades away again.
Temperature: Variable. This is a lonely, vulnerable turkey but likely a subdominant tom afraid of getting his feathers rearranged by a boss gobbler.
Rx: When you’re hunting with a partner, wait for the tom to move away from your position, then one of you drop back 60 yards and begin calling. If you’re alone, let the bird disappear before repositioning. Walk straight away from the bird, then loop to one side, set up a lone hen decoy, and try to coax him in again.
4. You spot a strutting tom in a brushy pasture. You sneak as close as you dare, yelp, and get no response. Calling more aggressively, you finally get a single gobble.
Temperature: Lukewarm. You may not see hens, but they’re there. Until he loses his company, this bird will be tough to call in.
Rx: Many hunters will simply look for another gobbler to hunt. But this one can be killed. Assuming you can see the bird, try to keep your eyes on him while using available cover and terrain to get closer. If you lose track of him, use a locator call to find him. It may take hours for this tom to lose his hens, or for you to slip so close that he can’t resist coming in for a peek. But if you succeed, you can consider yourself a pretty good turkey hunter.
It’s possible to put subtle action on any dry fly, but some patterns stand up to it better than others. The best are those that use buoyant materials and ride high in the water, such as an Irresistible tied with a clipped deer-hair body and a stiff collar hackle. Other good patterns include the Humpy, Elk Hair Caddis, Goddard Caddis, and Stimulator.