Turkey Take Down

If your usual setups, calls, and places leave you birdless, it's time to get aggressive. What do you have to lose, except the numbness in your backside? PLUS: exclusive audio tips from Ray Eye

Field & Stream Online Editors

When there's more gobbler season behind you than in front of you, and you have yet to cut a feather, you have two choices: You can continue to hunt the way that you have been since the opener and hope that the birds will somehow change. Or, you can step up and make a change yourself by implementing a whole new turkey hunting strategy.

The three stories on the following pages detail the aggressive tactics employed by three highly successful gobbler hunters. So if you're ready to get out of your rut, read them. Then grab an extra cup of coffee and get out there.

Exclusive Online Content Listen to Ray Eye demonstrate how to call aggresively

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[NEXT "Take A Hike: When time is running out, move in"]

Take A Hike When time is running out, move in.
The Expert: Andy Price

It was a typical late-season turkey hunting quandary. Two hundred yards away a tom and a hen fed along a field edge. Trying to call the tom in would have been difficult at best, and sneaking up on it would have been impossible-or so I thought.

"Want to kill that 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 a creek that snaked along the field edge. Twenty minutes later, we slipped out of the thigh-deep water and shimmied up the bank beneath a tree he had noted before our stalk. "When we raise up," he whispered, "that bird should 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 gained the reputation of a late-season savant in his hometown of Abbeville, South Carolina. "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 bird he's having trouble killing."

To take birds with the clock winding down, Price abandons typical tactics for a more aggressive approach. Here's how to do it:

Be a field general. No matter the weather, says Price, birds will come to fields at some point in the day. Locate a few in your area and bounce from spot to spot. "I'll hunt if I know we're going to have thunderstorms," he says. "During the rain or just after, birds will be in fields preening."

Pattern birds. Turkeys will enter or exit fields from the same points, often along power lines, roads, or downed fencelines. Learn a bird's pattern and you'll know where to intercept him.

Carry few calls. At most, take a locator call and a mouth call, which is easy to carry and waterproof. "I rarely use a call unless I need a tom to lift its head before I shoot," says Price.

Take advantage of terrain. 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 belly crawl.

Know when to move. alking 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," says Price, "or that bird will bust you."

Get prone. "More than likely, you won't have your back against a tree when you shoot," says Price. "Being able to make the shot while lying down is essential to tagging a late-season tom this way." [NEXT "Keep Talking: Late in the season, don't let the conversation lag"]

Keep Talking Late in the season, don't let the conversation lag
The Expert: Ray Eye

"Yelp three times and shut up" is a classic formula for killing a turkey, but it no longer applies. Modern turkeys demand aggressive calling.

Ask Ray Eye, who has made 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 father and grandfather. Since then, Eye has traveled the country, hunting turkeys and talking about it on radio and TV and to live audiences. Here's what Eye had to say to 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 outdoor magazine in my grandparents' outhouse that told me what I was doing wrong. It said the only way to call in a gobbler was to yelp three times, wait 10 minutes by the watch, yelp three more times, then get your gun up and let him look for you. 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 gobbled back. I sat and stared at my borrowed pocket watch. As the tom gobbled again, I heard several yelps down the ridge.

After a long 10 minutes passed, I yelped three more times. The bird gobbled harder, but the yelps and cutts of a real hen turkey were much closer now. The more that hen called, the more the tom gobbled. The more the tom gobbled, the more excited she became. The tom flew from the roost and ran right to the hen. They met out in front of me just under the ridge, and that hen was still yelping as she ran away with my gobbler.

You can guess how much I called the next morning. I carried that big gobbler down the mountain and 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 turkeys do. With the success of the restoration programs, hunters have more real hens to compete with than ever. Three soft yelps rarely close the deal. From my experience, 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 call louder. Just put enough excitement into the calls to keep the bird focused on you. When a tom responds, I'll answer right back with even more excitement-with faster and higher-pitched cutting. My goal is to drive that gobbler into a frenzy. Once he answers me, I never give him a chance to change his mind. I'll cutt 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 those birds are call-shy and it's time to tone it down. The opposite is true: What's really happening is that hens are leading toms away from the sound of another hen. 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 communicate by making turkey noises. If they were afraid of turkey sounds, they would never mate. [NEXT "Play Games: Creative tactics for stubborn birds"]

Play Games Creative tactics for stubborn birds
Expert: Eddie Salter

Eddie Salter of Evergreen, Alabama, cuts a swath through the turkey woods. The prototypical run-and-gun hunter, Salter stays constantly on the move, looking for a bird he can work.

The proliferation of turkeys and turkey hunters is the main reason behind Salter's hurry-hurry approach. "I want to call that turkey in before I lose him to a hen or another hunter," says Salter of his aggressive style. A two-time world champion and four-time Alabama state turkey calling champion, Salter relies heavily on excited cutting to reel turkeys quickly into gun range.

When he does find a willing bird, Salter believes in getting as close as the terrain permits. "I always remember what Ben Rogers Lee--one of the granddaddies of modern turkey hunting--used to say in his seminars: Every step you take toward a turkey is one step he doesn't have to take to get to you."

But even Salter encounters tough turkeys that don't come running to the call. If he can't leave them for another bird, he gets creative. Here are three of Salter's aggressive solutions for problem turkeys:

Circle around. When a bird hangs up, gobbling excitedly but not coming into range, Salter says it may be time for the end run. "If he's answering your calls and cutting them off but not coming, maybe there's a stream or a ditch he doesn't want to cross. If you can't call that bird to you in 20 or 30 minutes, circle behind him."

Make a loop around the bird, keeping a prudent distance--200 yards or so--between you and the turkey. Use a crow call to make the bird gobble and to keep tabs on his location. Set up again, all the way behind the gobbler. "He's already traveled that route once and he's comfortable going back that way," says Salter. "Most of the time, if you can get behind a bird, you can kill him."

Scatter a flock. At some times during the season, a gobbler might spend the entire day with hens, often roosting with them in the evening. Some hunters spend morning after morning with those henned-up birds, patiently trying to pull them away from their harems.

Salter suggests taking the initiative. "Follow them to the roost at dusk, then charge in screaming and yelling to scatter the gobbler and his hens out of the trees. The next morning, when he wakes up, he won't have those hens sitting right there with him." Eager to find his hens, the tough turkey becomes very callable. "He'll act like a completely different bird," says Salter. "Most of the time when y

F&S;: Why don't more hunters call aggressively?
Eye: People think it makes turkeys call-shy. That's ridiculous; turkeys communicate by making turkey noises. If they were afraid of turkey sounds, they would never mate. [NEXT "Play Games: Creative tactics for stubborn birds"]

Play Games Creative tactics for stubborn birds
Expert: Eddie Salter

Eddie Salter of Evergreen, Alabama, cuts a swath through the turkey woods. The prototypical run-and-gun hunter, Salter stays constantly on the move, looking for a bird he can work.

The proliferation of turkeys and turkey hunters is the main reason behind Salter's hurry-hurry approach. "I want to call that turkey in before I lose him to a hen or another hunter," says Salter of his aggressive style. A two-time world champion and four-time Alabama state turkey calling champion, Salter relies heavily on excited cutting to reel turkeys quickly into gun range.

When he does find a willing bird, Salter believes in getting as close as the terrain permits. "I always remember what Ben Rogers Lee--one of the granddaddies of modern turkey hunting--used to say in his seminars: Every step you take toward a turkey is one step he doesn't have to take to get to you."

But even Salter encounters tough turkeys that don't come running to the call. If he can't leave them for another bird, he gets creative. Here are three of Salter's aggressive solutions for problem turkeys:

Circle around. When a bird hangs up, gobbling excitedly but not coming into range, Salter says it may be time for the end run. "If he's answering your calls and cutting them off but not coming, maybe there's a stream or a ditch he doesn't want to cross. If you can't call that bird to you in 20 or 30 minutes, circle behind him."

Make a loop around the bird, keeping a prudent distance--200 yards or so--between you and the turkey. Use a crow call to make the bird gobble and to keep tabs on his location. Set up again, all the way behind the gobbler. "He's already traveled that route once and he's comfortable going back that way," says Salter. "Most of the time, if you can get behind a bird, you can kill him."

Scatter a flock. At some times during the season, a gobbler might spend the entire day with hens, often roosting with them in the evening. Some hunters spend morning after morning with those henned-up birds, patiently trying to pull them away from their harems.

Salter suggests taking the initiative. "Follow them to the roost at dusk, then charge in screaming and yelling to scatter the gobbler and his hens out of the trees. The next morning, when he wakes up, he won't have those hens sitting right there with him." Eager to find his hens, the tough turkey becomes very callable. "He'll act like a completely different bird," says Salter. "Most of the time when y