Everybody in turkey camp has filled their tags on longbeards except one guy. He’s working hard just to find gobblers let alone adult birds. A juvenile jake turkey walks into range. Should he shoot it? Would you?
Biologists around the country are likely to tell you there’s no reason not to take a shortbeard:
—They’re legal in most states but not all (always check your regulations). —They're damn good eating. —They'll sometimes even gobble well, especially late in the season as pecking order continues to shift.
I love calling turkeys. Selective silence can kill gobblers, too, if you know where and when to employ the locked-lips strategy. Roosted birds, strutting toms, and nervous flocks of pressured turkeys are all as likely to turn and flee from your calls as they are to waltz in to shotgun range. Give these birds the silent treatment, and save your noisemaking for the post-kill celebration.
Throughout the 1990s and into 2000, the news for turkey hunters seemed to just get better and better, with skyrocketing turkey populations. But in the last decade, turkey populations in many states have dropped, and with that so have record harvests. Arkansas and Mississippi are off by as much as 40 percent from record years; the wild-turkey mecca of Missouri is down by 30 percent; Ohio, 30 percent; South Carolina, 33 percent; and numerous other states are enduring what appears to be a 10-year decline in population numbers and harvests. The number of problem areas has both biologists and hunters taking note.
Not to jinx any one of us, but sometime this spring turkey season, one of us is going to miss a gobbler. Hunt turkeys long enough and that’s part of the deal. We shotgun hunters might whiff on a longbeard standing right in front of us. Or, like this guy, pull a couple of nice toms into range and wing an arrow harmlessly in their direction.
Some springtime longbeards take their marching orders from the boss hen. At times, the only way to get him in range is to call her in.
For starters, you try to play fair. You float some soft, sweet yelps in an attempt to call that gobbler to you right off the roost. He flies down. Each time you get him fired up, the boss hen strides in out of nowhere, and intercepts your bearded bird of future bragging rights. You've only got one choice now: call her in too.
To pull this off, you've got to think like a turkey. Actually, you have to think like two turkeys: the boss hen and the gobbler running with her. That gobbler wants to breed that boss hen. He's biding his time, strutting his stuff. He's that big-racked buck on a doe's trail last season. Mostly he lives with a single-minded purpose.
In a report filed last April with the Bigfoot Field Researchers Association, a man says he doesn’t know what he saw but that it shouldn’t have been there. “I have never told my story due to I feel people will not believe me,” he wrote. While spring turkey hunting back in 2007, he set up on roosted birds as any turkey hunter might. One bird gobbled and he heard something off in the distance:
It continued to get louder. I soon realized the sound I was hearing was coming from up the valley in the direction I could not see. The turkeys in their roost next to me stopped gobbling and remained silent. A few moments later the forest was becoming fairly bright and I could see most everything around me. All of the birds roosted in the tree flew down and hit the forest floor running . . .
One kill shot should be all it takes when spring turkey hunting. Most turkey camps I’ve visited around the country inevitably involve a supper table debate about the best shotgun range for dropping a spring gobbler. My generic answer: 20-35 yards.
The payload stays baseball tight with shots taken at under 20 steps, and misses are more likely, especially with that serpentine turkey head juking around. Then again, the swarm of pellets begins to open up when shot from farther out, especially beyond 40 yards. That’s no good either.
In the end, you need to know your shotgun and how that firearm handles a particular load because load capabilities vary—some are dead on and tighter at longer ranges, depending on the choke tube and firearm.
Spring gobblers’ acute vision is legendary. That’s why the current craze in decoys—field-ready taxidermy mounts—trumps any store-bought foam decoy. Turkeys dig them. And they can tell the difference.
Ask Gabe Jerome. A guide at Turkey Trot Acres in New York, Jerome uses a mounted, full-strut jake combined with one or two taxidermy-quality hens to lure mature toms even without calls.
Regrettably, taxidermy-quality decoys cost nearly as much as a finished mount you’d display in your trophy room. Here are several options to save you cash, yet give you the astonishing results a feathered decoy can offer.