Stand-hunting maynot be the most action-packed way to hunt turkeys, but it can be the mostproductive
Few things are more depressing to a turkey hunter than spending the first hours of sunlight in the woods without hearing a single gobble. But hunt enough days, particularly late in the season, and I guarantee you’ll know the feeling.
Don’t just pack up and head home, however, especially if your time afield is limited. There’s still a great chance you can fill your tag with a little know-how and patience.
1. MAKE THE ROUNDS
If you start your day on foot trying to strike up a gobbling bird, don’t quit too soon. Keep at it. Ease through the woods, listening for yelps as well as gobbles (since hens might be around a gobbler), the sound of turkeys scratching in the leaves or their wing-beats. Stop and call every 100 yards, either with a locator or a sharp-pitched turkey call. A tom might not gobble if he hears you from a distance, but get close enough and your calls might force him to give his position away.
If you have other properties nearby, check them out, too. It’s not unusual for birds to be tight-lipped in one place and cranked up in another. If you don’t hit on anything after a couple of hours, it’s time to set up and wait.
2. KNOW THE LAND
This is where preseason scouting plays into your favor. If you know where a gobbler or two have been roosting or where they go during the day, then get there. Key areas to zero in on include wooded ridges, creek bottoms, harvested crop fields and swamp edges.
Other ideal spots are in open areas that provide travel corridors for wandering toms. Look for trails through young forests, shallow points on creeks, ridges with an open understory and wooded creek-side buffer zones in grownup clear-cuts.
3. GET SET UP
You need to go to one of these likely spots and make yourself comfortable because you’ll want to stay put for at least an hour or two. The best setups are those that provide a good field of view, so you can spot a tom that is approaching silently.
Choose a wide tree to sit against to break your outline. Clear away small limbs or brush that could obstruct a shot. This is a good time to set up a short fence-style turkey blind to conceal your movements as you work a call.
If you set up along a field, sit well inside the wood line. You want to remain in the shadows but be close enough to make a shot at least 30 yards into the field. Set up in the bend of a logging trail so that when a longbeard steps into sight, he’ll be in range. Choose a spot free of downed trees, briar patches or thick tangles of vines. They can impede a tom’s progress and dissuade him from approaching.
4. CALL SPARINGLY
After you get situated, place your calls within easy reach as the woods quiet back down. Pick up your favorite call and offer up a few yelps. If nothing sounds off in response, yelp some more, this time a little louder. Throw in cutts and cackles. You want to do your best to get a tom fired up and thinking there’s a hot hen, or hens, nearby. Mix in some calls from a gobble tube to trigger his jealous response.
Then shut up. Don’t make another call for 20 minutes. If a turkey slips up, you don’t want to be making so many calls that you’re moving around like a one-man band. Sit still, keep your gun rested on your knee and keep your eyes open for a longbeard to come slipping in. When you start to call again, begin softly. Remember to listen for the sound of drumming or footsteps in the leaves. Each time you call, build up the excitement a little more.
5. USE DECOYS
Setups where you’re calling sparsely are perfect for decoys. Put out at least a hen, or ideally two hens and a jake, to create a visual beacon that a tom might spot and come closer to inspect. Set them no more than 15 or 20 yards away. If the bird hangs up before closing the distance to the decoys, it should still be in range for a shot.
Keep up the calling routine for at least an hour or two and fight the urge to get up and move. Although turkeys may not be gobbling, they’re still moving around. If you do a lot of walking late in the morning, you’ll only spook the birds.
Box It Up
Nothing sounds better to a turkey or has a sound that carries farther through the woods than a quality custom-wood box call. For a pair of custom-grade quality boxes without the collectibles price tag, check out former calling champion Paul Butski’s Old Reliable walnut box call ($35; 585-593-2080; butskisgamecalls.com) or Woodhaven Custom Call’s Real Hen, also made of walnut ($60; 256-463-5657; woodhavencustomcalls.com).