Operation Gobbler


Spring gobblers are a unique challenge because every bird can react differently. They won’t always vocalize the same and might respond with no certainty? Occasionally, a tom will be a pushover. But, that’s not the norm today. Therefore, hunters must be creative and devise various tactics when pursuing wary toms. The vocalization expressed between turkeys and hunters is what I call the “communication factor.” Calling typically intensifies any hunt; mimicking hen yelps, clucks and purrs are the basis. But, course gobbler yelps and gobbling like a tom help hunters mingle with birds, too. Equally, there are times when not calling at all will tease a tom into close range.

It’s never to soon to prepare for your next spring gobbler. So, let’s label this “operation gobbler.” Sweat, adrenaline, long walks, changing landscape features, unexpected weather conditions, other hunters interferences. The first gobbler you hear will likely set you on fire. Trying to outmaneuver a crafty gobbler will hopefully always be an inspiration. However, for any hunter who believes they are smarter than wild game, chasing a mating gobbler will confirm we must have a game plan.

Pre-season scouting is an important ingredient for tagging a tom. Understanding landscape features and bird population locations ups chances of success. Hunter diversity is a must for tagging mature toms. Sit-down set-ups, carefully moving after traveling toms, circling strutting toms; this is what hunting’s all about. We are pursuing the elusive gobbler and cautious toms tease us to follow their lead. Also, partnership hunts can improve hunting results if two hunters pursue a reluctant tom. More methods can be used, such as sitting back-to-back at the base of a large diameter tree to spot circling gobblers. Sitting 30 to 40 yards apart can also provide either hunter a chance to a lethal shot. Obviously, four eyes are better than two when studying the landscape for an approaching tom.

Gobblers often outwit us because they live within different environments than we do. Thus, spring turkey hunters find it advantageous too better understand what turkeys do to survive, such as their daily routines throughout the spring mating rituals.

Gobblers work the open fields.
Gobblers work the open fields.

There’s much we must learn about turkeys, especially toms during their breeding cycle. If we plan our hunts for success, it’s imperative we learn as much as we can about the mystic of their breeding mechanism.

Regardless of whether we pursue a mature spring tom, we will always be affected by the inclusion of hens and learned jakes. As hunters, we must understand that hens can control toms mating actions. Jakes that accompany a mature gobbler are often sideline sightseers, or interference.

Unfortunately, no hunting equipment we buy today is 100 percent effective at fooling gobblers because spring toms aren’t programmed like a mechanical robot. They are never predictable to the point every tom we encounter is a sure harvest. Gobblers aren’t as responsive, or as vocal as we like, either. Silent and semi-silent toms are becoming the norm, especially after intense hunting pressure.

How might gobblers respond? They come at you head-on, circle right or left, slip in behind you and stand-off, refusing to approach because toms expect hens to come to them. “Blasting” hunter turkey calls spooks toms at close range. That’s why soft yelps and clucks are excellent close-range vocals.

Spring turkey hunters soon learn that gobblers don’t gobble with intensity every hour of the day. Unexpected adverse weather can stifle turkey vocals. An abundance of hens will frequently suppress gobbling. If several hens surround toms, the toms probably aren’t stimulated by hunters’ calls. Excessive hunting pressure and a surplus of human calling can also shut down gobbling. It’s also possible the level of intensity of their breeding cycle isn’t in full swing. In human terms, spooked gobblers develop a paranoid temperament when various intrusions impact their activities. Obviously, every hunter’s concern is how to deal with unpredictable gobblers.

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Wild turkeys aren’t predictable. There are loud mouth toms, silent toms, hang-up Toms, toms with hens, and 2 or 3 toms together. Each encounter is different. Therefore, hunter patience is fundamental when hunting gobblers. It’s probable to tag birds shortly after an early morning set-up. But, it’s also not uncommon to have too wait-out uncooperative toms for several hours. This is when we try various calls. Experiment and play them softly, or with defiance. Use subtle cadences, then rapid sequences. Keep trying until you “push a gobbler’s button.” When you produce vocals that appeal to him, he’s more likely too respond!

Hunters are “thinkers.” We analyze problems to create solutions. Such as, let’s assume you’ve spent the first two weeks of spring turkey season listening for and chasing toms. You’ve only heard very few toms gobbling and hens haven’t been vocal, either. You’re probably frustrated. It’s no wonder! You’re concerned there aren’t many turkeys where you’re hunting, but if birds were active last year, more than likely there are underlying reasons turkeys aren’t talking. They simply might be enveloped in full-blown breeding activities! We can’t control natural influences that affect gobbler temperament, but we can alter our hunting methods.

Many times gobblers are selfish with gobbling, especially when they frequent grassy meadows adjacent to protective woodland cover. If you’re hunting gently rolling landscapes, look for level flats such as exposed knolls and elongated ridgelines where gobblers strut to nearby hens. Turkeys are products of their environments and adapt to landscape features for their advantage. These open habitats allow toms to advertise themselves to flirting hens.

One technique for hunting henned-up gobblers has been to sneak into turkey habitats before daylight and stalk close to roosted birds. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take gobblers long to associate hunters with unnatural disturbances, especially if hunters call aggressively before fly down. And, if hunters are over zealous when mimicking hen calls, gobblers will not hesitate to avoid an aggressive calling intrusion. Therefore, when roosted toms have been spooked, it’s logical they will shut-their-beaks before dropping to the ground. And, you can bet if toms are aware you’re within their comfort zone, they will be silent. Again, if hens are close to any gobbler’s side, he has no need to gobble. It’s understandable when gobblers don’t gobble, they will try your patience.

For example, I recall hunting the perimeter of a familiar pasture before daylight. The weather was ideal, but gobbling was sporadic. Therefore, I assumed the birds were at their peak of breeding? So, I relied on the “silent gobbler strategy.” My initial tactic was not to call.

This is when there’s an advantage to positioning one’s self at concealing spots along the perimeter of woodland cover, close to the edges of pasture fields. When gobblers are in an active breeding mode and refuse to gobble, you will often find them strutting silently throughout the morning trying to attract hens. Equally, if turkeys are focused upon hens, gobbling can be minimal. By hiding close to their breeding activities, you are less likely to be noticed because you aren’t creating distractive movements. This improves your chances for a shot.

I decided to set-up along a brushy woods line adjacent to the meadow where toms frequently strutted. I devised a comfortable seat and positioned myself within concealing undergrowth. But, the wait was lengthy. It was over two hours after daybreak before two gobblers eventually appeared within the meadow. With no hens in sight, I waited several minutes, and then attempted to be the first hen to fulfill their needs. When I decided now was the time to try calling, I clucked softly with a diaphragm mouth call, just enough to mimic a feeding hen. The gobblers’ initial interest wasn’t responsive and I realized this would be a match of patience. One bird finally broke-strut and looked in the direction of my calling. But, since gobblers instinctively prefer hens go to them, I was forced to play a waiting game. After over thirty minutes, one tom couldn’t stand it any longer. His desire to mate overrode his survival instincts. He finally broke-strut and expelled a defiant “double- gobble.” The curious tom quickly moved towards me and when the gobbler stopped and craned his neck upward, I took my shot.

Turkey hunting in many ways is war! That’s why I rely upon the military tactic of understanding one’s opponent. In this case, the opponent is the wild turkey gobbler.