Closing the Distance on Stubborn Toms

Closing the Distance on Stubborn Toms

April 17, 2019

A Hunter's Guide to Aggressive Turkey Hunting

By late spring turkeys have seen everything. They’ve seen the eager turkey hunter, in early March, scouting for his quarry. They’ve heard the blundering caller, screaming with a diaphragm call, vaguely resembling a hen turkey with a severe cold. And they’ve seen their unlucky comrades, who have fallen victim to the fake calls and strutted into range, leaving the woods slung down a hunter’s back.

In even more productive woods, it doesn’t take until the late season for turkeys to wise up. Sometimes, especially on heavily pressured hunting ground, turkeys know your intentions. They won’t come running into precision calling no matter how hard you try. Even if you have a flawless decoy set up, your back to a wide oak tree, and cover to your front. When turkeys lock up, one thing remains true. Successful hunters get moving.

The Art of Aggressive Turkey Hunting

Most turkey hunters stay put. They set up in a field or likely travel lane, set out a single, or maybe even a pair of decoys in front of them, get comfy and wait. And wait some more. And wait some more until it’s time to leave. It can be deadly. But sometimes, filling that spring tag is going to require your movement on the turkeys, not the other way around.

Aggressive turkey hunting tactics produce most when gobblers are nonresponsive. In the most blatant form, this is when turkeys won’t gobble. Other times, it can be more ambiguous. Maybe gobblers are responding to your calls and moving into your set up, only to hang up at 100 yards. Or maybe they come in all that way and decide to turn around and leave, still gobbling to your calls as they strut off.

Most of the time, stubborn toms are with their harem of females. These toms may respond to your calls, but they will be hard to pull away from all those hens.

Other times, turkeys flat out refuse to gobble. Biologists speculate that the age of the bird, the habitat, hunting pressure, and weather patterns play a factor in tom talkativeness.

Regardless of what’s making the hunting rough, active and responsive gobbling makes turkey hunting easy. So, when it doesn’t happen like that, you may be tempted to panic. But when toms get tight-lipped, don’t pack your bags and head home. Stay in the woods, stretch out a bit, and get moving.

Run and Gun

In response to tough hunting conditions, savvy turkey hunters have adopted a mobile form of a turkey hunter, a method aptly named running and gunning.

Run and gun turkey hunting requires hunters to stalk the woods with predator-like stealth. Move slow. Every 20-40 yards, sound off on your hen call with a series of sharp yelps and cutts. If you don’t get a response, after a minute, get moving. Another 20-40 yards, do it again.

The beauty of running and gunning is that it allows hunters to cover ground. Putting in the miles can lead you to turkeys you never knew were in the area, and can lead to multiple opportunities.

Tight-lipped gobblers may have keyed in on stationary hunters wailing on hen calls every 15 minutes. Hens in the wild rarely sit still. They move and stop periodically to let out a series of cackles. When they stop again, they will be in a different location.

Running and gunning emulates the hen on the move. It’s a realistic presentation that can produce big. When a gobbler finally responds, move closer and entice him. Then, stop calling. Creep into 50-75 yards and set up. The tom will know the location of your last call, and with a little luck, he’ll come strutting to you.

Cutting the distance

In the wild, toms court hens. They strut and collect a harem. Each time they gobble, they advertise their readiness to mate. Hens usually respond, attracted by the boisterous calls of a mature tom, and head to his location.

In part, this is why smart turkeys get suspicious of stationary hen calls coming from a hunter’s location. It’s unnatural for a hen to remain stationary.

Turkey hunters on the move can lead you to fill your tag. But sometimes, the toms get stubborn. Although you may be inducing responses, the gobbles won’t budge. When a sounding off gobbler won’t come to you, you’re going to have to cut the distance.

Get as close as you can to a talkative tom. Then, let him know you’re there. Cutt calls work best in this scenario, they’re sharp and aggressive. They also advertise a hen’s willingness to mate. Let off a series of calls then shut up. Let him respond and keep silent. Silent treatments drive tom turkeys nuts. Before long, they will become mad with anticipation. If it gets the best of them, they’ll come your way.

Let’s say they don’t. If the tom still refuses to come to you, get moving. Any hen movement sounds natural to a tom turkey. Cut a half circle around the tom to either the left or right, wait a bit, and call again. If you have to, move more, wait, and call again. It may take you two or three changes of position before a tom decides to make the trip.

A bolder tactic would be to move away from the gobbler and let out a call. A hen that’s moved away sounds like its lost interest. It can drive gobblers nuts. And that might be needed to pull a tom from his haunt.

In some states, you’re allowed to actually stalk turkeys like you would big game. Consult your state regulations before adding this to your arsenal. In states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania, it's illegal. But in states where legal, you may need to put your belly on the dirt and commando crawl to your quarry. Use any dip or cover in the terrain to your advantage. Take it slow, watch travel lanes and feeding areas, and cut off birds on the move.

Aggressive Turkey Hunting Tactics Tips

  • Call before walking over a ridge or a knob. Call before entering an open area in the woods or a field. Wild turkeys live and die by their eyesight. And in areas like these where hunters are prone, its best to know where the turkeys are to avoid getting busted.

  • Pack light and compact. Aggressive turkey hunting means getting on the move. The last thing you want is to be burdened by the weight. This means leaving behind heavy vests and maybe even the decoys. Consider lightweight versatile packs that can hold all your gear, like the Pioneer 1600.

  • Leave the slate and box calls at home. Diaphragm calls are an aggressive turkey hunter’s best asset. At any moment while walking around the turkey woods, you could stumble upon a turkey, whether you were aware of their presence or not. Calling with your hands runs the risk of fumbling equipment while you try to find your gun. Keep a diaphragm call in your mouth and your gun at the ready.

  • Stay flexible. You never know what a tom turkey in heats going to do. They may barrel into your calls or lock-in statue still. They may have a harem of females already or they may be lonesome. The most successful turkey hunters will be the ones who use aggressive tactics wisely: ready to adapt to any scenario, and ready to seize any opportunity.