Spring turkey hunting should be easy, right?
Many hunters believe they can set up camp in the morning near a roosting tree, make a few calls, wait for a tom to come down to investigate, and then take their shot.
In theory, you should be able to call for a few minutes at sunrise, land a few gobblers with a couple quick and well-placed shots, and be home in time for breakfast. Like everything else in the hunting world, though, spring turkey hunting is never quite as simple as you think it should be, largely because the birds you are hunting don’t always follow the above script.
If you’ve been dealing with uncooperative toms or facing any sort of spring turkey hunting conundrums or difficulties, we’ve got you covered.
View the slideshow to learn how to handle five common spring turkey hunting challenges.
1. You can’t get the turkey to come out of the tree
This is probably the biggest issue that turkey hunters face in the spring: they identify a roosting tree in the evening, come back the next morning, and start calling, but the tom in the tree doesn’t budge.
There can be numerous reasons for this, from a turkey who is suspicious of the sounds you are making to a lazy tom who thinks that the hens should come to him. In either case, the best solution is to not be too insistent or excited. If you don’t get a response quickly, stop calling for a bit and bide your time. If the tom is waiting for a hen to come to him, then all you have to do to get his number is to beat him in the waiting game.
Make a few clucks here and there, and rustle leaves to mimic the sound of a hen walking around. In essence, play hard to get: eventually, chances are that the tom in question will get restless and rowdy, and when he does, he’ll come down from his high horse (or branch…) and come your way.
2. The tom comes down out of the tree, but still wants a hen to come to him
Similar to the previous situation, the best solution to this particular conundrum is to play your hen as a fickle female.
You manage to get the tom out of the tree, but then he starts strutting around like the proud, cocky bird that he is: he got out of bed, but he still expects the gals to come to him. Make him nervous that he’s about to lose an opportunity. If you can do it stealthily, start moving away from the roosting tree, calling as you go. The tom will realize that his hen is leaving and he’ll swallow his pride and pursue. When he does, be ready to take the shot.
3. The tom is already surrounded by other hens
If a male turkey you are targeting is already being doted upon by a flock of hens, he’s probably not your best bet. After all, why should a tom go after an out-of-sight hen when he already has his pick of the litter right by his roosting spot?
If you’re still set on killing the tom, though, there’s a way to do it, and it involves scaring the birds to scatter them in different directions. A popular tactic in fall turkey hunting – but not so much in the spring – scattering a group of turkeys is done by actually revealing your presence and rushing the birds.
This may sound counterintuitive, since it will alert the birds to the fact that a hunter is nearby. However, once broken up, a flock of turkeys will try actively to regroup by calling to one another, and by fading back into hiding, you’ll be able to call freely and turn your location into the regrouping hotspot. Just remember to play it safe and not rush the birds with your loaded gun in hand: the last thing you want is to trip and have it go off.
4. The turkey knows your decoys are fake
Decoy companies have come a long way over the years in developing incredibly detailed and real-looking turkey decoys. Sometimes though, all of the realism in the world can’t hoodwink a mature tom into thinking your decoys are actual hens.
The problem most of the time is that fake birds don’t move, which is enough to arouse alarm for any turkey you are hunting. If you find yourself up against a tom that doesn’t go for the decoys, you might be out of luck for the day. Whether he calls your bluff or gets intimidated by your spread (a common occurrence if you tend to use a lot of decoys like you would in waterfowl hunting), you’re probably not going to get him to come closer or to come back after he’s turned away.
In such situations, make note of the event, cut your losses, and try again the next day or a few days later, ideally without using decoys at all. You might find that you actually do better without fakes. Of course, there are also situations where a tom will have his suspicions aroused when he follows your calls and doesn’t see a hen, so always keep your decoys nearby in case you need them. There’s definitely some trial and error involved when it comes to decoy use, so just remember to keep your cool and learn from your failures.
5. The turkey is feeling pressure and won’t budge
Sometimes, all of the methods you try won’t get a tom to come toward you. In such situations, there’s a good chance the bird is feeling pressure, either because you’ve called him for a few days in a row or because you’ve spent the morning being too insistent with your hen calling. If you experience this conundrum, you have two basic options: either cut your losses and try another spot or stay put and play the waiting game.
The same basic rules apply here that applied to the situations where the tom wouldn’t come out of the tree or wouldn’t break his strut. Slow down, make a few intermittent clucks, and rustle the leaves around you every once in a while to keep the tom interested. Eventually, he may decide to scope things out; alternatively, a stray call could catch another tom wandering by and bring him into your web.
Either way, you may or may not be rewarded with a kill, but if you’ve got time and don’t want to go home empty-handed, it’s worth waiting around and dropping the aggression to zero. You’ll learn a lot, and maybe even enough to have better luck next time.