Strategies for tough spring toms
If you have been out turkey hunting in the western United States, there is no doubt that you have encountered some downright stubborn or wise tom turkeys. A western turkey has to deal with some of the most potent natural elements like deep snow, strong winds and numerous predators that turkeys in other states do not have to contend with. This is why some birds that survive a few seasons out West seem impossible to get within range. Here are a few strategies that might tip the scales back in your direction and help you harvest that wise bird that keeps making fools of your morning hunts.
Your calling matters
Turkeys are one of the most vocal animals you can hunt and they can be a blast to communicate with during your hunt. However, there are often times when you call in an area with known bird activity and they simply do not respond or respond, but go in the opposite direction. When this happens, you can change the game up and help you take home a bird. The first option to change the game is simply to change the call you are using. For whatever reason, some calls just get a turkey fired up; others, the bird simply ignores. The ones that are liked or ignored are always different from day to day. I often try calling a bird with my mouth call to have him hammer back, but when I use my slate call, I get silence. The next time I am in the woods, I use the mouth call and get no response, but the slate call gets the bird going. The reason behind this is unclear to me; however, one thing is certain: if a bird is not responding or not doing what you would like, feel free to reach into your pack and try a different call. After all, sounding like multiple birds might just be enough to get that tom to turn your way. Along this same notion, I always make sure to vary my cadence, volume and speed of calls until I find something that works. If you can get a bird fired up, keep using that call and try to work him into your position.
Do not be afraid to move
Though turkeys have excellent eyesight — and most turkey hunters will tell you not to move — there are times when it is crucial, especially when dealing with a tough bird that doesn't want to come in. You can move in three ways when dealing with a bird hanging up out of sight or not wanting to play the game. The first way is to move in closer to the bird. When the terrain allows it — and I hear a gobble from a bird interested in my calling — I often quickly cover as much ground as possible to get closer to the bird before letting out another call. This shows the bird that I have covered ground to get to him, reduces the chance of another hen coming in and stealing the gobbler's attention on the way to you and reduces the possibility that there is some terrain or barrier in between you and the tom. The second way that I move when turkey hunting is parallel to the tom turkey’s direction of travel. This will show the tom that you are moving, making your calling setup seem more realistic and providing enough realism to draw the bird into your setup.
The final way I move is to back out of an unresponsive tom to circle and get ahead of him. This works when a tom doesn't want to come into your current position due to a barrier or when he has a spot that he goes to daily to strut and attract hens. This also puts you in a good position if a tom were to breed a hen and lose the rest of the flock. This is a time during the late morning when they are more susceptible to calling as they are alone and trying to reconnect with their flock. Of course, if you see the bird, it is not a good time to move; however, if you cannot see the bird and he is not cooperative, do not be afraid to change it up on a stubborn bird. Don't forget to mark all the information you encounter in the turkey woods on your maps to develop a solid plan on your hunt and remember, GOHUNT even has turkey waypoints!
Learn more about GOHUNT Maps here
Pattern your bird
Though it is not a regular topic of conversation, patterning a tom can be done with some time in the woods, watching and listening to your bird. Unless predators, hunters or other hens disrupt his behavior, a tom and its flock will follow the same pattern daily. This means that even if a turkey is not willing to be called in, you may find a pinch point, a small field or a logging road that the turkey frequents at a particular time of day. If you are there before him, you may be able to harvest that stubborn bird. Often, if I use this technique to harvest a bird, I will only call if I have to. I want to keep the situation as realistic as yesterday and not give the bird any reason not to continue along its same pattern.
Last, but not least is the thought between using a decoy or not. While everyone is different, here is my rule for using decoys when turkey hunting: if I am hunting in thick cover where a bird might not be able to see me until it's in shotgun range, I do not use a decoy; however, if I am hunting an open side hill, field or pasture where a bird may emerge more than shotgun range and look in my direction, I always use a decoy. The decoys do not have to be the expensive, 100-dollar version of a turkey, but they do have to look like a turkey. It is important to note that decoy motion never hurts, so I like to use a foam decoy that twists in the breeze. Note: you 100% do not need to use a decoy to kill a bird and most of the time, not using a decoy can make for a more enjoable hunt as you work in a bird with just calls.
Hunting turkeys in the spring is a great experience and a great time of year to be in the mountains. If you are local, it is often a hunt that you can do before work and be back in time for breakfast. If you are from out-of-state and wish to chase turkeys in the West, endless opportunities and affordable tags are available in most states. Some states even have multiple bird limits that will allow you to maximize your hunt time and harvest numerous birds. If you are chasing stubborn, wise toms that are making it difficult for you, consider using the tips mentioned above to seal the deal and harvest a mature bird this fall.