It was right out of a Turkey Hunter's Textbook. Scouting the area, I'd found plenty of sign: scratching, loose feathers and the telltale "j"-hooked fresh droppings of a gobbler alongside a wandering creek. At dusk I pinned down his location when he gobbled to my imitation of a barred-owl's giggling hoots. Grinning to myself, I vowed to meet him at daybreak.
Most turkey hunters consider setting up on a gobbler in the first pink blush of daylight to be the perfect scenario, and I'm no different. As the eastern horizon added streaks of gold to the pink, I leaned against a tree, listening first to silence, then to cardinals as they began their hesitant peeping. An owl gurgled, answered immediately by a gobble 100 yards away. Quickly in the ebbing gloom I cut the distance to a tangle of downed cedar, got comfortable, slipped a call in my mouth and pulled up my face mask. Minutes passed in dead quiet. I gave him a soft tree yelp. He went double-gobbl'n nuts! The tom gobbled six times on the roost, then I could tell he was on the ground. Cutting into his next gobble with a string of seductive yelps, I pointed the twelve gauge across my knee in his direction and got ready. Thirty minutes later I stood up shaking my head. "Nuth’n more unpredictable than a predictable gobbler!" I mused heading uphill to the ridge top.
I was leaning lazily against a tree later in the morning enjoying the spring sunlight when two hunters appeared on the old woodland road. “Morn’n,” one offered. “How’s it going?” “Just kick’n back,” I replied. “Ya’ll do any good?” “Nope, they’ve shut down for the day, we’re taking it to the house.” And with a good luck wave they passed on their way.
Daybreak is the witching hour for turkeys, but they still haunt the woods after many a hunter has gone home.
It was 9:35 a.m.—pleasant with a feathery breeze and with the fresh smells of spring riding on it. Settling back, eyes closed, my ears sorted out the woodland’s varied sounds: screeching jays, crows arguing in the distance and the hammering staccato of a pileated woodpecker attacking a tree. I was content and sure of my plan. There’s a saying among turkey hunters: if you think you heard a gobble, you probably did! I was sure of it the first time, positive the second, and frantically gathering my gear to the faint melody of the third. “Half mile away, down along the creek, and hot!” were my thoughts as I headed quickly in the direction of the sound.
It was the stuff of a springtime turkey hunter’s dreams. Strident yelps and seductive clucks answered by ever-closer, raucous gobbles that accelerated an already racing heartbeat. Then a flash of color through a picket fence of scrubby trees, the arc of his fan in full display, it seemed I could feel the pulse of his drumming as I scrunched my head down tight to the shotgun’s smooth stock.
Minutes later, as I hoisted his long legged frame over my shoulder, I glanced at my watch: 10:52. “Now, I thought. Now it’s time to take it to the house!”
There’s another old saying among veteran turkey hunters I also believe in: Ten O’clock turkeys go home in the truck!
Nothing offers more exciting promise than heading for a clamoring gobbler in the pre-dawn of morning looking for a place to set up. And nothing’s more frustrating—or damaging to your turkey hunt’n ego—than sitting there alone after he’s wandered off and shut up. And so, as the sun climbs higher and the woods remain silent (as far as turkey noise is concerned), it may seem logical to assume that they’re done for the day and head for the house. Uh-uh, he’s still out there. Stick around!
It’s a safe bet when early morning woods go suddenly silent that Old Tom had some girl friends close at hand and wandered off where they led him. Later in the morning they will leave him to do what girl turkeys do while romantic notions still linger in his head, and should they overpower him, as often they do, he will clear his throat and go looking.
Lonesome, late morning toms are among the more vocal I’ve ever met, and seem most vulnerable to excited, aggressive calling. In the last ten seasons, 65 percent of the biggest and best mature toms I’ve taken have come to me late in the morning, most often well after ten. Given that, I seldom leave the woods early to “Head for the house!”
Of course, not all gobblers start calling and looking for ladies late in the morning, but you can bet they’re still out there with a head full of procreative thoughts. If he doesn’t crank up on his own, it’s up to us to get his mind back on business; after all, isn’t that what he is supposed to be doing?
Persistence in late morning can lead to a trophy tom.
A tom turkey’s springtime home range is not very large and while hen turkeys might travel quite a distance to their nest sites, toms have special places where they like to hang out. Within these areas they’ll spend the middle of the day piddling and pecking, strutting and drum-humming to themselves. As the morning passes in waiting, assume he’s within a mile of the last daybreak gobbles and when waiting wears thin, go looking in that direction. Late morning IS the time when you can really hunt turkeys.
Move through the woods at a quiet pace—springtime woods are cluttered, so don’t let your noisy footsteps drown out distant gobbles. As you travel, try to maintain any advantage of height. Whenever you hear a crow call or red-tailed hawk scream, stop and listen—they often provoke a return gobble, pinpointing a tom’s location. Stop and call at likely spots, but never, ever call while in the wide open!
There are as many theories to mid-day calling as copper plated sixes in a three-inch magnum shell but, odds are, excited and aggressive calling will serve you pretty well. And, when eager cutting and yelping does muster a late morning rattling response, give it back to him again and find a place to hide.
No honest turkey hunting tactic comes with guarantees, and hanging around late of a morning is certainly no exception. But one thing is for sure. Taking it to the house early never put a ten o’clock longbeard in the truck!