I’ve been out quite a bit in the past week and a half, trying to slap a tag on a few Nebraska birds, while also trying to keep tabs on the Minnesota birds for my season and for friends’. Turkey behavior has been all over the place, but the one constant has definitely been the weather and the way birds everywhere are reacting to it when it comes. Birds in the southern part of the state benefited from little snow cover, making food a bit easier to find than their northern brethren. However, when the wind has been blowing, the turkeys have definitely been keeping out of it, at least in my neck of the woods. So much so, that they’re getting to be pretty good forecasters, often roosting in hillside ravines that will be out of the wind for the following morning. I’m not sure how they’re doing it, but they’re batting pretty close to a thousand thus far.
There’s also no doubt that they’re in pretty big unbroken groups for the most part. No matter where I’ve been the past few weeks, big groups with multiple strutters and dozens of hens have been the norm. While this may seem like a good problem to have, my experience has been poor in trying to work with large flocks. First, you’re trying to beat many dozen of eyes rather than a handful, and second, one or two fickle birds can steer the direction of the whole group. Not to mention, hens have even more power in determining the outcome when they’re ruling by committee.
So far, I’ve called in 3 Nebraska birds, and a lone MN bird to the end of the barrel, and all of them have come with good lessons to take into coming seasons. The first tip from almost all of these birds, is to mimic the sound of multiple hens to both add realism and volume to your calling. Work a mouth call and a slate at the same time, or my favorite, work a mouth call with a box call at the same time. You don’t want to hit the same notes simultaneously on both calls, and you don’t want your calling strings to start and end together either. Real hens overlap and not only sound different, but they rarely hit the same note at the same time; which is unfortunately what your right-brain/left-brain synchro will try to do! It would only make sense that flocked up birds will respond better to larger groups instead of lone hens.
The second is more of a long-held secret, and is season-in, season-out, probably the best calling tip I know of, involves birds that like to hang up and gobble like crazy. You know the bird. We ran into a few in NE, and a few in MN as well so far this season. They love what you’re throwing at them, and they won’t quit gobbling from a certain location that you never seem to be in at the time. I learned this tip several years ago on accident while watching live hens when roosting birds. The tom has locations throughout the woods he’s used to strutting and bringing hens to, and the hens know them too. He gobbles his brains out, and if no hens show, he moves to the next one of these gobble zones. However, if a hen shows up soon enough after he vacates, the tom understands it to be a hen doing exactly as she was supposed to, and 75% of the time this technique has been effective for me. I don’t know about you, but 3 times out of 4 is about as good as it gets in the turkey woods.
Below are the keys to probably the deadliest turkey-hunting tactic I know of:
1. Excited birds that hang or gobble from a small, specific location. Gobbling and trailing, or gobbling while walking presents less of a chance for success.
2. Getting to that EXACT spot as soon as possible after the gobbler vacates. The longer it takes you, the less chance this tactic has of working. Go too soon and you bump him.
3. Excited yelping, even with mixed cutting, to get them fired up deep. Then kill the calling. Sometimes it takes them awhile, but nothing drives a tom nuttier than the thought of a hen that’s very interested, doing her part to come to where he was last, and clamming up.
Good luck to all those who are going to be headed out in the next few days. One thing about weather like this, is that breaks in it make the birds work twice as hard/fast to get their show on. The key is being out there when the weather breaks however, not coming out once it has. Hunt confident and stay with them even if they’re not gobbling!