Tricks For Tricky Toms
By Bob McNally
Turkey hunting season is in full swing in Florida and Georgia, and gunners are having daily encounters with big birds that do everything right, except they hold off coming within shotgun range.
They’ll strut and gobble, react to almost every yelp or cut, cackle or purr call that’s sent their way.
But they won’t close the deal. They stay just just far enough away that they can’t be collected with a shotgun.
They are, in turkey hunting parlance, “hung up.”
It can drive a sober sportsman to strong drink.
But there are things that can be done to turn the tables on such a frustrating gobbler.
Double-teaming toms is one of the best and easiest ways to lure hung-up birds into finally eating a face full of copper-coated 6s. The man out front never calls, and he’s most likely to get the shot. But the “call man” who is farthest away from the hung-up bird had best be on his toes, too, because such toms are cagey, and have been known to circle a caller, coming in quietly and carefully to the man doing the yelping.
The “end-around” move is another standard tactic to unhinge a hung-up gobbler. It’s never a sure thing, and can be risky because you might spook the tom or others nearby, which blows the whole deal. But if you make your move slowly, carefully, quietly, and use terrain features to best advantage, it’s often possible to successfully get around a gobbler.
Often all you’re doing is crossing a ditch, fence, or working around a dense thicket or pond that a bird refuses to cross to your call. But the tom may have hens with him, or is just too smart to come to your first location. When you set up a second time, try using a different call, even if you just change the type mouth call. If you used a slate call, try a different style like an aluminum friction call or perhaps a box call. You’re trying to mimic a different hen coming to the tom from a different direction, which hopefully unhinges his location anchor, and he’ll come running.
I know some great turkey hunters who have duped dandy birds that wouldn’t close the final 50 yards to their guns until they started super-aggressive calling. Loud and incessant cuts and yelps, or even going into the now-classic fighting purr scenario has worked for plenty of people, especially ace turkey hunter David Hale.
I’m not half the caller David is, so I’ve had better results by acting coy with an uncooperative turkey. Instead of turning up the volume I turn it down, and call less frequently. Long periods of silence works well, and if you can pull it off, moving slowly away can be the final nail in a gobbler’s coffin. Move a few yards at a time. Stop, yelp sloftly or purr, and watch for the tom. It works best with two hunters. One stays at a location, the second hunter slipping away quietly and calling occasionally.
The most memorable time I ever had the slip-away ploy work on a stubborn bird was one spring in Alabama with Eddie Salter, the famed world calling champion. We located a late-morning field bird, crept into position, and for two hours Eddie played his calls like Clapton picking a guitar.
The solo bird got close, but wouldn’t come within range. Finally, Eddie motioned he was gonna leave, and he crawled away quietly. About 50 yards farther out he softly yelped, the tom gobbled, but wouldn’t follow. Eddie moved another 50 yards away, and called again. The tom started to follow, and acted like he’d strut within my shotgun range, but he turned and stayed well out in the field.
Eddie again moved off, and 150 yards behind me, he went into a yelping, cutting, clucking repertoire that to this day I don’t pretend to understand. The tom double gobbled, strutted across the field, stopped, gobbled again, and walked quickly into the woods and my full-choke Ithaca Model 37.
Another time in Texas for so-called “easy” Rio Grande’s, champion caller Preston Pittman and I ran into a smart tom that hung up as badly as a 4-year old Eastern bird in hard-hunted Pennsylvania. Preston decided we should re-locate our calling position on the bird, so we withdrew, circled to the east. We set up again, called, the bird answered but wouldn’t come in. We move again, to the east. Set-up, called, nothing. Again we moved, still the bird stayed put.
Finally, nearly two hours later, we moved yet again, setting up unknowingly only a few yards from our original calling position. Preston used his voice instead of a manufactured call, and within 10 minutes the tom was down.
Why that bird didn’t work close sooner, and come to other calls, I’ll never know. I do know that repositioning is effective in unhinging birds, especially if you can get above a tom. I had that work twice in two days one spring in hunting with legendary hunter and video producer Mark Drury. Each day we located toms at dawn, but the birds wouldn’t work close until we circled wide and well above them in the rolling country.
My hunting pal and top turkey tagger Ernie Calandrelli with Quaker Boy Game Calls is convinced that using decoys, especially motion models, is the best way to dupe a hung-up bird that refuses to come to shotgun range. If he can, Ernie slips out and well around a tough bird, then sets a new ambush site so several decoys are well exposed from his shooting position. No, it doesn’t always work. But Ernie eats plenty of turkey breasts from birds that fall to the tactic every spring.
Bottom line is that when a turkey doesn’t close that last 50 yards, and you’ve given the tom plenty of time to work close, do something different. Change it up, the calling, the set-up, move away, move around and reposition. Make a move, and take charge of the situation.
Often, you’ve got nothing to lose.