In the course of even a single season, turkeys will challenge your skills
and make the most confident hunter into a wuthering pile of loathing and
self-doubt. Each day presents new scenarios, culminating into a number of
“tipping-points” that we inevitably look back on with the clarity of 20-20
hindsight. Here’s a number of those very situations, along with some
advice on how I’ve learned to best handle them throughout the years.
To Call or Not to Call? – You’ve just made a string of
yelps and everything in the woods is white hot with excitement. It’s one
of those rare days where you can simply do no wrong, and they’re picking up
every call you’re putting down. Then the other boot drops, and silence
abounds for 10 minutes or more. Do you call again? If no, then how
long to wait? Well my experience has been that sudden pauses in calling
are either really good, or really bad. Birds have heard what they needed
and are on a straight-line march to your location, soon to appear at any
time. Or, they’ve been spooked by another hunter or coyote, they’ve flown
down and left the audible area with hens, or any other act of
tom-foolery. Birds that are still gobbling occasionally give you clues
and cues to go off, and there are no general facts for when and when not to
call. That said, the closest thing to any hard or fast rule that I have
is not to call to any bird that is closing the distance to your location.
If he’s coming, don’t call and screw it up!
Should I Stay or Should I Go? – So often we’re presented
with the choice to give chase to birds that are leaving the vicinity, or hold
off and wait. To answer that question, I’ll first think to what other
options I have should I pursue and spook. If you only have 40 acres of
access for the season, it’s best not to get too aggressive. I’ll also
think to what other birds I heard in the roost, doing my best to identify how
many potential toms heard my calling. I try my best to wait out any play
for 30 minutes after last call if I really got aggressive, especially if birds
are responding from out deep. There’s a few exceptions to that rule, but
for the most part, I’ll get to the point of almost standing up, then give it
another 5 minutes.
Edge of Range – Just writing it makes my skin crawl.
I can’t begin to tell you the number of birds that have skirted the edge of my
weapon’s effective range over the years. I can very precisely tell you
the handful of times I’ve been tempted to push the limits, and let’s just say
that it works only occasionally. You can’t tempt the limit till you
define one, so your early season patterning is more than just a fun time at the
range, it’s crucial to drawing that line in the sand. If I can’t put 100
pellets consistently into a 10” circle, then that range draws a distinct line
for me to shoot within. If that distance is 50 yards, 51 yards is
flirting with disaster accounting for wind, brush, sore arms, and any number of
variables that don’t play out in the field like they do on a lead-sled.
These birds deserve more than “occasionally” so I use a rangefinder where
legal, and able, to demarcate a zone that I simply won’t shoot past.
When to Shoot? – The bird has finally crossed into the
death zone, and you’re just waiting patiently for the best possible –
can’t mess it up – shot to present itself. Don’t wait too long, or really
at all. My best advice has always been to take your first, best shot as
soon as the bird is in range. Of course, a bird in the wide open with his
head down slowly walking your way poses little threat of escape. Add
cover, other birds, partial views, and a tom that’s already nervous, and you’ll
find how remarkably possible it is for a tom to sashay into range and out of it
before you ever get to pull the trigger. That’s why I’ve killed so many
birds between 35-45 yards. It’s not because I like pushing the limits of my
equipment, but it’s because far too many toms have wandered into “sure thing”
setups, only to find a wide tree, hen, or blocking fence-line to walk straight
away and in line from, thus preventing any shot. Fall back on your
patterning, and take the very first, best-looking shot you’ve got while the
bird is in range.
Brush Birds – See above, then take your best shot even if it involves a few twigs. With a caveat. Know that I’d never promote someone taking an unsafe shot (not being sure of target or what’s behind it) or a shot that would potentially maim a turkey (too much brush), but a swarm of pellets especially well inside of your effective range does wonders for peeling back a few sprigs of spring. On the other hand, if you’re looking at a bird in the brush for which you cannot identify the beard or exact location of his head/neck area, then it’s far too thick to try. My rule of thumb is to clearly identify the outline of the head and neck area and make sure you can see beard, then squeeze off a quality shot. If you’re shooting at the outline of a turkey itself or at the edge of your effective range, you don’t have a prayer.