Tactics For Tough Toms: Part 1

It is only fair that you ask my qualifications for writing this article.

The reason that I feel qualified to pontificate on “Tactics For Tough Toms” is that I never seem to encounter the other kind, the mythical “Easy Tom.”

I know of other hunters who tend to blunder into these rare birds quite regularly, but my lot in life seems to be gobblers, which just refuse to make things easy for me.

Yes, there are turkey hunters so adept at this sport that they seek out the super-tough gobbler, the bird which has outwitted every hunter in the county for the entire season. I don’t need to seek out such birds, they find me.

I’m looking for easy birds. Just once, I would like to be able to call my wife from a turkey camp in Missouri, Mississippi, Pennsylvania or even at home here in Minnesota and tell her that I had killed-out and was coming home early. Ha! The shock would probably be too much for the old gal!

So, if you, like me, will probably win the lottery before you find an easy gobbler, come on along and I’ll share with you what I’ve learned during a long and non-glamorous career spent chasing tough toms.

Gobblers With Hens
Down Dixie way these toms are referred to as being “henned-up,” while in the North we simply moan about the fact that the gobblers are with hens. Either way it means the same thing, and that is because the gobblers already have got what they want, they are reluctant to come dashing into our calling.

The author poses with two toms.

The first step is to determine whether or not the gobbler is actually with hens. Of course, if you can see the birds this is not a problem, but often you will have to make this determination prior to actually seeing the birds. Listen close and you may hear the hens. This is a dead giveaway that you are now dealing with a gobbler with hens. Other clues are more subtle.

Say you work a bird on the roost and he gobbles his heart out for you, but then shuts-up as soon as he hits the ground. Odds are good he flew right down to hens and has no reason to continue gobbling. Sometimes toms will continue to gobble after flying down even when in the company of hens, probably hoping to attract even more hens (or prettier ones!). These birds will answer you every time you call, but will not advance. Listen close and you will probably notice that the gobbles are getting farther away or seem to come from a slightly different direction each time. This is a good signal that the gobbler is simply following hens as they meander and feed.

OK, so now you know for sure that the gobbler is with hens. Now what? Here are some tactics, which have worked for me on gobblers with hens.

Call To The Hen
Forget calling to the gobbler, instead call to the hen. Get an old hen fired up and sometimes you can get her mad enough or curious enough that she just has to come and check things out. The best way to draw a hen to you is to duplicate her calling. As soon as you get her to answer try to match her cluck for cluck and yelp for yelp. If she answers every call, but seems reluctant to advance, try cutting her off in mid-yelp.

I carry a small, lightweight blind, which I can easily prop up around me when working a hen. The reason is that when you do accomplish your goal and finally call the hen to you, there is a good chance that the hen will be right in your lap for a minute or so before the gobbler. The gobbler is nearly always lagging behind, and then finally gets within range. A blind will give you a much better chance of passing the scrutiny of the hen.

Try An Ambush
An ambush is another sneaky tactic to use on henned up gobblers. This one demands that you know the lay of the land you are hunting. Determine where the birds are headed and then get ahead of them and wait for them to walk into range. Turkeys will follow field edges, creek bottoms, farm lanes and other types of woodland “structure” for long distances. Leave the calls in your vest unless it is obvious the birds will pass out of range. An ambush is not as exciting as calling a bird to you, but it works!

Try Another Tom
Sometimes the best thing to do is just to leave the gobbler with his hens and go look for a tom that has not been as lucky. This is easier to do in places with lots of turkeys. If you choose this option, figure on coming back to the place where you left the gobbler with his hens in a couple of hours. Sometimes by then the hens will have been bred and wandered off and the gobbler who would not even look your way when he had his harem will now come rushing to your call.

Rush The Tom
I was hunting with one of the big names in the turkey call business when the guy surprised me by suggesting that we, “rush the bastard.” The bastard in this case being a huge Missouri gobbler with five hens, which had been strutting his stuff for the ladies for over an hour while we laid on our bellies at the edge of the alfalfa field and watched.

We did, jumping up and running full tilt at the surprised turkeys. As we had hoped, the hens saw us first and took off running and flying for the timber, but the gobbler, because his attention was on the hens and his fan screened us from view, stood there for a few moments wondering what was going on.

In fact, by the time he flew we were close enough that a load of copper-plated 5s probably would have killed him, but that probably is not good enough for me and besides, I wasn’t mad enough at this bird yet to take him that way! In any case the gobbler did not fly onto the same ridge as the hens, so we were in business.

We sat down and ate a sandwich, had a short snooze and then the turkey call guy gave a few lonesome yelps on his new-fang-dangled slate call. The gobbler, and I know it was the same bird, because he had two tail feathers missing on the right side of center, just about tripped over his 11-inch beard trying to get to us.

Of course rushing the birds and scattering the flock is a well documented fall tactic, but turkeys can’t read, so they don’t know that this tactic is not supposed to work in the spring.

Please read more tactics to bag your Tom in Part 2.

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