To Understand A Turkey, Walk A Mile In Its Feet

I yelped, he gobbled. I purred, he fanned. But there was a problem. He did it 80 yards away, and for a long, long time. No matter what I tried, that hung-up Tom just wouldn’t close the distance. What to do, what to do?

Ever since I began hunting and fishing, I’ve tried to approach my quarry by understanding what makes them tick. I’ve tried to get inside their heads. Walk a mile in their shoes, so to speak. Or should I say walk a mile in their hooves, paws, feet, fins. Oh wait that would be “swim a mile in their fins.”

Winkelman Turkey Column Photo a03065
Babe Winkelman

At any rate, what’s important here is for hunters (and anglers) to have a working knowledge of their prey and to use that (along with our superior cunning) against them. What I’ve learned is that there’s a three-part common denominator for all creatures, which serves as a foundation for outsmarting your adversary. The common denominator is that all living creatures are driven by these simple things:

(1) To eat.

(2) To not get eaten.

(3) To breed.

Understanding this makes it easier to appreciate how all living things relate to protective cover; how they develop predictable travel patterns between sleeping areas and food sources; and how their need to breed creates huge vulnerabilities in their desire to “not get eaten.”

So, back to this hung-up Tom. To get him to close the distance, I had to do something. What I was doing wasn’t working well enough. So I instinctively studied the situation as it related to the 1, 2, 3 common denominator I just mentioned.

Was the Tom on a food source he simply didn’t want to leave? Hmmmm, my answer was no. He was spending most of his time strutting out there at 80 yards. Occasionally he’d lay his feathers down to peck at a seed or bug, then gobble and go back to strutting. And frankly, the cover type between me and him was identical, so whatever he was eating could be eaten closer to me. So I checked off #1.

Then I considered #2. Was there something about the set-up that had this Tom on edge? He seemed to like my calling, because he gobbled every time I called. It got him excited! I surmised that there was nothing about my ambush position that made him nervous, because he didn’t act goofy at all. I was in a hunting blind and I knew he hadn’t seen me. So I checked #2 off the list as well.

Take Advantage Of Their ‘Need To Breed’
This left me with dwelling upon #3 – the need to breed. Obviously this Tom was full of love, so why hang up? Then I heard it: “yelp, yelp, yelp, yelp, yelp…” A real live hen was just beyond a slight dip in the landscape below the Tom. I couldn’t see her, and never knew she was there. So I quickly understood that he was “playing the field” to hens on either side of him. Smart bird … ups the odds of getting some action!

Now, how could I compete with a living, breathing, sexy hen? I had my calls and plastic decoy, sure. But that’s no comparison to the real thing! Then I asked myself: “What if I could convince Mr. Tom that there’s a second hen here? And that she’s going away!”

So inside the blind I put a diaphragm call in my mouth that had a wildly different sound than the box call I had been using. My plan was to begin calling with the box, which he was accustomed to, and then cut in over the top of that calling with the mouth call. He would hear TWO birds! Then I would continue calling as Hen #2, only I would gradually turn away from the Tom’s direction each time I called, and make it softer, so he’d think a hot hen was walking away and giving him the cold shoulder. Maybe, just maybe, he’d get so upset about being left at the altar that he’d come running.

I set my plan in motion and 30 seconds later it was lights-out for Mr. Longbeard!

Turkey hunting success takes a mix of skill and luck. It also requires psychology. Even though they’re very peculiar birds, if you understand how their minds work at a primal level, you can put your big brain to work outsmarting them. I hope that helps you next time a turkey hangs up on you.

Good Hunting!

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