The Two-Hour Gobbler

Every run and gun turkey hunter heads for the woods hoping to cash in on a quickie. Nothing beats setting up, hitting a call, and shooting a gobbler 20 minutes after the ordeal begins.

For personal satisfaction, I’ve kept turkey harvest records in a database for several years that tracked the length of time it took to kill a gobbler. For instance, in the 1990s, it took me 3-1/2 hours to kill a difficult Indiana tom. I also met an Illinois bird that pushed the three-hour mark.

Don’t expect too many gobblers to come in running. Do expect that you must make something happen.

On a different note, I have seen a few birds that seemingly wanted to die. I recall shooting one a mere five minutes after he answered my call. In the Hoosier State, my average time to work and kill a bird is 55 minutes. In Illinois it’s an hour and 15 minutes, and in Missouri I average an hour and five minutes. You can see why whenever I set up on a turkey I expect a prolonged experience.

Many two-hour gobblers I faced had good reasons for not coming in sooner. I’ve had many of them led away by a hen, or hens. Breeding hens are seldom eager to share. When you call, they go the opposite direction and lead the tom away.

Overcoming Hens, Obstacles Tough
Then there are hens that intercept gobblers. This often occurs shortly after flydown. The bird might be headed toward you, but a hen shows up between you and the tom. It’s downright thievery, but perfectly legal in the turkey woods.

You also have to deal with terrain obstacles, such as ditches, fences, thickets, and other elements, that could stop a gobbler from coming to you. I once encountered a late-morning tom that gobbled furiously to every call and came in fast. When I saw the bird, he was at 60 yards and rapidly approaching. There he suddenly stopped, but kept gobbling.

Then he paced back and forth for 30 minutes. All I could do was watch and wonder why he hung up. After all, he appeared so eager to die. Eventually, the turkey turned around and walked back from where he came.

After shrugging off the ordeal, I finally got up and moved forward, wondering if the bird’s sixth sense had kicked in just before he walked into gun range. Was he “call shy?”

Nope. When I got to where the bird hung up, I saw two strands of barbed wire fence. He could have easily gone under or over. Instead, he stayed put and waited on the hen. Why would a gobbler come fast for 200 yards and then allow a short fence to hole him up?

I do think we overuse the term call-shy. I believe hens and obstacles delay turkeys from coming in far more often than calls.

I can’t tell you how many toms became turned off as I sat calling from the same location. Many loved the calls and didn’t mind answering, but they wouldn’t come closer until I made a move.

When you “go mobile,” you give a gobbler confidence that you are the real thing. Many toms approach aggressively, but then hit the brakes when they hit some invisible barrier. Unfortunately, the place they stop is frequently beyond gun range.

That’s why many veteran turkey hunters refuse to call when a bird is close. A gobbler that hears a hen in the same location becomes wary. I don’t believe a bird with a brain the size of a walnut is capable of reasoning, but his survival instincts never rest.

Change Setups Frequently
If you call from one location and never move, an experience you thought was going to be a 20-minute success story often turns into a two-hour endeavor — and it won’t always end the way you want it to.

For this reason, I change setups frequently. Many times, you need only move a short distance to calm a gobbler’s anxiety. Sometimes it’s a move of 20 yards, and sometimes it’s more.

Plenty of turkey hunters have learned that making a gobbler sweat is the best way to bring him in. In other words, after calling a bird in so close, you simply shut up.

This tactic does not come with a written guarantee, but I have killed turkeys this way. You know how it works. You call and fire up a gobbler. As soon as he gets close, you don’t say another word.

After a few minutes, he begins to worry, thinking he might have missed out on a prime opportunity. Then his breeding instinct takes over. He quietly sneaks in and periscopes the surrounding.

It’s too bad it doesn’t always work that way. In most cases of playing the quiet game, it’s me who sweats! I remember a couple instances where the tom was cautious enough to circle and sneak in behind me, but more often than not, many gobblers become bored, turn around and walk away.

Therefore, I don’t play the quiet game for long. In fact, I believe this tactic is more likely to produce a two-hour gobbler than prevent one.

If I stop calling and a tom doesn’t respond soon after refusing to come in, I resort to other calling tactics. Consider the Indiana bird that took more than three hours to kill. It was a gobble call that lured him into range. I’m convinced that had I not gobbled, he would not have earned a mention in this story.

Although I’ve tried to give you a few remedies for dealing with two-hour toms, be aware that these birds will never go away. I’m rather happy knowing the possibility is good that I will encounter a two-hour bird this season.

You won’t kill every two-hour tom you meet, but they’re usually a lot of fun to deal with, and they teach you a lot more than the gobblers that come running.

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