I’ve turkey hunted in Ontario for over 20 years and, although I no longer hunt in Ohio, I chased turkeys there for 17 years. With all these seasons of experience, I’ve gathered some knowledge of how to hunt them. Much of it is based on mistakes I’ve made, but also reading, watching videos, and trying various techniques. I thought the 2016 Ontario season was going to be a little easier because it appeared we would have an early Spring; which meant on opening day April 25th most the hens would have been bred and the gobblers would have been searching and responding well to calls. However, we received two more weeks of Winter in April which pushed spring back. As a result, when the season started, the birds were still flocked up and it gets harder to call the big Toms off multiple hens. We had many great hunts this spring but we had to draw on our years of experience, trying various techniques and strategies to be successful.
Turkey calling is very important, so become proficient with as many different calls as you can. If you aren’t a good turkey caller, do not call very much; less is more so to speak. I feel if you become really good on a mouth diaphragm, you can sound more like a turkey than a turkey. Also, you can sound like different turkeys using one call; for instance, if you practice saying CHIRP as opposed to CHICK, your yelp will be raspier. Or PUTT instead of TUTT when you cluck. Purring is sometimes difficult to master on a diaphragm and I’m decent, but really like the sound of a purr on a slate or glass call.
Box calls are great and they are what I recommend to all beginners. I never go hunting without my Quaker Grand Old master box. Yelps can mean ‘come here’, Clucks mean ‘where are you’ or ‘look’ and ‘purrs’ can be contented feeding or aggressive fighting sounds. Which brings up an interesting point; yelps and clucks can mean many different things when done at various speeds or cadences. The best way to get a gobbler to sound off is with cutting; which is 5 fast clucks with the second note higher than the first and dropping off on the last 3, followed with 5 excited yelps. The best ways to get proficient is practice; watch DVD’s of live sounds and listen to turkeys in the wild.
Patience, choosing the right setups and knowing the lay of the land you’re hunting are keys to being successful. Don’t be in a hurry to leave a property because of no response to your calls. Turkeys can hear further than you and might’ve gobbled without you hearing them and started your way. If the turkey keeps responding to your calls but isn’t getting closer and it goes on for quite some time, you have a few options; first, try some different calling routines. Next, go quiet for 20 or 30 minutes. When you start calling again, if you were really aggressive before, now go with soft stuff. You can try simulating a fight, or if your positioning permits it without being seen, make a move on him. If it seems he doesn’t want to commit to your position but he is still interested, have patience and don’t give up on him.
When hunting with a partner, one of you may start calling and moving away from the gobbler, trying to pull him into the shooter. Whenever possible, I try to setup under cedar trees; cedars are normally eaten up as far as deer can reach and allow you to sit in the shadows. When the turkey is in the next field and the fence row has thick vegetation, find an opening or gateway and move 20 to 30 yards back. They will just about always pick the easy route and walk through for a peek. Get within 20 to 40 yards from the top of a knoll, they’ll strut their stuff on top of it and already be in range. Try striking a gobble by walking the entire farm, calling every 100 yards, then walk back doing the same thing. This helps you get to know the property, and numerous times I’ve struck a gobble on the walk back. Knowing the property you’re hunting helps you know where all these good setups are located.
Decoys are hit or miss, but, most of the time, I use them. I prefer an Avian mating hen and we also have the skin off a hen we shot mounted in the looking position. Sometimes we setup a jake decoy with a real fan, right behind the mating hen. It has a string attached, so you can pull it and make him do the mating dance. As the season progresses, I will mostly just use one or two hens. If you suspect the Toms approach route to be from your left, set the decoys 30 yards to your right. If you have to bring them across a field, have the decoys facing you 30 yards out. Base your decoy setups on what stage of the breeding season it is. Get to know the various stages of the breeding season and it will make all these decisions easier.
The second day of the season we were on one of our best farms to hunt. Dad and I were setup under a cedar tree in a known strut zone, using our 3 decoy spread. My first set of calls was greeted with multiple gobbles. Within 10 minutes we had 4 jakes around our decoys. I kept them gobbling on and off for the next 30 minutes. I will keep jakes around as long as I can in the hopes a big Tom gets jealous and comes to investigate. We soon started hearing more gobbles from the same directions where the jakes came from. Then there they were; 3 big gobblers, staring at the jakes and our decoys about 100 yards out. When they got to 60 yards the jakes started leaving and to our disappointment, the gobblers followed. For the next two hours we watched them chase and fight with the jakes, including two more mature Toms that had shown up. After trying many different tactics, 3 mature gobblers just showed up from behind a juniper bush and we had another double. If you want to sit comfortably for hours, make sure you buy a turkey chair.
The day Dad and I tagged out in 2016, we had two great hunts. At the second farm we went to, as we drove in, we saw the hen about 300 yards from the gobbler. So I kept driving towards him and he kept getting further from the hen. I parked the truck right where he was, so he wouldn’t come back that way. Then we walked close to a mile around these woods to a field I know well. As we got to the field, I said ‘Dad, go to the top of that knoll and sit 20 yards back from the entrance of the other field and I will sit at the bottom of the knoll and try to pull him into you’. It took the gobbler about 5 minutes before he started gobbling and another 5 minutes to step into the opening where he perished. Tag team hunting for turkeys can work really well.
At the fourth farm we stopped at that day, I made a rookie mistake. I would normally drive into the first field and park and then walk across the next field and call. If I don’t get a gobble right away on this farm, I go elsewhere. Because the farmer had sowed the field, I parked by the road and didn’t grab my gear and walked halfway across the first field before I called. He broke in on my calls and by the time I got back to the truck and suited up, he was standing, staring at us. Knowing this farm well, I formulated a plan immediately. We drove over a mile north to the next road and then another quarter mile east, parked and then walked 3 fields back south towards him. I dropped Dad on a small hill in the second field with instructions to call if he hangs up. I setup in the middle of the third field, 25 yards from the opening to the field south-west, where I figured he was. I started calling as soon as I sat down and never heard a sound. Ten minutes later, I heard a distinctive spit and drum and saw him standing in the opening. When he stepped into my field I let him have it. This was my biggest gobbler; he weighed just less than 25 pounds. The lesson here is don’t give up on turkeys you spook; they get spooked every day of their lives.
I realize this is a lot of information to digest so be patient. The most important rule is to have fun, be safe, and enjoy hunting this great game bird. I love to hear them gobble.
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