Gobbler Game Plans

By Jake Hindman, photos by David Stonner | March 19, 2013
From Missouri Conservationist: Apr 2013

My parents must have known I would be a turkey hunter. Besides naming me Jake (also the name of a juvenile male turkey), they encouraged my appreciation for all types of wildlife, including turkeys, from an early age. Growing up, it was always a treat to see what dad brought home from his hunting or fishing trips. Spring was the best, as there was always a story to go along with bagged gobblers. Those early exposures to turkey hunting taught me that different strategies were needed to consistently connect with longbeards.

Reflecting on countless turkey hunts and referencing my logbook entries of encounters, I created this guide to some of the most common gobbler maneuvers. Spoil Tom’s plans this spring by employing a variety of tactics and strategies to help you bag your bird.

Textbook Tom

Situation: It is 5:45 a.m. on opening morning of turkey season. You roosted a gobbler last night and you are now within 100 yards. He is gobbling from the roost. How do you call this turkey into gun range?

Technique: Start out with soft tree yelps to let the gobbler know you are there. If he answers you a few times, wait for him to fly down and then let him know that you are on the ground and ready for business by cutting and yelping. Keep your firearm pointed in the direction of his gobbles. Listen for spitting and drumming as he approaches.

Insight: Missouri’s regular spring turkey season opens on the third Monday in April. This conservative approach allows for the majority of hens to be bred before the season begins. In the case of the Textbook Tom, hunters can encounter gobblers with very few hens or no hens at all, making them very vulnerable to calling techniques.

Gobbling Away Gobbler

Situation: It is 6:30 a.m. on the third morning of spring turkey season, and you hear a turkey gobbling in front of you. He gobbles every time you call, but he is farther away each time he gobbles. What strategies can be used to harvest this uncooperative bird?

Technique: Try aggressive calling by mixing in yelps and cutting. If your calling techniques fall short, try to determine what direction the gobbler is moving in and circle around in front of him. Use a locator call (crow, owl, or hawk work well) to“check” him and then use soft calls to lure him into range.

Insight: More than likely this tom has hens that are dragging him in a different direction. He is “courteous gobbling” to let you know that he is interested and he would like for you to come to him. Remember, in nature the gobbler is accustomed to the hens coming to him when he gobbles. This natural phenomenon often leaves hunters dealing with hung-up or hardheaded gobblers that refuse to come to calling.

Too Many Hens Gobbler

Situation: It is 7 a.m. on opening day of youth turkey season and you just heard a gobbler about 200 yards away in a small clover field. You are able to get within 150 yards of the field and you can see there is one gobbler strutting with two jakes and four hens. How can you lure this small flock of turkeys in?

Technique: First, determine if the flock is moving in a specific direction and set up in front of them if possible. Start with soft yelps, clucks, and purrs. If that doesn’t work, start aggressive calling to the hens and mimic exactly what they say. Calling over the dominant hen, or even cutting her off when calling, can make her come to check on the upstart hen and bring the entire flock in range. Use a variety of calls and calling devices to convince the flock there are several hens that are interested.

Insight: Hunters will often encounter gobblers with hens in small flocks in early season. If your calling attempts are unanswered, try hunting this bird on another day, or try setting up a ground blind in the area that the flock frequents. (See Clockwork Gobbler for more information).

Yo-Yo Gobbler

Situation: It is 8:30 a.m. on the first Sunday of the season and you hear a turkey gobbling every few minutes. As you approach within 150 yards, it is apparent that the gobbler is strutting back and forth on a ridge. The bird appears to be gobbling at each end of his strut zone, which seems to be about 50 yards long. How do you deal with this type of turkey?

Technique: First, try getting as close to the turkey without spooking him as possible (wait for him to go to the other end of his strut zone to approach). Realize you will often bump this bird if you move too close too quickly and always keep safety a priority; wear blaze orange when moving. Once in position, try soft yelps, clucks, and purrs and imitate a coy hen that simply feeding nearby. Scratch in the leaves to add realism. If the bird doesn’t budge, consider going silent for a minimum of 30 minutes try the bird later in the morning.

Insight: Gobblers will routinely strut in a strut zone to display, attract, and court hens.

Talkative Tom

Situation: It is 9 a.m. on opening morning and you have been working a tom for about 30 minutes now. He is gobbling at every sound you make but seems to be standing in the same spot. What strategies can you employ to harvest this bird?

Technique: Go silent; more times than not, if a gobbler thinks that the potential hen has left, he will come in silent to investigate. If the quiet treatment of at least 30 minutes has not worked, consider backing off and moving to a different location. Use a locator call to keep tabs on the bird as you ease to a different setup.

Insight: Often, gobblers will stand and gobble in the same spot, waiting for the hens to come to them. This is common turkey mating behavior. This bird will usually gobble incessantly after a few minutes of not hearing you respond; fight the urge to call back, playing on the psychological make-up of this bird. After applying the silent treatment, this bird will often walk in head held high, silent and cautious, looking for the hen.

Kamikaze Gobbler

Situation: It is 10 a.m. on the first Friday of turkey season and a tom starts gobbling on his own. How can you ensure you will wrap a tag around this gobbler’s leg?

Technique: Ease to within 150 yards of this gobbler or as close as possible without bumping the bird. Before you make any calls, make sure you have a found a solid setup location as this turkey will likely come in very quickly. Once you have your gun on your knee, start out with soft yelps and clucks. Be careful about moving, as this tom may be in front of you in only minutes.

Insight: This bird is what turkey hunting dreams are made of. More than likely this gobbler has had hens all morning, has lost them, and is simply trolling about looking for love. This tom will likely be so beside himself that he will come running into your setup. Expect spitting and drumming as he approaches.

Clockwork Gobbler

Situation: It is the third day of Missouri’s turkey season. You have watched a small flock of turkeys with one adult gobbler fly down in the middle of a 10-acre field each day and spend the majority of the day feeding and loafing. Your calling attempts have not worked. What techniques can be used to harvest this bird?

Technique: Try using a pop-up hunting blind. Put the blind in the general location that the gobbler has been landing, stake out a few turkey decoys, and settle in. Make sure to arrive well before first light. Try soft calling just to let the flock know you are interested in company.

Insight: Field birds with hens can be very difficult to call in. Scouting to determine the habits of the flock can pay big dividends when dealing with this type of turkey. If the gobbler doesn’t come in immediately after fly-down, don’t fret. Often, the hens will leave him later in the morning, leaving him lonely. Be prepared for the gobbler to return to your setup.

Lock-Jaw Longbeard

Situation: It is the second week of spring turkey season, and you are attempting to harvest your second bird for the season. Thunderstorms from the night before have the woods quiet on this morning. Off in the distance you hear one gobble. The heavy foliage allows you to approach within 150 yards; the bird gobbles one more time on the roost before you hear him fly down. Your calls go unanswered. It is now 7 a.m. and you haven’t heard the bird since 5:50 a.m. What to do?

Technique: Avoid over-calling on mornings that you hear little or no gobbling. In addition, avoid the temptation to walk the farm calling every 15 minutes hoping to hear a gobbler. Instead, rely on scouting trips prior to the season and return to known turkey hangouts. Stake out a few decoys, make some soft calls every 15–20 minutes, and stay alert; don’t be surprised if a gobbler shows up unannounced.

Insight: Weather can have a huge impact on the mood of turkeys, which can also impact the amount of gobbling that turkeys will do during weather-change events. During slow or undesirable conditions, respond with conservative tactics to increase your chance of success.

Gobbler Fraternity

Situation: It is the last day of Missouri’s spring turkey season and you have spotted three adult gobblers on the edge of a wheat field about 250 yards away. How do you call this late-season bachelor group into gun range?

Technique: After determining what direction the turkeys are going, try to circle around in front of the trio and find a spot along their potential travel route. Start out with soft yelps and, if possible, watch the reaction of the gobblers to your calling.

Insight: Though the breeding season is winding down, gobblers can still have a high interest in connecting with a hen. Rely on the terrain to remain unseen while sneaking to a set-up location. Consider putting out a lone hen decoy to entice the late-season longbeards.

Although turkeys will be turkeys, and not all techniques will leave you with a filled tag, hunters will have a much higher chance of connecting with spring gobblers by trying a variety of turkey hunting techniques. This spring, when you set up on a love-crazed longbeard, analyze the situation and apply a mixture of tactics; by doing so you’ll likely fill your tag shortly after Tom’s toes touch dirt on opening day. Calling in and harvesting a spring tom will have a lasting impression, and each new experience will help you become a better hunter.

Spring Turkey Season Play-by-Play

  1. 6 a.m.: Fly down from roost
  2. 7 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.: Courtship/mating/feeding
  3. 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.: Loafing/egg laying
  4. 2 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.: Feeding
  5. 7:30 p.m.: Fly up to roost

Successful Setups

  1. Close the distance: Get as close as possible to the gobbler or a known turkey hangout location, 150 yards or closer depending on terrain and cover. As you ease to a setup use locator calls to keep tabs on the bird’s location.
  2. Plan ahead: Find a location before making any turkey calls in case the gobbler comes in quickly.
  3. Avoid obstacles: Turkeys can sometimes be hesitant to cross obstacles. Avoid setting up with any barriers between you and the gobbler (creeks, old fences etc.).
  4. Make it safe: Choose a tree that is wider than your shoulders and a spot where you can be seen by others. Wear blaze orange when moving.
  5. Settle in: Get a good seat to ensure you remain comfortable. Pack food and drink.
  6. Plan for the shot: Keep your gun up and pointed in the direction you expect the gobbler to approach. Positively identify a legal turkey that is within range of your equipment and ensure the shot is safe.

Turkey Timeline

  1. January to February: Brood flocks are well established and gobblers are seen in small flocks
  2. Mid- to late March: Flocks break up
  3. Mid-March: Gobbling begins, 1st peak in early April
  4. Mid-April to late May: Gobbling continues, 2nd peak in mid-April
  5. April to May: Courtship/mating
  6. Late April to late May: Hens nesting
  7. Early June to late August: Broods appear
  8. Mid-June to September: Brood flocks form

Also In This Issue

canoe on the upper jacks fork
Once described as the Mozart of rivers, the upper Jacks Fork is one of Missouri’s wildest and most scenic rivers. It’s a deep and narrow valley that offers spring paddlers a spirited float.
Wounded Warrior Deer Hunt
Two annual Missouri events honor our country’s injured soldiers and help them heal through outdoor recreation.

This Issue's Staff

Editor In Chief - Ara Clark
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair Terrill
Art Director - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Artist - Mark Raithel
Circulation - Laura Scheuler