Gerald Almy: Tactics for scoring when gobblers won’t talk
Quiet toms represent a particularly frustrating problem for spring turkey hunters. You know birds are there – you’ve seen their sign, spotted them at a distance, or perhaps heard them actually gobble once or twice.
But then suddenly: silence. The elation you felt on hearing that first gobble disappears as the woods grow ominously quiet. It’s an eerie, almost palpable silence.
Working vocal birds is the essence of spring turkey hunting at its finest. But sometimes gobblers just don’t follow the script.
Such quiet toms can be fooled. But like many challenges in turkey hunting, there is rarely one easy, clear solution. Rather, it pays to keep a variety of tactics in your bag of tricks and try one or the other depending on the specific situation you face. Over this week and next we’ll delve into some effective ways to overcome this common turkey hunting problem.
Before considering strategy, though, let’s take a quick look at why turkeys sometimes won’t gobble. One factor may be bad weather. If it’s sleeting, snowing or raining hard, it’s fairly obvious why toms aren’t talking.
Hens may be roosting nearby. If they’re close by a gobbler has little reason to sound off. Finally, heavy hunting pressure may have subdued his urge to call as a survival move.
Here are some possible solutions to the quiet tom challenge.
Pattern the birds. Hunt them much like you would a deer. This takes time and lots of listening, watching, and searching for sign to determine what routes he usually takes. .
Look for watering holes and feed areas such as oak flats and clover or wheat fields. Search for tracks, leaves pulled back where birds have scratched for food, dusting areas, and strutting zones. These are often found at small openings in forests, field edges, logging roads, or benches and saddles in mountains. Look for thin lines where a gobbler’s primary feathers dragged the ground as he strutted.
The idea is to predict the turkey’s movement patterns, then get on that route and wait. You can call lightly with soft clucks and just a couple of quiet yelps, or simply wait.
Don’t drop your guard, though. We’re talking “quiet toms” here. These birds will slip in like a wisp of fog. I’ve waited several hours before a tom slinked in silently using this approach.
Try locator calls. Some people hoot occasionally at dawn with an owl call, others never use them at all. But a variety of other locator calls can be valuable for “startling” or “shocking” a single gobble out of quiet toms.
Once you know where the bird is, based on that one give-away gobble, then you can move in close and try your best calling efforts to lure him in. Alternately, you can judge by your knowledge of the terrain where the bird is likely to head, then move to that area and wait for him it.
I’ve had good luck with pileated woodpecker, crow, hawk, predator, “shock,” and coyote calls. Blow them loud and hard, especially from mid-morning on.
Try cutting. Most hunters yelp, some cluck and a few purr. But the best turkey hunters I’ve accompanied over the years use a fourth call quite often. It’s not just good for quiet toms, but that is one time when it shines.
The call is the cutt – sharp, loud, strident yelps in quick succession. A good mouth caller can make excellent cutts on a diaphragm. Even a novice, with a bit of practice, can make great cutts on a box. Hammer the paddle against the box with sharp, short strokes in quick succession.
The aim is to sound like an excited or scolding hen – loud and forceful. You may just get one pinpointing gobble. Other times the bird will be so excited he’ll come running. But at least the cutt will get him talking.
Next week: More tactics for dealing with quiet gobblers.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.