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Spring Turkey
Earning your degree in "tomology"
is a rewarding adventure.

By Larry D. Hodge
page 2

After that it gets complicated.

Turkeys will often use the same travel path when leaving an area. They may head for water, or food, or a road that leads to either. Your job is to figure out what that path will be, then position yourself where the hens are going to go.

That's right. You want to know where the hens are going, because while survival is first on a tom's brain when he wakes up, sex runs a close second and probably comes in first on occasion. Where the hens go, the toms will follow. You are not going to call a gobbler away from hens-usually. However, there are a few tricks you can use to weaken his devotion to the lady he spent the night fantasizing about and make him come to you.

Sometimes a henned-up gobbler will respond to extremely loud, aggressive-almost obnoxious-calling. In fact, "obnoxious" may be exactly the right word. Call continuously, bearing down hard on the call, and don't give up until the gobbler is out of sight. When using this technique I think it's important to be hidden well so the tom can't see where you're calling from, and to use no decoy. You want him to have to come looking for that loud-mouthed hen.

I have made toms going the other way turn around and come back simply by making so much noise that they just had to come see what had that hen so riled up. Often this will take a while, as they don't seem to want to appear over-eager and will take their own sweet time, feeding along and stopping to look around a lot. It's turkey hunting in slow motion, but when it works you know you've done something right.

Another technique that may work on a tom with lots of girlfriends is to appeal to his instinct to have every hen in sight in his harem and to banish all other males-especially jakes-from his kingdom. Use a jake decoy, or a jake decoy with a hen in the breeding position, to lure the dominant gobbler into range. Often a tom that will not come to a hen decoy and call will be blinded by jealousy and rage when he sees an interloper in his territory and will run right over to kick him out. This trick once duped a triple-bearded Hill Country gobbler with 25 hens around him into running straight up to my decoy 22 yards in front of me.

Greedy boy. Dead bird.

Whether you are hunting Easterns or Rio Grandes, prepare to go home empty-handed most of the time. What you don't want to do is go home empty-headed. The birds you kill don't teach you nearly as much as the ones you don't.

Ironically, it was Benjamin Franklin who championed the turkey to be America's national bird, saying that "Experience keeps a dear school, but a fool will learn in no other."

Come spring, all I ask of life is to be a fool in the school taught by Texas toms.

Tips for talking turkey

In turkey hunting, calling is secondary to set-up. Use any call you feel comfortable with, and don't worry about sounding like an expert. Bruce Brady, a long-time turkey hunter, once told me that he thought cadence in calling was more important than sound. He liked to use an odd-numbered series of yelps that started off low, rose in volume and ended medium loud, with a slightly longer pause between the last two yelps than between the rest.

Varying calls to get different sounds sometimes helps, so I carry several box calls and slate calls and try them out to see which one gets the toms fired up the most. You can also vary the sound on a paddle-style box call by holding the paddle still and stroking it with the box instead of the other way around.

When gobblers are still on the roost and you are trying to get them to fly down and come your way, the more hens you can sound like, the better. I lay every call I have out on the ground around me and use them all in turn, trying to sound like a whole flock of seductive hens. This seems to work especially well when starting off with a series of sleepy tree yelps as the sky first begins to get light.

When the tom gobbles back at you, don't answer him with louder yelps; you're supposed to be half asleep and not yet interested in fooling around. In fact, if you can make a tom gobble at you repeatedly with an assortment of calls and soft tree yelps, it would be a good idea to get ready to shoot.

He's interested.

I use a soft-bodied decoy that I can fold up and carry in my backpack. This one decoy, which I've named "Been-Her," is a hen decoy with the neck spray-painted red to look like a jake, hence the name. When I need a hen decoy, I slip a gray sock with the toe cut out over the neck to hide the red.

Don't put decoys where they can be seen from a long distance. Gobblers expect hens to come to them, and the way they convince a hen to do this is by appearing larger and more gorgeous than the other toms.

That's why they strut.

If a tom can see your decoy from a hundred yards away, he will often hang up. He knows the hen can see him, because he can see her, and he'll stay put. Position your decoy so it can't be seen by the gobbler until he is within shotgun range. You'll fool more turkeys that way.

With lots of turkeys in the woods and hunters packing a decoy behind every bush, turkeys are getting educated as fast as we are. If nothing else works, show them something different. Last year Justin Trail of Wildlife Systems Inc., of San Angelo dreamed up a new trick that pulled in multiple toms time after time. He put out a "spread" of nine decoys-six hens and three jakes-and used three callers spaced around the shooter, all calling aggressively. It was the next-to-last weekend of the season, and there were still lots of unbred hens to compete for the toms' attention. When the smoke cleared, there were gobblers on the ground.

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