The Only Thing Greener Than the Fresh Grass Shooting Up in the Pasture that Early Spring Morning was the Guy Walking Through it and His Experience When it Came to Turkey Roosting and Hunting.
For years, I had chased deer through these hills and hollows. However, I had never really thought twice about turkey roosting and hunting. For me, at that time, turkey hunting ranked right up there with watching tennis or golf on TV. It was something you did when there wasn’t anything else to do. Nonetheless, here I was trudging through the pre-dawn darkness on my first solo turkey hunt.
In my mind, these were just loudmouth, show off, dumb birds. They could ever be as challenging or rewarding as hunting the weary old bucks that roamed this farm. I mean how hard could it be? These birds were everywhere. They gobbled so you knew exactly where they were. If all else failed just go sit on the edge of the pasture. A turkey was bound to stroll by sooner or later, right? I had everything figured out this was a piece of cake.
I had gone the evening before for turkey roosting (or so I thought) and was trying to get to the ridge where he had exited the pasture going to his roost. In my mind, I just knew he was sleeping tight on his limb. There, he would pitch down and make his way back to the field. Just like he had done several mornings in a row. Then, he would stand there and strut and gobble to call all his lady friends to him. All I had to do was pick out a tree, sit down, make a few calls, and voilà. A lucky tom would get a free ride home in the back of my truck.
Then Reality Hit and It Hit Hard
The lessons I learned that morning didn’t register as lessons then. They were more like a slap in the face with a major dose of frustration. As I look back now, I learned more that morning than I ever realized. Honestly, I would probably spend less frustrated days chasing turkeys now if I would use many of those lessons today.
I did eventually kill the old tom that morning, but it wasn’t anything like I had planned. I quickly learned that I didn’t know near as much as I thought I did. Soon I realized that “what I didn’t know” that morning helped me kill my first turkey.
What I didn’t know at that time was that turkey roosting is harder than it seems. You wait until right at dusk and listen for him to gobble after he is actually on the limb for the night. All the hunters that had took time to help me as I got started would tell me to go out in the evenings and listen for him to gobble as he flies up to his limb for the night. That’s where he will be in the morning.
They assumed I had enough common sense to wait until dusk to go listen, but boy I proved them wrong. My first mistake was that I had left the tom at 5:30 p.m. the previous evening. I watched him leave the field. I thought he was going to the turkey roosting that I had set up. In reality, he had actually crossed the hollow and was roosting on the next ridge over.
As I look back now, I realize this helped me. Thankfully, I didn’t make the mistake of getting too close to a turkey roosting. Every turkey hunter has the dream of a big old boy pitching off the turkey roosting, landing 40 yards in front of us, and blowing our hat off with that first gobble right before we put a load of lead in his head. If this bird had been where I thought he was, I probably would have tried to get within 75 to 100 yards of him and would have ran the chance of putting him on alert to my presence as I made my way up the ridge.
Even if you walk in, in total darkness, unless you can do so completely silently, that tom is going to hear you moving through the leaves and undergrowth. We all know how cautious these birds are. As it worked out, I sat up about 350 yards away and across a hollow from him. I realized trying to call a tom across a hollow is less than ideal. However, I still felt my chances of doing that were better than calling a tom back to me if he had been spooked while on the roost.
In reality, closing in too tight on a turkey roosting is a bad idea. This will more often than not cause him to pitch out away from a hunter. So don’t ruin your hunt, as so many of us “seasoned” hunters tend to do. Do not get too close to your bird while he is on the roost. Day in and day out, I have since found that the best advice I can give about a turkey roosting is to scout. Figure out where he likes to go after fly down. Then, set up at least 150 to 200 yards away from him. Just make sure you are between the tom and where he wants to go.
What I didn’t know was that after finally getting set up, my confidence would drop into my boots. I reached into my vest pocket only to find that my beloved call holder with all my mouth calls in it was still in the refrigerator at home. I didn’t say any ugly words. However, one or two may have crossed my mind at that point. I had spent countless hours practicing leading up to that morning, and I had bugged everybody I could to get them to listen to my calling trying to get tips and pointers. After all, we all have to be master callers so we can make any tom come running from a mile away, don’t we? As I sat there, I could only find myself desperately wishing for my mouth calls. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I wished, they never showed up.
All I had left to use that morning was a friction call, which I felt okay using, but had not practiced with nearly as much. How this helped me was that I never called the first time to that tom while he was on the roost. I was frustrated and wasn’t nearly as confident in my calling with that friction call as I would have been with my mouth calls so I just sat there silent.
Had I been the “seasoned” hunter I am today and had had my mouth calls, as soon as that tom gobbled the first few times, I would have commenced to serenade him with tree yelps, purrs, and clucks just so he would know I was there. If he had responded just right, I would have yelped that old boy’s ears off trying to get him to cross over to me.
Many hunters make a rookie mistake. We convince ourselves that the only way a tom is going to come anywhere near us when he flies down is if we coax and coerce him with our best and sweetest hen talk. Even today, if I’m not careful I find myself yelping like a mad man when I hear that gobbler getting fired up on the roost at daylight. The truth is that many times a turkey roosting will go away from a hunter who is calling too much while he is still on the roost. Either that or he will sit on the limb waiting on that hen to come to him. So be careful with the amount of calling you do a roosted bird.
What I didn’t know that morning was that some hen turkeys are lousy, and I mean really lousy, callers. As I stated this was the first time going at this solo. I really had no idea that not all turkeys sound like world champion turkey callers.
I soon learned that a hen was roosted on the same ridge I was on. This old gal sounded like a dying crane. Even her soft tree yelps and purrs sounded awful. I mean she really needed to go to a contest to see what she was supposed to sound like. It was so bad that when she opened up that morning I flew mad. I truly thought somebody was trespassing and had snuck in trying to get my tom.
Again, no ugly words came out, but I was giving this “poacher” what for in my mind. I simply sat there for several minutes wondering what to do. Then, I noticed something. Even though those calls sounded awful, that tom was going nuts and answering every tree yelp, purr and cluck. However, I was just before getting up to go run these poachers off when, to my surprise, I heard her cackle and fly down. He went totally bonkers when she did.
“What I didn’t know that morning was that some hen turkeys are lousy, and I mean really lousy, callers.”
What happened next just blew my mind. I had watched video after video, show after show, and listened to other hunters talking, but nothing, and I mean nothing, is the same as sitting in God’s creation listening to the real deal. That hen then began to yelp with her best out of cadence, 3-pack a day raspy voice. That tom went to double and triple gobbling back at her. I quickly realized that I couldn’t sound any worse than she did. So I began to yelp when she yelped and he answered me just like he did her.
Guess what? It didn’t have to be perfect pitch or perfect cadence. I would cut when she cut and he would answer me just like he did her. I also became aware that when I did what she did, she would answer me. Only a little bit louder and a little bit more aggressively, so I in turn started doing it to her. Now, not only was tom gobbling his head off at both of us, but the hen was now mad and headed my way to check me out.
This lesson has become the second most important lesson I’ve ever learned about turkey roosting and hunting. Timing, realism, and making the correct call at the correct time is important. More so than your calling having perfect pitch and cadence. A well-timed yelp with the correct volume from an average hunter is more deadly than a world-class caller’s yelp if they don’t know how or when to use it. The only way to truly learn the “whens” and “how muchs” is by being out there and listening to the real deal, and from experience. A turkey’s brain is roughly the size of a marble, but even at that, they are not stupid. If a tom hears the same call the same way day in and day out, he will realize something just doesn’t add up.
Another point, don’t be afraid to swap calls every once in a while. What sounds good to you may not sound good to him. Try using that $18 push button call or that friction call that you think sounds terrible. That call may be the sweetest sounding thing he’s ever heard and be the ticket to getting him in range.
Just because a tom goes silent doesn’t mean he’s left or not coming. Sure enough, about 20 minutes later, that hen was 30 yards in front of me. She was standing there purring and clucking trying to get my decoys to move or make a sound. I was no longer hearing the gobbles from across the hollow. However, I was content to watch my first close encounter with a wild turkey.
She was no longer yelping and carrying on. After standing there for 5 to 10 minutes purring and occasionally pecking on one of the decoys, she started to amble off. I decided to have a little fun with her. She walked off to my right about 35 to 40 yards. I slowly picked up my friction call and made a soft slow purr to try to get her to come back.
At that moment, my life changed forever. About 50 yards straight in front of me just over the crest of the hill came the most thunderous rumbling gobble that has ever been produced by a turkey (or so it seemed at the time). My heart rate went from 70 to 150 in point three nanoseconds. The ol’ tom had indeed crossed the hollow and was now standing 50 yards in front of me. He proceeded to gobble three or four more times to drive my adrenaline level to record heights. Then, one of the most beautiful sights the Good Lord has ever created strutted to the peak of the ridge. He gave me the privilege of hearing him spit and drum several times. Then, a load of Federal turkey shot sent him to his final resting place.
If that had been me today, as soon as that bird hushed I would have been on the move. Only after throwing every call I have in my vest at him trying to get him to gobble again. A silent bird in not always a bird that has lost interest or that is headed for the next county. Silence usually means one of three things. He is on his way to you, standing in the same place seeing if you will come to him or, in some cases, yes, he is going away. I have beat myself up many times second-guessing if I called too much or not enough when a bird went away. On the days when he comes rolling in to find you and you seal the deal, you leave the woods feeling like a world champion.
Sitting there holding that first tom was a feeling that very few outdoors-people can compare to. When I came back to earth off of cloud nine, I looked at my watch and realized something. From the time I heard his first gobble, I had been there for almost two and a half hours . That leads me to the most important lesson any turkey hunter has or ever will learn – patience.
We hear, we preach it, we even abuse it. We say it so much, but it is without a doubt the single most important tool a turkey hunter has. With patience, a hunter can kill more turkeys after turkey roosting than a great caller can 99 percent of the days afield. If I had a dollar for each time I had left a spot because that stupid tom just wasn’t going to come in, only to get halfway across the pasture and hear him gobble from the tree I had just left, I could afford to take off during the entire season this year. The best lesson I’ve heard on patience taught is this: sit there until you can’t sit there any longer and then sit there five more minutes.
While I know these five things may sound silly to all us seasoned hunters now, I truly think if we would just go back to the things we didn’t know sometimes, they would help us in our pursuit of these magnificent birds.