One of the great fascinations with turkey hunting is the ability to “speak” with the birds.
Wild turkeys are social creatures, and they communicate with each other using a wide assortment of sounds. That is why they respond well to calling.
Hear that first gobble and you are hooked for life.
You do not even mind getting up at 4 a.m.
On the way to the hunt you cannot help but think to yourself: all those people still sleeping will never know what they are missing.
Turkey hunting is the best way to spend the morning in the spring woods.
Every year thousands of hunters take to the hills in search of a trophy tom.
Sadly to say, most arrive home empty handed.
Not to imply there were no turkeys around, but just the wrong tactics applied.
Smart hunters always seem to know how to set up wisely.
Few things are more important to the success of a spring gobbler hunt than the position from where a hunter chooses to call his bird.
Even so, some hunters are of a mind to simply drop down in front of any old tree in any old place.
This kind of logic could very well hinder rather than help a hunter connect with his tom.
Sometimes, when a bird surprises us by gobbling nearby, we have no choice but to set up right there.
Normally, though, we have time to choose the spot from where we do our calling.
The best way to avoid having a bird get “hung up’’ and refuse to come any closer is to scout the area before the hunt begins and choose a favorable vantage point.
Setting up against a tree big enough to hide your silhouette is safest.
And if your camouflage is complete and you do not move, a gobbler might be duped into approaching close enough for you to get off a shot.
There are some reasons for selecting advantageous set-ups during the spring gobbler season.
Experienced hunters suggest getting as close as possible to a gobbling bird before you launch your medley of calls.
If you set up on a bird more than 100 yards away, several things can happen: hens, other hunters, coyotes, or foxes can get between you and your prize, draw him away or spook him.
If he is a couple hundred yards away and decides to come to you, he still might meet up with a real hen or two along the way. If this happens, the hunt is over; the hens will not be interested in you and neither will the gobbler.
But if you are only 50 yards away, the tom might chance leaving his hens to look for you because he knows he can do it quickly.
The question is: how close should you try to get before setting up?
There is no simple answer. It is a judgment call.
Turkeys rely highly on vision, too. They are always acutely alert and constantly search for danger.
Get as close as you think you can (depending on factors such as the amount of foliage, the kind of terrain, the amount of daylight, the leaf noise on the ground), but do not attempt the impossible. Never try to sneak up on a gobbler.
Another rule of thumb is this: do not set up in terrain too thick or too wide open.
Common sense applies.
Occasionally, a gobbler will plow through thickets or march through open woods to get to your call, but most of the time such a plan will end in failure.
Too thick cover will make a gobbler uncomfortable. He does not like brush snagging his feathers. And these are places where predators can hide and pounce on him. It is a place where he cannot fly away easily.
At the same time, if you can see more than 100 yards in front of you, you are likely asking for a “hung up” bird.
After a while, if a gobbler’s radar-like vision cannot spot the object of his lust, he will probably get suspicious and balk at any further communication.
He will gobble, waiting for the hen to show herself. If she does not respond to his strutting behavior, he will simply walk away.
And do not forget never set up between a road or a trail and a gobbling bird.
Generally, by the time the spring season opens, birds within hearing distance of a rural road or trail have learned that a lot of phony hen calls and owl hoots come from those places.
They learn to ignore them all.
Finally, use decoys wisely. Gobblers can be especially vulnerable to the sight of a hen during mating season. This means they can be decoyed.
In any set-up, decoys are a bonus. Reluctant toms often respond to the sight of a decoy, believing it to be the hen he has been hearing.
So can careless hunters.
To be safe, make sure you can see far behind the decoy or do not use it. You must be able to spot someone sneaking up on you.
Again, it is a matter of common sense.
Veteran turkey hunter David Richmond, WVU extension agent for Raleigh and Summers counties, claimed a 20-pound gobbler in Monroe County last year.
After his early morning calls failed to produce any gobbling, Richmond was surprised when two gobblers flew up in front of him. Instinctively, the hunter responded with a blast from his 12 gauge and one bird plummeted to the ground about 25 yards away.
Lucky shot? “No way,” says Richmond. “I had him all along.”
Sure he did. Anyway, the bird sported a nice 9-inch beard and wound up furnishing a family of three a delicious breast for Sunday supper.
Editor’s note: You may reach the author at email@example.com if you have something interesting for our readers. Be sure to check the West Virginia hunting and trapping regulations before going afield.