THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN CHASING TOMS: Tips from Team No Threat by Skip Knowles
We hope you enjoyed the story last week of a hilarious failure of a turkey hunt from our opening day—there is much to learn from trying and falling short of your goal. There is even more to learn just from picking the brain of a veteran of the turkey trail; guys like Mike Miller of Mossy Oak and Zink calls. The following notes are some hard-earned wisdom from the killer himself.
Weather: Lots of people quit chasing turkeys when the fickle spring weather is better suited for ducks, particularly across the northern half of the country…but turkeys are absolutely killable in the snow. They will be quieter, and you should be too, but don’t give up you can still get them. Rain is the same way, you just need a little luck. Get close as you can and call them in. And you want to be out on the edge of a field and ready to rock when the rain stops, so you may as well be out there and ready. They want to get out in the sun and dry off.
Predators: One of the things you’ll notice in areas with lots of predators is the birds really cut back the calling, so be more patient on your setups and tone down your own calling a bit so it sounds authentic if there is a lot of coyote droppings in the area. And be ready! Killing coyotes over turkey decoys after they come to the call is nearly as much fun as turkey hunting itself.
On Calling: If you don’t have your own routine down pat, here’s a place to start once you’re hearing that gobble in the morning. Locator calls are key, owl hoots and coyotes are tops. Predator calls and crow calls work. Start with some quiet tree calls until you get them to fire off. Then don’t call to them any more. Get set up, in position. Next, do your own fly down cackle pounding a wing on the ground, followed by a couple yelps. Now you just talk back more to them. Coax the hens over if they are talking more than the longbeards. Keep ‘em interested. If it’s the tom that’s most responsive and he has flown down, fire that longbeard up, cut at him, keep him gobbling and fired up so that longbeard wants to come to you. Cut at ‘em like an excited hen. Lots of times they are more interested in live birds and you may have to pick up and move. When he’s coming, then it’s just purrs and little soothing clucks. Quiet stuff. You can purr with a slate pretty easy but that’s hand motion the turkey can easily spot. That is terrific in a team scenario though—put the person calling far behind the shooter.
Roost Trees: How close do you want to get to the roost tree? Try to get to within 100 to 150 yards—no closer or you’ll bump them when you are blowing up your decoys. Maybe a little closer if it’s windy. How do you find a roost tree? Usually walking around pre-scouting way before the hunt, find a river bottom and wander through and look for feathers, droppings. Then come back and check on it that night or evening.
Decoys: Avian X decoys are hard to beat, (disclosure: Miller is a Z-unit Zink calls and Avian X staffer). Don’t over-do it though, a few hens and a jake are all you need. When you find a real hot group you can use a strutter. Put the hens sort of close together and put the jake past the hens on the offside from where you think they turkey will come. Old Mr. Longbeard is going to want to come in and strut around those hens.
Prep: Make sure you practice up pre-season until you’re family wants to run you out if the house. Check to make sure your gear is in good shape, that your slate is polished up and scuffed up and your calls are not stuck together, and don’t forget the chalk for a box call. Keep a spare face mask, and don’t lose yours. These are all fundamentals, but you will be surprised how often you don’t have this or that or didn’t really prepare the gear because you are so focused on finding where the birds are.
Gear Tips: Bring some compact binos. You will miss them if you don’t. Bring an old flathead screwdriver to stab a hole in the ground if you have trouble getting your decoy in the ground. It is sure worth it to invest in a turkey vest to carry stuff. The folding foam seat they have on the back is a real ass-et (ha-ha) that will keep you hunting longer and better because you are more comfortable sitting on the ground.
HEVI investment: Yes, HEVI-Shot is expensive, but turkey hunting is not duck hunting and you are simply not going to fire your gun very often no matter how terrible a shot you may be! Turkey hunting is like deer hunting—you can go some years without even shooting. And as we demonstrated on the blog on patterning for turkeys, HEVI loads like Magnum Blend simply kill turkeys a whole lot quicker and deader than even lead does. When you spend so much time and money to get out there, don’t save a few bucks on shotshells, when they are the part of your gear that ultimately makes contact with your quarry. In this case, those pricey HEVI shot tungsten loads absolutely make sense.
Tenacious Morale: Hunt a lot and hunt hard. Don’t just give it the crack ‘o dawn effort. It’s such a nice time of year to be in the woods, and the temptation is to cut out for breakfast by 9 a.m….hey the bass are always biting this time of year, right? Make it fun, look for morel mushrooms and deer sheds to keep it interesting. Dress for the weather, so you can stay out longer. Many, many birds are killed and get in the mood to respond to calling late morning or early afternoon. Stay out there and you will create your own break.