Locating Turkeys

I almost hated to pull the trigger on this bird! There was so little turkey sign to be found this weekend he reminded me of the movie “The Last of the Mohican’s”! He was like….the LAST ONE. At Least it sure seems that way anyway.

High pressure Gobbler!

This was the next to the last weekend of the Florida Spring Gobbler season here in central Florida. The last couple of weeks has been some really tough hunting. The hens have been nesting and the gobblers have shown little interest in responding to calling. The gobbling has been reduced to next to nothing compared to the first two weeks of the season.

This weekend was not looking to good. Not only has the activity been slow but we have a front passing us.

I actually hunted in 3 different counties on Saturday! No telling how many miles I put on my ole’ Chevy.

One of the larger tracts I hunt is being timbered right now (good timing) and there is right-of-way work going on as well?

I spent three hours scouting there on Saturday and saw very little turkey sign. It had rained Friday so that did not help much. I finally cut a gobbler track on a hard sand road on the westerly edge of our tract of land. The bird had worked down the road strutting every so often but he would only leave a strut mark about 12″ long. He was on top of the rain from Friday so I knew he had been there that morning. One vehicle had run it over but had not noticed the tell tale marks in the road!

Only seconds to live!

Only seconds to live!

There were several things working against me on this one. For one, this bird had been heavily hunted!! He was actuallyliving and roosting across the fence so I was limited to making him come to me….good luck! Secondly, I only had Sunday to hunt him before the loggers would be back. Third, he’d been hunted real hard for weeks.If you haven’t’ noticed, daylight is coming pretty early now and gobble time is about 6:15 AM. I am about worn out from weeks of chasing turkeys….. guiding, videoing, roosting, running trail cameras and trying to keep my design business going. I was a little late this morning.

By the time I got to where I planned to hunt it was about time for the birds to be on the ground. The only way to really hunt this spot is to hunt the road which I do not like to do. It’s a good way to get your hunt ruined.

I stood in the road and listened for a gobble. There were various owls, crows, etc. going off but no gobbling. I owl’d and crowed and got no response. I decided to do some loud aggressive yelping and cutting on a new mouth call I just added to my call arsenal. I know that seems to go against what you would do when dealing with a highly pressured tom but my gut told me that was the thing to do. I wanted anything within hearing to know I was there and then I’d shut up.

I ran a series of aggressive yelps and followed up with a cutting sequence……nothing! I was committed to putting some time in here so I set up a decoy on the edge of the road and found an oak tree that I could tuck back in about 20yds off the road. It was a great set-up with good visibility.

I had not been there long when I heard a bird free gobble across the fence about a hundred and a quarter. I called at him real quick with some raspy yelping and he immediately answered. It sounded closer than the initial gobble.

I decided to let him make the next move. I wouldn’t have to wait long! The next thing I know he gobbles again and now he’s just on the other side of the fence. I remember thinking, he must be coming on the run to cover that much ground that quickly.

I readied for the confrontation that appeared eminent!

Just then a big black bird with a flaming red head emerged from the bushes! “THERE HE IS!”

gobbler down 4-14-13He looked at the decoy and checked his wings, usually a nervous reaction. He was just to my left but if he moved to his right, getting a shot might get a little dicey! I decided to call at him and take my shot! Needless to say the video is going to be a little short but that is real hunting and if you want to go home successful, you need to take your first best shot!

At the report of my 11-87, the wary old tom hit the ground and the hunt was over, just that easy. There is no telling how many hunters this bird had eluded but there is also something to be said for catching a tom in the right mood.

I spent some time taking pictures to honor the bird and another great hunt. If I could I’d breath life back into him and do it all over again tomorrow.

The Tom was one of the smallest mature gobblers I can remember killing. Though he was a three year old bird with sharp 1″ spurs, he only weighed 14.48 lbs! He did have a nice, fairly heavy beard at 9 3/4″. I haven’t reviewed the video yet but hopefully I had the record button pushed!

Awesome Osceola Gobbler

Best of Hunts,

Larry Stephens

Hen Turkey Roosted in a Cypress Tree
Photo by Larry Stephens

There is one technique when it comes to turkey hunting that is responsible for producing more turkeys than any other! It requires a considerable amount of extra time and effort but you will learn more about turkey hunting and woodsmanship than you ever dreamed!

I am talking about Roosting and if you are not implementing this into your turkey hunting strategy  you are missing out on some of the most exciting turkey hunting you can imagine!

If you are following my writing, you probably are picking up on the importance that I place on Roosting. It is the keystone of my turkey hunting strategy.  It’s hard for me to imagine turkey hunting without roosting. Truthfully, I think I have as much fun tracking roads and roosting in the afternoon as I do actually hunting. When you cut a big set of gobbler tracks walking down a graded road, headed for a roosting area and it’s on top of all of the recent vehicle wheel sign, you know your in the drivers seat for the mornings hunt. It is that much more exciting when you know you have that waiting for you when you wake up. Of course I will always go to a bird I actually heard gobble from the roost over the set of tracks. After all, there is always a chance that the tracks could belong to a jake though as a rule jakes will travel in small groups so a lone set of tracks is a real good bet. I am always suspicious of 3-4 tom tracks traveling together. These are seldom mature gobblers. I would only hunt this kind of sign if I did not have anything more promising.

Big Gobbler Track on a Sand Road

There are two schools of thought or primary methods for hunting turkeys. The first is to locate yourself in a location that turkeys frequent and try to call them to your location and the other is to take the fight to the bird, roost him and move in as close as possible for the kill!

  • Whats in a Turkey’s Head?

Roosted turkeys always have a plan for where they are headed when they fly down! This is a very important point to understand.  If you are dealing with a flock of turkeys and you can’t locate yourself in between the roosted birds and where their headed you have lost the fight before it even began. I won’t say you have no chance at all at this bird but you won’t kill very many gobblers with this setup, especially older Toms. If you are lucky you might pull in a two year old satellite tom but the mature tom that rules the flock is headed where the flock is going and you will very seldom persuade him otherwise.

  • Rely More On Your Woodsmanship and Less On Hunting Gear for More Success!

However, If you are familiar with the woods you are hunting and roosted the birds you should have a good idea where they are going when they pitch down. If you can get on that side of them and get set up without blowing them up you will more than likely get a shot at the gobbler. You probably don’t even need to call. When you start to rely more on your woodsmanship and less on calling and gear you will see your results improve without question. When you make it to this point you can consider yourself a Master Turkey hunter. Any hunter that can harvest turkeys consistently with just his woodsmanship skills and intelligence has truly mastered the art.

  • What call is more important to turkey hunting than an actual turkey call?

If I could only use one sound to turkey hunt with, it would not even be a turkey call at all! It would be the call of a barred owl! I have taught myself to owl with my natural voice and without this ability or at least being able to use an owl call, I would not have taken nearly as many turkeys as I have. The reason I would select the owl call is that it plays such a key roll in roosting. You can’t kill them if you can’t find them. On average a gobbler will only gobble for about 20-30 minutes from the limb before he flies down. Once he hits the ground, he may not even gobble again. At best, his gobbling will be cut in half. Within 30 minutes or so it will drop off by half again. What this means is that you have very little time to locate a turkey in the morning before he shuts up. This bird will usually start gobbling a little again, later in the morning but it’s probably over for a while otherwise. Now, the converse of this is the bird that don’t gobble from the limb! If he is not vocal on the roost, he is probably going to gobble good once he’s on the ground. That ones worth remembering!

  • Roosting Provide Valuable intelligence!

Another important thing that roosting does for you is to gain you valuable intel on exactly what the woods are like where the birds are roosted. Once you wait for the light level to get just right which is something you have to learn the hard way, you can approach a roosted bird fairly easily. This also depends largely on the amount of ground cover and leaf canopy above.  As a rule, when I roost a bird that is responding on the limb well, I am going to move in close enough that I can see him! I want to know what I am getting into in the morning…. is there a thicket or small creek or any other obstacle that’s going to keep the bird from being able to come to me. Sometimes, you may only learn where not to be before it gets so dark that you have to back out but that is valuable intel also. I can’t tell you how many long beards I have stood under at last light and watched them trying to shake the mosquitoes off their snood……. big ole beard swinging around!

By the way, I highly recommend a good pair of smaller binoculars, they are invaluable for turkey scouting and roosting. I have been using Nikon’s Monarch in 10×36 paired with a good Bino system for a number of years now.

This Tom pitched right back down to the road that he had flown up to the roost from. Big Mistake!

Most of the time a turkey, especially a mature tom, will roost over an area that is thick at ground level. If it is a wet area it will probably be open on the ground and you can move easily. In places where there are not a lot of open woods (which means a low turkey population) a turkey will fly up from a road and out over an old cut-over.

Here in Florida that may likely be an old bay head that has a few mature pines left  here and there. As a rule, if you don’t disturb him he will probably pitch right back down to the road in the morning.

This is just the kind of situation I fell into a couple of seasons ago. I was tracking some graded roads in my huntin’ club and I cut a pair of fat toed gobbler tracks walking down the road. I could tell they were hot tracks as you could still see the texture from the pads of their toes. I parked the truck and started tracking. About a half mile later they came to a bend in the road that had a short dead end  spur off to the south. To the left was a oak scrub, to the right was a long narrow bay head that bordered a creek strand. The bay section  had been cut over many years ago and grown back into an impossible thicket. I have tracked a crippled deer or two into this tangle and it is one miserable place to be. We call it the hell hole!

The creek strand was approximately a hundred and a quarter from the road and there were some scattered mature pines still standing. About this point, the edge of the road dropped down to a low flat that extend out into the bay. This is where the tracks ended! The creek was thick but not so much that he couldn’t have fluttered down in there if he wanted but up on the hill behind me was a big pasture that the hens like to nest around. I knew that was where he was going to want to go in the morning. That meant he just about had to fly back down to the road that he’d flown up from.

By the way, neither bird gobbled from the limb that evening.

The next morning I set up on the edge of the road about 15 yds back from the edge of the flat and waited for gobble time. Both toms gobbled the next morning but had roosted about 100 yds apart. They had flown up from the same point but angling away from each other. The bird that did most of the gobbling was behind the flat though I never could pick him out in the tree. Finally, he pitched out and sailed 125 yds and landed within 18 yds of my  position. When his toes touched the dirt and he got stopped, I sent a load or Winchester #6 down range and the hunt was over!

Inspecting the black wings of a nice Florida Osceola

Here’s another tip:  when a roosted tom starts to slow down his gobbling or stops all together, you need to be ready, he’s just about to pitch down!

The actual place I had to set up would have been ridiculous for any other situation. Literally, there was no way to get off the road and set-up. I had to just back up into a tiny pocket looking down the road though I did it in such a way that I could only see as far as I could shoot. Boy, was that gobbler surprised when he touched down and saw me sitting there!

  • Did Roosting Really Kill This Turkey?

Here’s the point of that story….. That was not an area that many people would have picked to try to strike a bird in the morning if they were hunting cold, without benefit of having scouted. Had I not roosted that night and cut those tracks, there is a good chance I could have ended up some place out of ear shot of a gobbling tom. That hunt could have easily been a bust. Get the picture?

My hope here is that you will gain a better sense of the importance of roosting and can incorporate this information into your own hunting methods and become a more successful turkey hunter.

Best of Hunts,

Larry Stephens

 

P.S.  If you have any turkey hunting questions or comments, take a few moments to jot them down and I’ll be glad to respond with any help I can provide, L.S.

 

If you’re planning to be a successful Turkey Hunter, you must have a solid strategy for locating your quarry. This sounds pretty obvious but “if you can’t find em’, you can’t kill em”. It is mandatory that every hunter develop or adopt methods for locating turkeys for any given situation and time of day. At times, even in the dark! However, the dark stuff is an advanced subject that I’ll discuss with you later in my book.

Calls for locating turkeys

Killer Locator Calls!

– The Right Locator Call for the Right Situation!

If you were just paying attention, you picked up on my above reference to “different situations and times”. There is a “Best Locator Call” for any given situation but it can most easily be broken down by time of day. As far as locator calls are concerned, You will need calls to cover three periods of the day:

 

#1 – Before daylight, up to fly down.

 

#2 – The times between fly down and fly up.

 

#3 – Fly up to hard dark.

 

Locating Turkeys on the Roost.

Early Morning Owling!

Before I give you the short answer I need to state that there can be several calls that can be employed for each of these periods. There are even some calls that may work a little better than others depending on where you are hunting and the amount of pressure the birds have experiences. For example, if you hunting public land, you can expect that the gobblers are getting hammered with crow calls during the day. It would be a good idea to carry a hawk call or even a more off the wall locator call.

O.K., Here is the meat and potatoes. For before light, up to about fly down….The “Owl Call” reins supreme! After fly down until about fly up the “Crow Call” is the call that will produce the most responses from a gobbler. Once he is back on his roost limb, you need to be back to the Owl call.

If you have not already, your going to read all kinds of opinions and claims from others about how their favorite call works so good. Your going to hear about everything from coyote calls to pileated woodpecker calls but the Owl and the Crow calls do all the heavy lifting! The proof is in the pudding as they say and you don’t kill as many turkeys as I have without being damn good at locating them! Have a look at my Turkey harvest photo section, your eye’s will go cross before you get to the end of them.

 

– The Must Have Locator Call!

I have hunted many different places, the call that I use to locate 95% of turkeys I hear is the Owl call. I do all my Owling naturally but I do carry a back up Owl call for times when my throat gets a little soar from calling. You don’t have to be “contest ready” to be effective at natural owl calling either. I would rate myself no better than average. It’s knowing where and when that’s more important. 

If I had to pick one thing that I like best about hunting turkeys I would have to say it’s roosting! In fact I consider roosting the one most important thing that a turkey hunter can do to increase his chances for success. Roosting is my greatest “Secrete Weapon for Success” and the corner stone of my Turkey hunting book. Others might argue that mastering turkey calling may be number one but a skilled turkey hunter can be more effective than you could believe at killing turkeys without the aid of a turkey call. Have a look at a few of my self filmed videos to see how it’s done!

 Another thing to keep in mind is, an Owl makes a variety of sounds. I have found there are certain Owl calls that out perform others for enticing a gobble and will discuss this in greater depth in my Book as well.

 
 
 

 – Why the Owl Call Reigns Supreme!

Here’s something to keep in mind. The Barred Owl is going to be the first creature to start calling in the Morning and will be about the only one calling at last light after the gobbler is back on the roost! As darkness approaches all the hawks, crows, blue herons, etc. go silent. A gobbler has heard this routine, every single day of his life! He is hard wired to gobble at an Owl!

 

– The Call You’ll Use More Than Anything Else and why!

O.K., it’s no secrete that the Owl is my favorite locator call but there is a call that could actually get more use than the Owl if you don’t take advantage of roosting. I rarely hunt without having roosted the evening before so most of the time I have a bird put to bed for the mornings hunt. Therefore, I don’t normally do much late morning or afternoon hunting. As a rule, Toms will not gobble much at these times and if he don’t gobble, I’m not to interested. For me, Spring Gobbler Hunting is all about hunting a gobbling bird off the mornings roost. Everything else pales.

 The primary call your going to want to use for this is the “Crow Call”. In all the places I’ve hunted, the crow is the most commonly heard, loud call you will hear throughout the day. Turkeys love to gobble at a crow up in the morning and this call will out perform all others during this time, right up until just after he’s back on the roost. Again, when hunting in high pressure areas, you need to have a good backup call as the birds are likely getting crowed to death but the crow will still probably out perform all other calls. In this situation I would make a call with one locator call and if no response,wait a couple minutes and call with your backup.

 From my experience a Hawk scream would be my backup call choice and I typically have one in “my turkey vest.”

Osceola Gobbler Standing at Attention!

Osceola Gobbler!

 - The Hail Mary Call, What to do When All Else Fails!

This is another topic that falls into the advanced subject matter category but I will touch on it briefly. Many times I have slipped in to a place expecting to hear a gobble after fly up but gotten no response despite my best owl calls. As a last resort, and this is usually almost in the dark, I will wait a couple minutes after my last owl and then do either a hen fly up cackle or a cut. I prefer the cackle!  He may only gobble one time at it but that’s all I need. I have literally seen them gobble in the dark at this. It will not work all the time but It’s worth remembering as it will work at times when nothing else will! I have dragged gobbles out of birds even in the hard dark, many times. Have a listen to the above video of a flock of birds gobbling, cutting and putting at me cackling and cutting at them in the dark,  This was a flock of about 10-12 birds with two gobblers and the rest made up of jakes and hens. Don’t make the mistake of thinging a tom won’t gobble in the dark!

 One last tip to remember. If you try this and your by yourself, keep the call short. If he gobbles and cuts your call (gobbles before you finish your call) you may not be able to course him!

 Best of hunts!

 Larry Stephens

 

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