An old saying coined for another situation is often appropriate for turkey hunters. It’s simply, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
Many hunters who read the pearls of wisdom in books and magazines can get the impression that gobblers are magical and mystical creatures that are almost too difficult to kill. These words often imply an air of near invincibility. Make no mistake; any longbeard is a challenge to hunt and kill. But far too often turkey hunters, especially newcomers to the grand sport, let all the coronations of greatness attributed to this bird impact their decisions when turkey hunting.
We get in our own way because we don’t believe we can be successful unless the hunt goes according to ‘normal’ standards.
The truth is, thousands of turkeys are taken every year in South Carolina and many times, they are killed by hunters smart enough to think out of the box, or use “offbeat” tactics.
No single tome of tactics is reliable in every hunting scenario, because every gobbler and every hunt is different. The possibilities of being successful are bounded only by imagination. It’s great to read, study and apply lessons learned from experiences and put that schooling into practice, but sometimes, you have to go off the grid in your thinking to garner your gobbler.
That’s why offbeat tactics for hunting turkeys is appropriate. It is the seldom thought of or mentioned ideas that can solve the most perplexing situations.
One hunter who has learned some offbeat tactics and identified a real tool for helping him get tough gobblers is Willie McCutchen from Williamsburg County. McCutchen is a 58-year old county magistrate who lives and breathes turkey hunting during the spring. He has learned though many years of hunting gobblers that trying offbeat tactics will often produce incredible results.
“The more I turkey hunt, I more I learn that there is no limit to the ways you can kill a gobbler,” McCutchen said. “The key most of the time is keeping an open mind to the situation. Being willing to do something offbeat that your instincts tell you is the right thing to do is the right attitude. Then, have the willingness to proceed in an assertive or confident manner. Confidence is crucial, because a gobbler will perceive realism in calls and tactics that often play an integral role in success and failure of unusual tactics.”
McCutchen said being confident does not mean being overtly bold and risk bumping a gobbler, but rather do something offbeat but with flair and style. Believing it will work will help the realism of your effort, and that certainly gives you better odds of success.
McCutchen hunt normally in terms of locating a bird, setting up in what he thinks will be a good location and trying different calls. He has his share of success with this, but he doesn’t give up and move to another area if the gobbler doesn’t approach. He will appraise the situation and determine what can be done to get within range.
One example, he said, is to use a turkey wing or tailfan to help work a gobbler.
“A great illustration of this occurred in 2014,” he said. “I was hunting an area where I knew there was a big gobbler, but the land adjacent to the land I had access to had a small field right at the edge of the property. When I owl hooted, the bird gobbled, but he was off the property I could hunt and roosted alongside the field.
“Since I was forced to sit in the woods on the property I could hunt, I felt certain that simply calling was likely to make the gobbler follow a normal tendency to fly down into the field and gobble for the hen to come to him. I needed to have him fly from the roost and land in my lap in the woods. I needed a strategy to get the gobbler to do something out of his normal comfort range.
“I crawled as close as I could and got within 100 yards of the bird and set up,” he said. “I could go no closer because cover and the property boundary. I simply did a couple of very soft tree yelps, just to let the bird know I was there. Despite wanting to call and make him gobble, I waited in silence for 15 minutes with no sound at all. He gobbled, and I wanted to answer, but did not. Finally, I used the fan to flap on my pants hard and did an aggressive flydown cackle with the mouth call — the only call I made. I hardly had time to set the fan down and get both hands on the gun when the gobbler pitched off the roost and did the unusual by flying into the woods instead of the field. He landed less than 15 yards from me, well on my side of the property line. The offbeat tactic created a situation where he made an unusual choice, and that gobbler was as dead as a hammer about a heartbeat after he landed.”
McCutchen said being silent is also an excellent tactic that few hunters use, but the odds of it working are high when the correct situation exists.
“A bird answering calls but holding his ground is a fairly common situation, one that usually ends with the bird living to gobble another day unless you resort to unusual tactics,” he said. “The deafening sound of silence to a gobbler can be his undoing and may be the best play. I buy into the patience aspect of turkey hunting and often in this situation, if the gobbler is not accompanied by hens — and that’s almost a necessity for success in this tactic — silence and diligent looking on the part of the hunter often leads to success.”
McCutchen will quit calling and sit quietly, gun at the ready position, and make no sound for a long period.
“If the gobbler is without hens, once you stop calling, eventually he simply has to take a look,” he said. “Patience is required because they will wait a while for the hen to show, but since the hunter is calling, there is no hen. After the hen does not appear, even after he gobbles more, the bird will often slip in and look for the source of the sound. Occasionally he’ll approach and gobble, but most often he will slip in quietly and look. If I am patient I’ll see that red head and wait for the right moment to shoot. He may come to the exact location where my calling ended perhaps 45 minutes earlier, but it was the silence that did him in.”
Another offbeat tactic that works for McCutchen is to do the last thing most hunters would expect: walk away from a gobbler.
“The key to this move is to do it with the thought process that the hen is leaving, which often seems to pique the curiosity of a longbeard,” McCutchen said. “I will slip away, sometimes crawling at first, and making calls as I do so. When I get good cover, I can get up and continue to walk away and face the opposite direction as I call, as if the hen is searching for another gobbler. Timing is essential, and if the gobbler quits gobbling or has a series of frantic-sounding gobbles, such as a double- or triple-gobble, it’s time for me to turn and quickly go back straight in his direction.
“As I am moving away, I pick a tree that affords great visibility for me to go back to for my setup. He may walk straight to me, but he may veer to the side one way or the other based on topography. But I have a wide swath to view if I set up right. This is a real satisfying method of taking a gobbler, beating him in a game of cat and mouse.”
Another hunter who often uses this tactic in a buddy system is guide and turkey hunting guru Jamie Pritchett from Marietta.
“As a guide, the best part of this being successful with two people is that I don’t have to worry about coming back,” Pritchett said. “These days buddies often hunt together, and the one in best shooting position when a gobbler answers calls but doesn’t approach will be the shooter. For me, it’s the client. So I slowly move away calling to keep the gobbler motivated, and when I get far enough away, the gobbler often makes the choice to follow. I have ensured I have moved in a direction that leaves my shooter in a direct line between me and the gobbler.”
Pritchett (864-238-3811) said another offbeat tactic is to use multiple calls and calls that others typically don’t use.
“A tube call is a good example that gives a gobbler a unique and different sound,” he said. “I’ve had them ignore other calls, and then I hit the tube and have a longbeard approach almost on a run gobbling every breath. A wingbone is another good call to master. Both take some practice, but it’s worth it to have something different in your turkey talking arsenal.
Pritchett said that using two calls at once to simulate two hens trash-talking is something that works great but is seldom used by most hunters.
“The key is realism; most hunters have heard hens cackling and cutting, and by using two calls, a hunter can simulate that very realistically and make sounds a gobbler can’t refuse,” Pritchett said.
McCutchen has another really offbeat tactic that’s worked many times for him. Most veteran turkey hunters have encountered gobblers in the middle of an open field, birds that will not come to any call. McCutchen again employs his fan, his favored offbeat tool, but in a different manner.
“I bring the tail feathers to full fan, get on my hands and knees and hold the fan in front of me and slowly move into the open toward the gobbler,” he said. “I hold the fan in one hand, gun in the other and work toward the bird. It works even in a wide-open field, but some cover is a plus. As I get close I will usually twirl the fan or partly close and then snap it back open for realism. This fan movement will often cause the gobbler to actually cover ground in my direction to get into gun range. When he does, or if I have to continue to work his way, the shot happens quickly, but I’ve killed a lot of gobblers using this tactic.”
No technique, standard or offbeat, is foolproof, and odds of success often depend on the temperament of the gobbler involved. One thing both of these gobbler experts said is if you don’t try the offbeat tactics, even some original thoughts you conjure up on the spot, you’ll miss many opportunities to take turkeys.
McCutchen said those offbeat successes are generally among his most-memorable hunts.
“When you develop an unusual strategy right on the spot based on the unique situation and it works, for me it’s the ultimate thrill in taking a gobbler,” he said.