Unique turkey tactics

If you’re looking for an edge on a difficult gobbler be willing to try something unique. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Unconventional methods are often required to bag wary gobblers

Many turkey hunters get locked into ‘traditional’ hunting tactics. 

And that’s primarily because these tactics have produced success in the past and hunters have confidence in those tactics. 

But every turkey, and every scenario in the turkey woods, is different. Some gobblers seem to literally scratch a line in the leaves that they will not cross despite the best calling tactics. It’s common to encounter gobblers that are old and wise or simply have been pressured too hard to respond to traditional tactics.

Changing your hunting approach can make a dramatic difference in success with these longbeards. Even champion turkey callers sometimes have to employ unique, or offbeat tactics or calls, to get a gobbler within range.

When two hunters join forces they can double-team a gobbler. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Fake Like a Jake

Mitchell Johnson from Purlear, N.C. is a National Wild Turkey Federation Grand National Calling Champion and owner of Dead-End Game Calls. Johnson said a key to success on a gobbler playing the “hard-to-get” game is understanding and being able to imitate the turkey’s vocabulary and then tap into their basic instincts.

“Good calling is obviously a key to success. But understanding and being able to imitate the overall vocabulary of a turkey is crucial,” he said. “The use of a jake call in the right scenario can produce lightning-fast results on a longbeard that’s unwilling to come to traditional calls.”

Johnson (www.deadendgamecalls.com) said the gobblers have a jealous streak that can be used against them. One tactic he’ll use when gobblers respond, but won’t approach to hen calls, is to imitate gobbler calls.

Sometimes it takes unique tactics to get longbeards within shooting range. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

“The full gobble will sometimes work. But I’ve found that employing the sounds of a jake can be even better,” he said. “I’ll make my hen calls and then follow that immediately with jake yelps from that same location. This can really tap into a dominate gobbler’s aggressive nature when nothing else will.”

Johnson said the fake jake call must be a good imitation of the real thing to work properly.

“A jake yelp is deeper in tone, more hollow sounding and slower than a hen yelp,” he said. “Imitate this properly and it conveys to the hung-up gobbler that a jake has moved in on the hens. If needed, I’ll imitate a jake gobble, which is an abbreviated gobble, or half-gobble sound. 

“The jake sounds, mixed with good hen calling from the same location, is a great technique to tap into an old gobbler’s sense of dominance,” Johnson said. “But be ready, because when it works, the old bird may approach at double-time speed.” 

Steve Cobb said he’ll put the hammer down and get aggressive on difficult gobblers. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Locator Calls 

Hunters that do their scouting homework still have occasions when normal turkey locator sounds simply don’t elicit a shock-gobble return.

Johnson said sometimes he knows birds are in the area, but the woods are silent.

“My number one way to break the silence is to use a goose call,” Johnson said. “I use my TurnLane Goose Call, an air operated call, and will run a series of goose calls. This often gets a gobbler, or multiple gobblers, to answer. I use this right through the middle of the day when the woods do naturally quieten down from turkey calls.”

Johnson said the area does not have to have a population of geese nearby for this to work. It’s simply a sound that elicits a shock-gobble.

“Once I hear a gobble to this goose call, I’ll develop a strategy to get into the best location to begin traditional calling and often that’s all that’s needed,” he said. “But you’ve got to get his location first.”

Johnson said that it’s also effective in late-evening when roosting a bird for the next morning’s hunt.

“Owl calls are great for this, but sometimes the goose call will again work when other calls don’t,” he said. 

Kimmy Hanks said adapting to the conditions is a key to taking hard-ro-get-gobblers. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Hammer Time

Steve Cobb of Union S.C. is a seven-time South Carolina State Calling Champion and a 25-year member of the Hunter Specialties Pro Staff.

“Sometimes I do the opposite of what’s expected with a hard-to-get gobbler,” Cobb said. “Birds can get call shy when pressured hard, especially on public lands. But if a hunter has confidence in their calling, I’ve seen times when getting aggressive with calling can produce incredible results.”

Cobb said if a bird is hung up but not because of a physical barrier, aggressive calling can be a total game changer. But he’ll typically employ this tactic only after trying the more traditional calling.

“I’ll use excited calls with loud cutts and cackles,” he said. “I’ll hammer him hard. I know at times this can turn a bird off. But if I’ve already tried traditional calling, I don’t see much downside to trying. And I love to call aggressively anyway.”

Cobb said when it works, the hunt can change from a standoff to flash hunt in a few heartbeats.

“If he gobbles back hard, cutting me off and then goes silent, I’m on high alert and scanning the woods because he’s probably on his way,” Cobb said.

Tag Team a Gobbler

Hunters often hunt in tandem and some turkey hunting guides and callers have developed productive strategies for taking stubborn gobblers as a team.

“Two hunters team-working on calls can work,” he said. “Calling options include sounding like two hens feeding contentedly, using hands to scratch the leaves. That doubles the drawing power of the calling. Also, the hunters can get into a verbal hen-fight. Fighting purrs can be a good call here.”

Cobb said an offshoot tactic is when the gobbler is out of sight. Cobb slips away, calling as he goes, leaving his shooter in the original position.

“I’ll slip off in basically a straight line away from the gobbler, calling with clucks, purrs or soft yelps,” he said. “The shooter does not call and this puts the shooter in a prime position should the longbeard follow. A hen walking off is a powerful motivator for a dominant gobbler. And if he follows, which they do a reasonable percentage of the time, this affords the shooter a prime opportunity.”

Take a Stand for Gobblers

Kimmy Hanks is an award-winning call maker and owner of Hanks Game Calls. He hails from Reidsville, NC and his calls won three categories of the 2021 NWTF’s D.D. Adams Award for call making. 

He said turkey hunters typically sit against an object when calling a gobbler and that’s usually the right choice. But sometimes unique terrain or habitat features dictate a different philosophy is necessary to make the shot on a gobbler. Hanks said in these unique situations he’s killed gobblers by standing behind a tree.

“Getting creative is crucial and I’ve killed gobblers by not sitting in front of a tree but standing behind it,” he said. “It may be because of gnarly cover and I can’t see clearly from ground-level. Standing has also enabled me to see over a small rise in topography or bushes otherwise blocking my view.”

Hanks (www.hanksgamecalls.com) said holding the gun vertical behind the tree until the gobbler is approaching keeps him perfectly hidden. Once he knows how the gobbler is approaching, he’ll place the stock on his shoulder and lower the barrel into shooting position.

“Moving the gun barrel slowly, right against the tree, I can get into shooting position without alerting the gobbler,” he said. “This tactic has enabled me to take turkeys I otherwise would most likely not have been able to shoot.”

Steve Cobb said amping up the calling attitude can get a stubborn gobbler to break the gridlock and approach quickly. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Shut up and scratch for wary longbeards

Long-time turkey hunter Kimmy Hanks said a longbeard may gobble like he’s interested but won’t approach.

“A number of factors cause this including birds being pressured hard and they do get call shy,” he said. “This is a perfect time to shut-down the calling and start scratching leaves.”

Hanks said he’ll mimic multiple hens scratching as though they’re contented and feeding. The gobbler may still gobble when hearing the scratching and it often takes patience for the bird to commit.

“Patience is a vastly under-utilized tool,” he said. “The same is true for gobblers, but being ignored is not a gobbler’s strength. The curiosity of hearing hens scratching and feeding, but not answering his gobbles, can cause him to check out the situation.”

The bird may approach while gobbling or he may get quiet and slip in.

“It’s crucial you scan the woods in his direction to see him first,” he said. “If my position allows, I’ll do all my scratching from the side that’s hidden by my body. Once he’s in sight, I simply allow his curiosity to draw him in for the shot.”

About Terry Madewell 812 Articles
Award-winning writer and photographer Terry Madewell of Ridgeway, S.C., has been an outdoors writer for more than 30 years. He has a degree in wildlife and fisheries management and has a long career as a professional wildlife biologist/natural resources manager.

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