When the heat is on, this trick may just bag a gobbler

Hopefully, for their own good as well as their sanity, serious turkey hunters come to the realization sooner rather than later that just about all the tricks will work when trying to bag a bird, but not all of them work all of the time.

While all veteran hunters know that more often than not that one big bird that has been scouted and coveted for months is likely to win most encounters. Hunters know that when the alarm clock goes off at 4:30 a.m.; know it when they slowly maneuver up a hillside that becomes steeper with each trip; and they know it as they prepare their setup in the penetrating chill of pre-dawn.

All of that, however, makes the thrill of the hunt all the more thrilling and the challenge of outsmarting the pea-size brain of gobbler all the more challenging. Because, in the world of the wild turkey — from the time it arrives as an egg – just about everything is a predator and the instinct to survive is far more important than intelligence.

Keen sight and hearing — as well as the ability to propel itself off the ground and take flight to safety from a standstill — are the tools of survival for a wild turkey. If a bush unexpectedly blows in the breeze 60 yards away, a turkey putts and runs off; if a limb cracks out of sight, a turkey cackles and takes to flight.

Still, the ultimate Achilles heel in the makeup of a wild turkey is, like all living things, they have to eat. So, as any hunter worth their DVD collection knows: “Ya-all scout for a-kerns (for the novices, that’s Southern for acorns), and that’s where ya-all will find turkeys.”

Well, not always.

A case in point is a honey hole that has been an annual hot spot for spring gobbler for nearly a decade. This spot was so good that the only reason to do preseason scouting was an excuse to enjoy an early-morning cigar and a thermos of coffee made from freshly ground beans.

Year around, birds feasted on the smorgasbord of sprouts, grubs and “a-kerns” to be found in its hardwoods and overgrown logging roads. Then, the unthinkable happened, and the birds were provided variety to their menu when the farmer who owned land adjacent to the woods planted crops in what had been a pasture.

Now, the only pattern was no pattern when choosing a setup location based upon where the birds would feed after flying down from their roost trees. Oh, sure, there was always the opportunity to take an unsuspecting jake, but that was not the game plan.

That game plan, however, went unrewarded in a few years ago as the big gobbler that had first been seen in the flintlock season went untagged. Sure enough, that big bird was still there in the fall — when a hen was taken out of the flock, with the game plan for the spring being to once again focus on that gobbler.

As the spring season began to wind down, that bird was still ruling its domain and refused to fall into a pattern. Clearly, it was time for a new game plan, and that came in form of advice once received from veteran Missouri turkey hunter Alex Rutledge of the Hunter’s Specialties Pro Staff Team.

Rutledge said that under certain conditions it was better to forget about hunting feeding areas and concentrate on where turkeys are going for their drinking water. This is especially effective late in the season when puddles have dried up and the birds have to use major streams.

This was one of those times, so the next day, rather than make the long, hot, climb to the roosting area, decoys were placed along a stream bed that ran along the base of the hillside. When daylight arrived, a series of fly-down calls were made and the waiting game began.

By 8 a.m., the sun made for perfect conditions to nap, but before that could happen, that big gobbler, a satellite gobbler and three hens could be seen making their way to the creek. Now the summer-like heat had little to do with the sweat that was felt running down the back, and less than 10 minutes later the two-year quest for that bird was over when the Remington 870 delivered a load of No. 5 pellets from a Winchester Xtended Range Turkey Load.

Setting up on that gobbler at its major source of drinking water had turned the trick.


Doyle Dietz is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association.