You’d think it would be easy, but some solitary turkeys are the toughest to tag
This wild turkey has seen it all and has likely had a close call or two. It isn’t buying your store-shelf box call yelps. It might have stood there as a big boom took out its strutting buddy. A pressured solo gobbler running alone, whether it’s a 2-year-old, an old tom, or even a jake, can make for some of the most exciting and frustrating spring hunts you’ll have.
The danger in getting obsessed with this one bird — as we all have — is that you don’t leave to hunt “fresh” gobblers. That’s the choice you have to make. Okay, so you’re sticking with this turkey? A grudge hunt, huh?
Here’s how to maybe get that tough gobbler in range.
The Hunter-Wary Turkey
A truck door bangs. Then another. Muffled voices hustle down the public-land game trail. The air is full of the sounds of owl hooting from hunters attempting to rouse shock gobbles from birds, and poorly timed hen yelping before daybreak.
Depicted in a cartoon, this turkey would have #@&! above its head in a thought bubble. There is no way it is going to bumble into range. Fact is, it might stay on the roost until the racket stops. Or sail off its high branch, never to be seen there again.
This pressured-at-fly-down-time longbeard is ready for some spring breeding action, sure. But steady, over-the-top activity from hunters keeps that bird ultrawary.
HUNT FIX: Shut up. Take a nap. Let the other hunters leave the area. Sure, your impulse might be to find a fresh turkey. That sometimes works, too. A breakfast break is even better as you retune and restart your day. Come back for this bird later, and you may find it gobbling hard and ready to work to your calls.
The long-spurred gobbler wants action and gobbles hard at your calls but is a no-show — hung up and waiting on your next move.
Beware this now silent, pressured limb-hanger. Its appearance in your field of vision can happen like a sweet daydream, so subtle you may question what you saw: a second-ticking slow burn of movement, a silhouetted gobbler body, that electric-bright head, its paranoid black eye nailing your position seated against that big oak before moving off like the morning fog.
Yep, it gobbled a while ago. You heard (or didn’t hear) footsteps in the leaves. That old turkey checked out your position, looking for the hen you imitated. And you had several seconds to identify it and pull the trigger. But you didn’t.
That’s how this turkey got old.
HUNT FIX: What the turkey wants to see is visual evidence. A decoy. Or two. Maybe six fakes staked with ultra-believable postures — and a little slight movement in the breeze if you’re lucky. And still it might not come all the way in. You may hear the bird gobble hard, then shut up. And vanish.
A jake running alone might be the toughest turkey you hunt this season.
That’s right. Think back to the times you’ve hunted a “hung-up” gobbler. Ego might have had you boasting about that tough old turkey. And each time the bird doesn’t show itself, the myth grows even larger.
Truth is, it might have been a young, wary one. Here’s why. That undersized jake might have tangled with an older bird. It’s keeping a safe distance. It might also simply be running alone, careful and cautious.
Not all shortbeards are easy marks.
HUNT FIX: And then one day, you call to it, hear it gobble, and listen as it works toward your setup. You’re sure it’s the old bird you’ve been hunting — until it breaks out of cover with a bright head and cigar stub beard, a dozen pounds of fired-up turkey.
It’s your choice now. Keep holding on to that tag, or not. But what will your buddies say? Pfft!
I once killed a young blunt-spurred gobbler like this, and the turkey creaked the scales at 17 pounds and change. But it was oh so tender on the grill.
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Realtree turkey hunting editor Steve Hickoff has chased gobblers all over the United States and Mexico. He was born and raised in northcentral Pennsylvania, and now makes his home in Maine. Hickoff was named the NWTF Tom Kelly Communicator of the Year for 2019, a prestigious award reflecting his longtime work promoting hunting and conservation as a turkey hunting writer, editor and book author.