Whether he's strutting or putting, predicting what a gobbler will do next is the crux of filling your tag
The most paranoid game bird on the planet often tips its hand before making an escape move. And almost every gobbler will give you cues that tell you what he’s likely to do next (including the “dead” ones that sometimes get up and fly away). We carefully selected these 10 photos so that when you see a gobbler doing one of these things this spring, you’ll have a good plan of your own for getting him. Good luck out there.
1. Gobblers in Gobbler Groups
A beautiful spring sight, with a degree of difficulty. © John Hafner photo
If it's early in your season, gobblers in gobbler groups are showing their full breed-on strength for all to see – and especially to attract hens. In the middle of the season, it might mean the majority of hens in that area are nesting. That's also a good situation, as those male birds are prime for calling in. In the late season, depending on where you are in the country, male turkeys often regroup to band together into late spring and the summer months to come. Gobbler calls can work then.
Your next move: Soft, sweet plaintive yelps of a hen can obviously pull these guys in (or not), especially early on and as hens start to nest. If strutters in gobbler groups are hung up – hammering to your calls but not breaking to come in – use terrain to get inside their "comfort zone" ... Let things settle down a bit, then make like a couple of turkey gobblers fighting. Use agitated fighting purrs and clucks, and even beat your hat on your knee now and then (like turkey wings in fight mode). Go quiet, and wait. Study the woods or fields in front of you. Bobbing red-white-and-blue heads might be running your way next.
2. Gobblers with Hens
Gobblers with hens (and deer!) can pose some challenges. © Bill Konway photo
This particular spring gobbler is likely breeding all of these hens, or surely hoping to ... add a few deer to the strategy mix, and your hunt just got a bit more complicated.
Your next move: If you find this lone gobbler with his so-called "harem," you can (1) scatter the birds as you would in a fall scenario, then set up in an effort to call the lone gobbler in, or (2) try to get the boss hen or hens fired up to come your way (pecking order is important for girl turkeys too), and pull that longbeard along into gun or bow range. As for the deer, wait 'em out, and they may leave the field. Reposition on those birds for a turkey calling advantage too early, and the ones with the great noses may blow your cover.
3. A Solo Strutter
Your heart just jump-started. He's alone! © John Hafner photo
Man, the sight of a single gobbler alone in the distance surely tips things your way just a bit. But this kind of turkey is notorious for ripping back at your sweet hen yelps and staying right there in place, cement-footed and safe.
Your next move: Sometimes it pays to get on this bird doing a big slow-walk fishhook to its other side, especially if you've just had a long-distance calling conversation for an equally long period of time. Take your time walking through the woods, hidden by terrain, hoping that bird stays put. Woodsmanship is key now. And when you finally get into position, set up and call ever so softly. Be patient. If that turkey doesn't hammer back now, it doesn't mean the gobbler isn't coming. Sometimes they go silent and slip in for a look. And they do it on turkey time. Upside is, you can roost the bird that night and hunt the lone turkey on fly-down the next morning, positioning yourself between its roost and strut zone.
4. A Running Tom
The game is over for now ... not forever. © Images On The Wildside photo
Okay, so you've spooked a turkey with your one false move. Big deal. Depending on how fired up that bird was, you still may be able to kill it that day.
Your next move: Upside is, he's still alive and you know where. The conservative approach is to come back that evening and roost the bird, then hunt the gobbler the next morning. Need to be aggressive? Got no time? Do an end-around to where it ran. Again, as with the solo strutter, slip in there s-l-o-w-l-y. Let the woods settle down. Wait a bit longer. Call softly. And wait some more. Turkeys have been killed this way. And maybe one more if you play it right.
5. A Walking Gobbler
A gobbler walks into view. Don't move. © Bill Konway photo
You've been calling all morning after hearing turkeys on the roost. You've taken a nap. Something tells you to open your dog-tired eyes and you do ... just as a nice gobbler walks into the field.
Your next move. Do nothing and I mean nothing. Your immediate thought is to call to that bird. Don't. Chances are it has an excellent idea of where the yelping has been coming from all morning. And then you shut up (slept). Let that gobbler sort things out a bit. Maybe pop into strut. Now is the time to rachet it back a bit. Be patient. That bird may just take its time to wander closer. Decoys could help if you have 'em staked already.
6. A Roosted Gobbler
This gobbler is looking and listening for other turkeys. © Jeffrey B. Banke-Shutterstock photo
A gobbler on a limb has a distinct advantage over you. It can look down and see other turkeys. It's surely listening for other birds and trying to pinpoint the location of each one.
Your next move: If the bird is alone, let it fly down, ideally behind terrain. Call after it hits the ground. Chances are it'll hear but not see your location. That's good for now. If it pops into the field like the walking gobbler just mentioned, follow those suggestions. If it joins some other turkeys (ideally you'll hear this), gauge whether that spring flock is coming, going or staying in place. Then either reposition or sit tight, with or without decoys in front of you. Calling can bring birds just as close as staked turkeys, but sometimes the visual cues of a fake jake and hen will draw a dominant bird right in with a wobbling sprint.
7. A Flying Gobbler
A flying turkey might be doing any number of things. © Images On The Wildside photo
This longbeard may be fly-hopping an obstruction in its path to follow other turkeys or come to your calling. Or you may have shot another bird and it is taking wing. Then again, you may have flat-out missed the gobbler.
Your next move: If the bird is in a spring flock, let the group dictate your next option. Hens might be actively feeding as the gobblers, both dominant and subordinate, trail along. Wait to see what those turkeys do next. The flock could work into range. Then again, if the bird is coming to your yelps and clucks, be patient. It knows where you are. But if you've whiffed, follow this advice to recover from it.
8. A Paranoid Turkey
Turkeys are wary by nature. How much dictates your hunt. © John Hafner photo
A gobbler acting like this may not see decoys or other live turkeys in your calling location. Or it may spot fakes and not like it one bit. So it's just a little bit sheepish. Then again, the bird may have just seen something else it didn't like, such as your phone texting or other dumb mistakes when you should have been concentrating on the hunt.
Your next move: Let the bird settle down. If it leaves the field, wait the gobbler out. Or follow. The paranoid turkey might know something you don't. A dominant strutter might be following right behind it. The wary bird is just trying to keep its distance. You still might be in the game. That's the beauty of turkey hunting. The highs, lows and the unexpected ... it's all good. Relax and enjoy the chess match.
9. The Jake
Bull jakes give you options. © John Hafner photo
This young gobbler is clearly looking for the sound of your calling or other turkeys or both. If it's in range you might want to ...
Your next move: In some states like Mississippi, a legal gobbler needs a 6-inch beard. So jakes are out. In many others though, any bearded spring turkey is permitted. Are you on the last day of a hunt? Maybe you want to fill that tag. Truth is, a jake at the right time can put a smile on your face, opening day or last stand, especially when it's "a good hunt." Degree of difficulty often shapes our story telling about spring turkey hunting, and whether we pull the trigger. And a jake can taste great on the dinner table, especially with the right recipes. Some of us even argue young gobblers can taste even better than mature toms.
10. The "Dead" Gobbler
Get to that turkey fast ... © Bill Konway photo
Sure, that gobbler looks dead. And it probably is. But ... turkey hunt long enough and you'll see a bird you just dropped get up and run (or fly) away. It's like an apparent knockout punch, and the once-downed prizefighter stood up one more time.
Your next move: You've made the shot. Check the safety on your gun – or put that bow safely down –and hustle to that turkey. Jog if you can. Put your boot tread on its neck. Get its sharp-spurred legs safely in your hands and claim that bird. Don't chit-chat, recall the hunt, update your social-media status or anything else until you do that. Seriously.
More Realtree turkey hunting.
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