Sign In | Create an Account | Welcome, . My Account | Logout | Subscribe | Product Reviews | Recipes | Home RSS

Add this to Your Spring Turkey Tactics: Patience

March 13, 2018
By COL(Ret.) Grey D. Berrier II , Ohio Valley Outdoors

Are you a creature of habit when it comes to Spring turkey hunting? I have to confess that I was. I learned how to pursue spring gobblers as a young teenager from my maternal grandfather and I continued to hunt that way for almost 40 years.

Like many, if not most spring turkey hunters, I would conduct extensive preseason scouting to learn where various gobblers called home. If time permitted, I would attempt to "put a gobbler to bed" by listening and observing where they went to roost the night before my hunts. Well before first light, I would be back out in the woods in the vicinity of the roosted birds in eager anticipation of their flying down and the arrival of legal shooting time. If I hadn't roosted a bird the night before, I would attempt my repertoire of locater calls in the predawn darkness to try to get a gobbler to reveal its overnight elevated perch.

Whether it was a bird I had put to bed or one that had responded to a locater call, once a gobbler was on the ground, I would attempt to seduce him with my best hen sweet talk and hopefully, keep our conversation going until he came into shotgun range and I was able to seal the deal with a well-placed load of lead shot. In the past, if a gobbler wasn't interested in my seductive calling and I could tell by his ever-fainter gobbling he was heading off in a different direction, I had been taught to move as stealthily as possible to try to get out ahead of the bird and intercept him on his travel route. If that particular gobbler didn't show any further interest, I would move on to a new location, either on foot or by vehicle, in order to locate a different bird that might be interested in conversing and responding to my simulated hen turkey dialogue.

Article Photos

Transitioning from his previous “run and gun” paradigm to more patient “sit still and kill” spring turkey hunting tactics produced this beautiful 2016 PA spring gobbler with a 10” beard for the author. Photo courtesy of Grey D. Berrier II

My grandfather referred to this fluid style of turkey hunting as "running and gunning" and that's how I had spring turkey hunted for my entire life. Looking back, most of the turkey hunters I knew hunted in a similar fashion, while the vast majority of the spring turkey hunting books and magazine articles I read and the turkey hunting shows/videos I watched reinforced a "run and gun" turkey hunting mentality and tactics. Over the years, I came to believe it was a numbers game with spring gobblers and if I kept moving on to talk to enough birds, eventually one would be enticed to come within range.

Like most outdoorsmen and women, I'm always seeking to improve my hunting abilities and my harvest success rate. It's why we read outdoor magazine articles, books, and on-line postings, watch outdoor TV shows, DVDs, and internet videos, and flock to outdoor expos to talk to vendors and listen to speakers sharing their expertise. A few years ago, I read a magazine article on spring turkey hunting in Fur Fish Game magazine by one of my favorite outdoor writers, Judd Cooney. If I ever have the opportunity to meet Judd Cooney, I plan on personally thanking him for revolutionizing my spring turkey hunting thinking, tactics, and success rate.

If you're not familiar with Judd Cooney, he has been writing for Fur Fish Game magazine for decades and I consider him the "Dr. Dolittle" of outdoor writers, since he is an expert on "talking to the animals", whether it's calling predators, deer, turkey, bear, crows, or other species, Judd has been there, done that, and written about it. Besides being an outdoor writer, he owns and operates a high-end guide service for trophy whitetails in the fall/winter and gobblers in the spring on almost 10,000 acres of leased ground in Iowa. His magazine articles are filled with tips and tactics he's learned over the years by trial and error while helping demanding clients fill their tags.

Fact Box

An astonishing 85% of the time, that's 17 out of 20 opportunities, the gobbler eventually showed up later in the day at the exact spot where the hunter and guide had initially called from.

The magazine article that Judd Cooney wrote that changed my turkey hunting evolved out of his growing frustration over "run and gun" spring turkey hunting clients. Having sole access to almost 10,000 acres of prime Iowa hunting grounds, he and his guides have learned where the gobblers are located on their leased property. It goes without saying that they have a vested interest in putting each client in an excellent spot to insure they harvest a bird. However, he was frequently disappointed when clients would want to immediately move on to a new spot and pursue another bird when the gobbler(s) they talked to first thing in the morning did not come into their calls and decoys within the first hour.

Judd decided to conduct his own informal study of wild turkey behavior. Every time a spring turkey hunting client would insist on moving to a new location, instead of remaining in the initial spot where Judd or one of his guides had put them, even though they had some form of audible response from the gobbler before it moved off, they would hang a trail camera in that location before they relocated. Over the years, I've learned how uncanny it is that deer, coyotes, wild turkeys, and other wildlife can determine exactly where the source of a call or other sound originated from in the woods. The hundreds of trail camera photos from Judd Cooney's informal study of gobbler behavior clearly documented that fact.

An astonishing 85% of the time, that's 17 out of 20 opportunities or 85 out of 100 chances, the gobbler eventually showed up later in the day at the exact spot where the hunter and guide had initially called and unfortunately decided to move away from. Judd attributes this phenomena to gobbler's inherent "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" behavior. He postulates that the evening before you hunt, you have no idea if the gobbler you are pursuing "made a date" with a real, live hen or multiple hens to get together first thing in the morning to reproduce.

Judd's assertion is that you can be a world-champion turkey caller, but if a gobbler knows he has a sure thing, in the form of a live hen(s), waiting in a different direction, then that's where he's going as soon as he comes down off his roost. No how, no way is any seductive hen talk by you going to change his mind.

However, male turkeys are by no means monogamous. As soon as he finishes his instinctive breeding behavior with a live hen or hens, he is going to come looking for another girlfriend and the location of your earlier hen talk is solidly etched in his memory. While you may have made initial verbal contact with that gobbler at first light, it may not be until 9 AM, 10 AM, 11 AM, noon, or even later until he shows up. But remember, based on Judd's photographic evidence, 85% of the time, that gobbler is going to show up at the exact location you called from sometime later in the day.

I'll just come right out and say it. When I first read Judd Cooney's magazine article, I thought his findings were completely irrelevant to my spring turkey hunting, here in Pennsylvania. Call me a skeptic, but he and his clients were hunting large quantities of birds on vast expanses of private property that experienced very limited hunting pressure. That's a stark contrast from my efforts to pursue gobblers on public land or small patches of private ground that are regularly targeted by numerous hunters. In my mind, I labeled Judd's "new" spring turkey hunting tactics, "sit still and kill", and while they were counterintuitive to my "run and gun" spring turkey hunting paradigm I had employed for decades, something kept telling me I had to give it a try.

After much internal self-doubt, I decided that on opening day of the 2015 PA spring gobbler season, I was going to add patience to my turkey hunting repertoire and remain in one spot. Now, I normally hunt turkeys with a ghillie suit to completely conceal myself while both stationary and moving, but I decided to employ a pop-up blind, since it would anchor me to one spot. To add a degree of difficulty, I decided to hunt on our property, which meant I would have to call a gobbler from the adjacent PA state game lands.

Just after first shooting light, I heard a gobbler respond from up on the ridge over a 1/2 mile away. As I remained motionless in the blind watching my decoys, I kept telling myself, "Judd knows what he's talking about." The thought also crossed my mind, "I frequently remain in a treestand all day for deer, so why can't I just be patient from an hour before sunrise until noon when hunting spring turkeys."

Truth be told, come about 9 AM, after I had not heard a gobble in over two hours, I was ready to move to another spot and even considered heading back to the house to call it a day. However, I deliberately pressed on, making about a half-dozen yelps every 15 minutes or so, and otherwise remained completely quiet and motionless.

When a solitary hen snuck past in the underbrush about 11 AM, I thought, "this may be a good sign, if live hens are heading to their nests." When quitting time on opening day came at noon, I think I subconsciously said to myself, "I guess this proves Judd's 85% gobbler show-up rate does not apply in Pennsylvania."

I took roughly 3 to 4 minutes to gather all my gear inside the pop-up blind, so it was roughly 12:05 PM when I unzipped the back flap to make my exit. When I stepped outside and turned toward my decoys to retrieve them, I locked eyes with a very large gobbler sporting at least an 8" beard that had just ventured out of the woods, only 30 yards away. As he quickly turned and took flight back onto the PA state game lands, I remember thinking, "maybe there is something to 'sit still and kill', I'll have to try it again sometime".

Opening day of 2016 found me 8 miles from home on private property I had permission to hunt. In the predawn darkness, I heard a gobbler sound off in the distance, but then another hunter made his presence known on an adjacent property and his incessant calling from 5:45 AM to almost 8 AM made me think a sane turkey wouldn't be found anywhere nearby. I hunkered down in my ghillie suit next to a blowdown and patiently watched my decoys while emitting a few seductive yelps at 15-minute intervals.

The late appearing gobbler from the previous year kept me patient and optimistic. I began telling myself, "the more time that passes from when that other hunter left the woods, the better my chances for harvesting a bird." Just after 11 AM, I heard a barely audible gobble to the west. For the next 15 minutes, the gobbler would respond to my yelps, but seemed to be hung up over a hundred yards away. I was fighting the urge to close the gap when I saw the bird cautiously approaching from the northwest. When he entered a small opening and saw my decoys, he immediately went into full strut. As soon as he turned slightly sideways and the light silhouetted his long 10" beard, I touched off a 3 1/2" turkey load from my Mossberg 835.

My watch read 11:22 AM, while my rangefinder revealed it was a clean harvest at 42 yards. A patient "sit still and kill" methodology had worked! In the past I probably would have either moved on when the other hunter nearby was over-calling (in my opinion), tried to find where the gobblers had gone earlier in the morning, or called it a day well before 11 AM. At that point, I realized I might be on to something with more stationary turkey hunting tactics.

Heavy rain on opening day and work commitments kept me out of the woods until Wednesday, May 3, 2017. This would allow me to learn if a more patient approach worked on birds that had already received some in-season hunting pressure. Back in the same exact spot where I had harvested my 2016 bird, I heard a gobbler sounding off from up on his roost, 10 minutes before first shooting light. His fading gobbles revealed he had flown down and was heading away from me. The last time I heard him, he was well over a 1/2 mile off and I told myself he was going to meet a live "girlfriend", but that he had heard my suggestive yelps and he would eventually be coming back at some point.

The woods remained quiet for hours, testing my resolve, until I caught movement to my left only 30 yards away. When the completely silent gobbler climbed out of the dry stream bed that separated him from my decoys, I saw his beard and waited for his head to enter an opening. He was fixated on my decoys when my Mossberg 835 made another clean harvest, this time at a modest 23 yards at 9:54 AM. His 10 1/2" beard and 1 1/8" spurs made my 2017 Spring gobbler almost identical to my 2016 bird!

Judd Cooney's informal study revealed that 85% of the time a gobbler will return later in the day to the exact spot where he heard hen talk originating from. My own experiments with patient "sit still and kill" tactics in 2015-17 produced a 100% show rate and a 67% successful harvest rate. (Unfortunately, turkeys need to learn that quitting time is noon in the first part of the season and they need to show up before then.)

I plan on employing a more patient approach to spring turkey hunting in both Pennsylvania and Ohio in 2018. If the situation permits, I'm going to try hanging my own trail cameras in calling locations that I have to abandon, either because quitting time is noon or other obligations won't permit me to remain in the woods all day, to see if I can replicate Judd Cooney's results. Something else that might be interesting to try would be if you have a family member or friend who is a respectable turkey caller, you could go occupy a spot they called from earlier in the morning and subsequently abandoned, to see if a responding gobbler comes back there at some point later in the day. You could potentially kill a bird they had actually called in.

If "run and gun" hunting tactics are not enabling you to consistently fill your spring turkey tag, why not consider adding a more patient "sit still and kill" approach that relies on old Mr. Gobbler wanting to get around to visit all his "lady friends" during the course of the day. Who knows, you may have called in a whole lot more turkeys in the past than you ever realized. If you're not patiently waiting there when they finally arrive, you'll just never know.



I am looking for:
News, Blogs & Events Web