When a wild tom gobbles at daybreak, you can bet he only has one thing on his mind - and that's not to audition for "The Voice."

Can you imagine that panel of entertainers judging a turkey-calling contest? The only turkey those folks know comes on whole wheat, hold the mayo.

The essential function of the turkey gobble is to call hens to where the gobbler is waiting for some fast action, or to keep his harem of hens already assembled on the roost, close at hand and away from other gobblers trying to horn in on his collection of girlfriends.

Some turkey hunters believe that gobblers gobble just to drive turkey hunters crazy; a tough day turkey hunting often leaves us walking out of the woods talking to ourselves or mumbling in low tones as we sulk our way back home.

This is especially the case when gobblers are "henned up," as the turkey hunting lingo goes. When a gobbler is surrounded by a group of hens, it is nearly impossible to separate him from them.

Once they all hit the ground after an evening on the roost, the hens might stroll off in any given direction. Most likely, they will take the gobbler(s) in tow with them.

It makes one wonder exactly who is leading who in these scenarios.

Skillfully calling a gobbler away from his hens has to be one of the toughest aspects of turkey hunting. It takes a lot of experience working at turkey hunting strategy, woodcraft, turkey-calling acumen and a dose of good ol' luck to beat a gobbler at his own game.

Sometimes we win. A lot of times we get bamboozled.

Why is it so difficult to pry a gobbler away from his hens? Usually it just boils down to common sense: It is the natural behavior of a turkey gobbler to stay with hens and vice versa until they are bred. Then, one by one, the hens break off from the gobbler to go build and tend to their nests, eventually laying their eggs and finally their hatched poults.

That is the basic cycle of life for the wild turkey.

Additionally, there is an old adage that says "one in the hand is worth two in bush." The job of the turkey hunter is to project the calls of the hen to attract the gobbler in close for the shot. If the gobbler already has hens with him, he is much less likely to leave them to seek out that unknown hen hiding somewhere out in the bushes.

Separating a gobbler from his harem is the ultimate challenge of turkey hunting.

This is when the "Home Wreckers" step in. Home wreckers know the tactics and strategies needed to separate a gobbler from his hens, or how to get in between them to increase the odds of a successful hunt.

Let's take a look at a couple of these known home wreckers and the tactics they use to seal the deal.

 

Learning the layout

"To me, an integral part of turkey hunting is knowing the terrain, surroundings and the overall layout of the hunting property," said accomplished turkey hunter Beau Starkey of Madison. "When I scout, especially a new place for the first time, I am not only looking for actual turkey sign, but I'm learning the layout of the land.

"I am specifically looking at all the land features, including creeks - particularly those with active, moving water - ditches I might have to cross to get to a gobbling bird, fences that I can cross with permission, ridges, slopes, swamps or any other physical barrier that might hang up a gobbler."

Of course, he's also looking for areas birds could use to congregate.

"I am also always cataloging food plot sites, green fields, pastures, old timber loading-dock areas or any openings where I think a gobbler may head out to show out for the hens," he said. "I note strutting zones, dusting areas and travel routes like camp roads, ATV trails and such.

"Any route that gobblers might easily travel from the roost or during the day, according to their routines."

He can then apply what he's learned when the season opens.

"Having this information benefits me in a couple of ways," Starkey explained. "It allows me to be on the same side as the gobbler, not across a creek that might be there that I otherwise might not have even known about. If for some reason I can't get to the other side, then maybe I can get close to the obstacle and still be able to get a shot.

"Secondly, I can use obstacles to help me circle to get in front of the gobbler. Sometimes a hedgerow or a thicket along an open pasture can be used as a screen to get in position for a closer setup.

"So the bottom line is to know the terrain you hunt and try to keep the sun at your back."

 

Hunt the patterns

Jackson's Jim Walt is a turkey hunter with a proven strategy for pulling gobblers away from hens. It isn't really rocket science, but it takes a huge investment of time to nail down all the pieces of the puzzle.

The puzzle is where exactly turkeys consistently go every day once they fly off the roost. Are there patterns, favorite strutting grounds, feeding areas, green fields or staging areas? If so, find them and time them.

Learn the patterns precisely.

"Many years ago, I tracked a huge gobbler and his band of hens from the roost to the same green field several days in a row," Walt said. "It took me a while for this activity to soak in. Finally, I set up within eyesight of the green field, but back in the shadows. I put out one hen decoy along with a jake decoy just for the thrill of it straight in front of me on the opposite end of the field from where I expected the gobbler to come.

"I hoped the gobbler would come into the field as usual and immediately see my decoy set up."

He then sat tight.

"I made no initial calls, banking on the gobbler and his hens to show up. They did," Walt said. "I could see the reaction of the boss gobbler to that jake horning in on his territory.

"When I started making soft calls from the other end of the field, the gobbler went straight into a full strut and gobbled twice. Funny thing was, the other hens acted like they could care less."

Of course, the hunter was much more interested in how the gobbler reacted.

"He closed the ground distance to me in mere seconds and fell to one quick shot," Walt said.

The key was knowing what the gobbler was most likely to do that morning: Once Walt knew the gobbler headed to the same place each day, the setup worked.

"I worked to know, most of the time, where the gobbler I am hunting was likely to go nearly every morning once he left the roost with his hens," he explained. "I just headed them off, and was ready in advance.

"The tricky part was not to give myself away to multiple sets of eyes and ears expecting the worst."

But it's not as easy as watching birds once.

"New turkey hunters have to know, though, that the hens with a gobbler do not always either roost in the same place every evening or head out to the exact same place every morning once they fly down," Walt said. "This is why patterning birds takes time and hard work.

"Once you finally figure it out, then you learn all the options where the birds might go each day. That's where you set up and lie in waiting. It works."

Turkey hunting has lots of tactics and tricks. It often takes them all to bust up a gobbler from his hens. Start with learning the layout of where you hunt and how to pattern the birds that are there. We can all learn a few things from the Home Wreckers.