Scott Ellis struck out on a late-afternoon mission to fire up some tough turkeys while stopping every 200 yards or so to call, hoping to get a shock-gobble from a battle-worn tom.
Ellis sat down in a good looking spot and cut a couple of notes and got real aggressive. His enticement was met by a lusty gobble.
“I didn’t waste any time and really got aggressive looking for a hot bird,” Ellis said. “We got some birds fired up and within 5 minutes they were coming in. We both killed a bird, doubling up on some tough birds that were much easier after the hens went their own way and left the toms all alone.”
Ellis, of Bartow, Fla., is the 2015 National Wild Turkey Federation Grand National Head to Head Champion. He is no stranger to turkey hunting and calling battle-weary gobblers. He’s won many contests over the years and has continually beaten the best callers known to man, as well as fooling nature’s best judges — the wary gobblers.
While Ellis hunts many areas year after year and is familiar with the turkey habits on those lands, he also hunts new places each year and must locate birds in those areas fast because his time is limited and he may not be back that way ever again.
“I hunt a lot of places around the country and I tend to use the landowners, invitees or guides for advice on the turkeys’ locations,” said Ellis. “I want to know what they’re doing on that property right now. Where do they roost and what’s their normal daily routine? Most of the time gobblers will have different areas they like to use during the day and the landowners, farmers and other people will know the birds’ normal daily routine.”
Ellis utilizes all of his knowledge of turkey hunting and the information gained from the locals to find out what the birds are doing right now, where they should be right now.
We’re blessed to receive some advice from this experienced hunter, who takes us through his normal daily routine.
Locating a turkey is Ellis’ first priority each day, saying it’s imperative that the hunter knows a gobbler’s exact location before the tom can be properly worked.
“I’m going to start with an owl hooter and quickly go to a crow call if I can’t draw a response pretty quick,” Ellis said. “I’ll do a lot of laughing and screaming series simulating owls cutting up. There’s many a time when you need to get them to shock gobble to locate them because nothing else can.
“If they don’t wake up and gobble on their own you have to get really aggressive with your calling, owling and crow calling. Get into that next level and don’t stick with the basics.”
Once you locate him the game is on.
“With a little basic knowledge I’m going to try to get into the area I think he’s going to fly too,” Ellis said. “I want to get 80 to 100 yards of him and then sit down and call to him. If he has hens, he may fly down to them but if I get in real tight he may come my way.”
The question becomes how hot the gobbler is and does he have a bunch of hens nearby. If Ellis hears a harem of hens he’ll get moving and get the jump on them.
“I’ll start off with a couple tree calls and clucks and then go from there,” he said. “The game doesn’t start until he gets his feet on the ground.
“Unless I hear him with hens I’ll let him know I’m there and shut up. I’ll get aggressive with the hens if they are there and provoke them and then you can possibly get them to come by you and bring the gobbler in, too. I’ll do a fly down cackle and flap my wing and jazz it up a bit and then let him fly down.”
Sometimes the gobbler will follow them straight to you like they’re being pulled on an invisible string.
“But every once in a while you’ll meet that tough bird and when you do the occasion calls for a change of strategy,” Ellis said. “I’ll call a lot when I have to change his mood or attitude. I’ll cut at him first and then I purr and cluck until he comes all the way in. I just don’t pour it on until it’s over.”
Mid-morning to midday
“I like to know the area I’m hunting and get a feel of what’s going on,” Ellis said. “I’m 41 years old and I have a certain feel for the birds. I’ll get a feel for how much gobbling is going on and how aggressive they are. If they gobble six or eight times, I won’t move quite as fast. But, if they only have a random gobble, I’ll cover a lot of territory and try to find a hot bird.
“Turkeys go through gobbling peaks during the season and when the gobbling activity is low you’ve got to change your strategy. If they’re just not doing it, I’ll set up and blind call for eight to 10 minutes with a little series and then build up with more aggressive and louder calling. But if they’re hammering that morning you can stay with them and keep after them in that area.”
As the season progresses, Ellis’ strategies change.
“During late season when gobbling activity is down I’ll tone it down and act like the hens and just soft yelp and cluck with some whining, too,” he said. “But if you still have good gobbling activity I’ll run and gun and look for hot gobblers.
“If the birds are not active in the area I’m hunting I’ll go where I know there are other birds and work on them.”
“I actually kill about 60 percent of my birds in the afternoon,” Ellis said. “I grew up hunting public land and later in the afternoon. The simple fact is this: Hens are doing their thing in the afternoon and the gobblers are alone and want company.
“If you can get a gobbler to gobble during the afternoon there’s a good chance he’s alone and by himself and if he is then you’re in business. A bird may have a morning routine that you can’t alter but during the afternoon he might be susceptible to your calls, if he’s lonely and all alone.”
But when do you hunt turkeys in the afternoon?
“I’ll hit them in the morning and if they’re not acting right I’ll go get on some birds that were working good early but then left,” said Ellis. “As the season wears on, the afternoon becomes more productive. The hens start disappearing and the gobblers look around and they’re all alone.”
While Ellis still hunts during the early morning hours he’ll be cautious and call a little, but during the afternoon he’ll definitely call more aggressively. And during those late-season hunts when the birds have calmed down a bit, Ellis uses the run-and-gun theme in the afternoons until he strikes up an ol’ tom, and then it’s game on.
Equipment and calls
As one of the world’s top callers, Ellis can use any call he wants to when hunting. He is also the Woodhaven Pro-Staff manager and he helps design and test many of their calls.
“I make all of my own mouth calls and I’m always making and testing new designs like the Scott Ellis Series Woodhaven Signature calls,” he said. “But I guess my favorite one is the Scott Ellis Split Vee call. And I also like the Woodhaven Raspy Red Reactor mouth call.”
Ellis shoots a Winchester 1300 12-gauge shotgun, circa 1980s, with a 24-inch barrel and a 660 Comp-N-Choke. His shells of choice are the 3-inch magnum Longbeard XR 1 ¾ number 6s.
His advice for beginning callers is the box call.
“If you’re just starting out a great box call is hard to beat,” Ellis said. “If a man wants to get serious and kill a turkey then he needs to buy a box call and learn to cut, cluck and yelp. He should master that box first and learn what to say and when to say it, and then he can move on to another call.”
After mastering the box call, a hunter can practice the mouth call, which is preferred by many people for a variety of reasons.
“If you master a mouth call you can have hands free operation and you just can’t put a value on that,” Ellis said. “Obviously you can keep your hands on your gun and be ready to shoot at a moment’s notice when the moment of truth presents itself.
“Sometimes I’ll strike up the bird with a tube call. It’s one of my favorite things to strike up with and get them fired up.”
Read more about Ellis at scottellishunting.com.