The art of deception is everywhere as turkey hunters take to Mississippi’s woods trying to fool a big gobbler.
Mississippi turkey hunters must be on top of their games to consistently tag a tom each season. But well hidden and still as a stone statue, shouldn’t they be able to coax a gobbler within shotgun range? Maybe not.
When a turkey comes to a call, he sees everything and hears every little noise. Of all senses, turkeys are masters of sight and sound. Even when it appears everything is going right, a wary Mississippi tom seems to have that sixth sense that helps him elude the most seasoned sportsmen and women.
Hunters should remember past encounters with gobblers and build an ever-learning knowledge of their quarry, always adding to their bag of tricks when it comes to for luring them into range. Here are a few things to consider and remember that may help bring in that big tom that’s just out of reach.
Deceiving a tom’s keen eyes
- Total concealment is the name of this game. Veteran turkey hunters know that unless you’re inside some type of blind, completely hidden, everything should be camouflaged. This means long-sleeve top, pants, headwear, mask and gloves. Most will have some type of vest in the latest camo pattern.
More is always better. Many hunters take it to heart and wear camouflaged boots. New shotguns are available sporting your camo of choice and older guns can be hydro-dipped, taped or painted in camo. Pay attention to all the details and little things. That should give you the edge.
Go for the natural look that matches your surroundings. Early in the season, Mississippi’s spring woods look different than they do later on as new growth appears and matures.
“As the season progresses, and especially when things start to green up, my favorite camouflage is Mossy Oak’s Obsession,” says Shane McCullough, a veteran Copiah County hunter “In my opinion, it can’t be beat.”
A good option to consider when buying new camo is leafy-wear clothing. A lightweight, leafy top and hat can help break up a hunter’s silhouette and will move naturally when the wind is blowing.
- Back up to a big tree and be still. Pick a tree that’s wider than your shoulders, if possible. Bigger is better. When a tom is coming straight to you, it will be harder for him to spot you because he won’t be able to detect your outline.
Be as still as you can. Try to put your sight bead on a tom when you first spot him, long before he gets into range. Keep it on him as he comes in. The only movement a hunter should make is keeping his sights fixed on the tom. If you must swing your gun to get on him, go slow — like cold molasses. A gobbler or any other turkeys with him are sure to spot any sudden movements.
- Blinds are better for hiding. Building a blind is an option and doesn’t cost anything but your time. A good idea is to construct several natural blinds on your hunting grounds, close to strut zones or fly-down areas.
Factory-made blinds are good, too. These can be placed with the same strategy as natural blinds and are great for staying out of the weather when conditions are less than favorable. You’ll be totally concealed in these. Some are easily moved, and low-profile blinds are being manufactured that take less than a minute to set up and are easy to carry, like the Alps Outdoors NWTF Deception ground blind.
Deer blinds or box stands are another option for ambushing unsuspecting gobblers. They’re already there, and the turkeys are used to them. They think nothing of traveling by a deer blind. Use whatever is on your turkey hunting grounds to your advantage.
- Seeing is believing — Give him something to look at. Sometimes, what a gobbler can see is just as important as what a hunter doesn’t want him to see. A decoy or two, or maybe even a spread, may be the option to draw him in for a shot. Many times, if a wise old tom doesn’t see a hen, he won’t really believe one is there.
Set your decoys in open areas under the cover of darkness, before it gets light enough for a turkey to see. If it’s later in the day when you want to set them, do it before you make a call; lonely gobblers will occasionally come in quickly.
Strut zones, fly-down areas, straight sections in logging roads, fields and food plots are ideal places to set up decoys. If your effective shooting range is 40 yards, put decoys 20 yards away. Don’t place them at the outer limits of what you’re capable of shooting; you need to be able to shoot beyond decoys in case a tom decides to stay on the far side.
Fooling gobblers’ ears
It takes trickery to lure a tom into gun range. Staying hidden and getting past turkeys’ keen eyesight is important, but just as important is being able to beat their great sense of hearing. It will take making some noise and not making some noise to tag your tom.
All turkeys, especially pressured toms, depend on their sight and hearing to keep from becoming a predator’s lunch or the main course of your next meal. If you make a noise, whether it’s stepping on and cracking a stick or yelping on a box call, gobblers can pinpoint your exact location. You’re in their domain.
The right call to make depends on the situation you’re in at that moment. It can’t be taught, but rather, it comes with experience. Hunters should give a gobbler whatever he likes to hear. If he answers, he likes it; give him more. When he’s answering every call but won’t commit to come in, stop calling for a few minutes and see if he moves closer. The silent treatment has tricked many mature toms to come close enough for a shot.
McCullough offers a little wisdom on calling: “When I have a gobbler that’s just out of range or seems to hang up, I give him soft subtle calls on a slate. I won’t do any loud calling whatsoever.”
Practice your calling skills. Master the cluck and purr along with light yelps. These are basic and a must for a hunter’s skillset. Move on to cutting, fly-down cackles and excited yelps.
Become proficient with two different types of calls. A hunter who is able to call with a mouth yelper and a box call at the same time has a good chance of luring in a hard-to-get tom.
Keep a low profile and stay as quiet as possible. At times, it’s just as important as being able to let-it-rip on a call. Don’t alert a gobbler to your presence until you’re ready to call him in. This is key in getting past his sharp hearing.
Park at a distance from where you plan to hunt and make a longer walker. Gobblers can hear vehicles and ATVs at great distances when it’s crisp and quiet. Watch where you step to avoid breaking limbs. Take the path of least resistance when slipping towards a tom — briars clinging to pants and ripping loose can be heard from a distance. Old logging roads or well-worn trails used by deer hunters are ideal for maneuvering around in the turkey woods.
Getting past the sixth sense
Why does the gobbler get into gun range and go behind the big oak tree, and then the next time you see him, he’s walking off at a hundred yards? Why did he walk to the right instead of the left? Why wouldn’t he cross the fence? Why did he stop at a small ditch that a toad could hop across? While there may be no logical answer, a crafty gobbler seems to have what many hunters refer to as a sixth sense.
The best way to explain it is that this vain bird knows that he’s the king of his domain. He knows what the order of nature is, that the hen should come to him, and he shouldn’t have to humbly walk to her.
He is proud and shrewd in this order and knows what should take place. Any little resistance in his path can hold him back or divert his route and cause him not to come to your calling.
That’s why hunters need to do everything they can to blend in with what’s natural. Anything that causes the situation to “not seem right” can hang up your gobbler.
Do everything possible to add to your arsenal of tricks and skills. Don’t become complacent or overconfident — turkeys have a way of humbling the best. A wily gobbler’s senses are mind-boggling at times. It’s been said that an old tom can hear you think and see you change your mind. Hunters who hone their skills and learn the finer arts of deception are the ones who consistently carry gobblers out of the woods year after year.
Double-down with a partner on a double-crossing tom
When a crafty old tom is answering your calls but won’t come within range, acting like a retreating hen may by just the trick.
This setup requires a hunting partner; you have to decide which one gets the shot. The shooter should hide and stay still and silent. The other hunter will be the retreating hen.
The objective in this game is for the retreating hen to move slowly away, calling occasionally, while keeping the shooter between him and the gobbler. This will fool the gobbler into thinking that a hen is moving away from him, and he will move in that direction and come within range of the hidden shooter. This is one of the ultimate challenges in turkey territory to lure in the baron of the woods in this manner. Sometimes, it pays off big-time.
Double up with a pair of decoys
The right decoy setup can make the difference between walking out empty handed or high-stepping out shouldering a heavy tom.
While a full-fan strutter with a single hen decoy will work on some occasions, at other times, it will in scare off a tom. A full-fan strutter looks like a mature tom and will bring in the area’s big boy, ready to fight. But if the gobbler you’re after is a 2- or 3-year-old, and he knows a more-dominant gobbler is around, he may vacate the situation. A better choice is a half-strut or quarter-strut jake decoy along with a hen.
“I will put out an Avian X quarter-strut jake, then, I will back a lay-down hen up to him and see what happens,” veteran hunter Shane McCullough said. “Any longbeard worth his salt won’t stand for a jake attempting to breed a hen in his sight. The submissive hen set out in front of the jake decoy will trigger that fighter instinct in a mature tom.”