Think outside the box when it comes to tough gobblers, after you master different calls and learn the lay of your turkey hunting landscape.
On one, early morning hunt, Mark Prudhomme located a tough, old gobbler roosted a short distance away. He sent out a few soft, seductive yelps, and the tom belted out a thunderous gobble in response. Minutes later, he flew down in Prudhomme’s direction and was coming in on a string. It was the perfect setup, and he was ready to tag another bird.
Then, the bird screeched to a halt about 75 yards away strutting and drumming, searching the woods with a keen eye for his would-be suitor. Alas, she could not be seen, and old tom was not moving an inch closer.
“That bird would come to me every time I called to him, but he would hang up about 75 yards away and strut and gobble,” said Prudhomme, a 17-time national calling champion from Georgetown, S.C. “It didn’t matter where I was or what I did, he’d just stay in one spot and strut and gobble back at everything I did.”
On a couple of occasions, it seemed the gobbler was teasing Prudhomme and toying with him, coming within shotgun range but never offering a shot because he was in a thicket. The more Prudhomme hunted him, the harder it got, until the master turkey hunter finally had enough.
“I knew that I had to do something or I’d never kill that bird,” Prudhomme said. “He wouldn’t come past that magic distance, staying just out of shotgun range every time I got on him.”
When things go right
One morning, everything went according to plan, with the same scenario presenting itself.
“I called to him one morning, and he gobbled right back at me,” Prudhomme said. “As soon as he answered, I ran toward him, stopped 75 yards from my original calling spot, sat down and shut up. A few minutes later, the gobbler strutted right up to me and stopped right in dead killing range.”
Prudhomme’s shotgun roared, and the gobbler met his destiny after whipping the champion caller many times. That’s the appeal of turkeys for many hunters like Prudhomme, battling bad birds and finding a way to entice them into gun range. Sometimes, you have to resort to a little trickery to get up on them or think outside of the box.
The bad bird was a trophy indeed; it sported a 12-inch beard to go with 1½ inch spurs and 21 pounds of pure, bad-to-the-bone turkey.
“Every turkey is different, and you never know what will entice them until you actually get into battle with them,” Prudhomme said.
No matter what the circumstance, always know where you are and practice safe hunting habits first.
“My favorite time to hunt them is early morning off of the roost,” Prudhomme said. “The setup is very important, and you really need to know the geography of the land to be successful. I do call to the birds when they’re on the roost, but I just do a soft tree call to let him know that I’m a hen and I’m there when he’s ready.”
If multiple birds are gobbling, then it’s an opportunity for Prudhomme to use their competitiveness to his advantage.
“A lot of times, I’ll try to get them fired up ,and I’ll call a little more to get them competing against each other,” he said. “They don’t want any competition, and if they think there’s another gobbler there, they’ll come running to get rid of their competitor.”
“It’s real important to know the situation at the moment and whether he has hens or not. If he does, you need to know the direction the hens like to go each morning, as that old gobbler will follow them if they’re roosted nearby. If he’s by himself, then things are different, but you always want to be in a spot that the turkeys want to go.”
While that may sound easy if you know the lay of the land and the bird’s habits, it’s sometimes easier said than done, but you need every advantage you can get when locking horns with a wise, old bird.
“Mid-morning can be really productive,” Prudhomme said. “If you’re not successful off the roost, then sit tight if one leaves you, because a younger gobbler or 2-year-or-older bird may come in silent. It always pays to be quiet and patient,”
During mid-morning, the hens will go to nest or leave the gobblers, and the gobblers find themselves alone. That’s when their natural instincts leave them vulnerable.
“If you can get one to gobble around 10 a.m., there’s a good chance you’re going to kill him,” he said. “Once I know where that gobbler is, I won’t call to him any more than I have to or need to. All you can do is mess him up by calling to much. If he goes quiet, then I may do a little soft call, but that’s about it. I’ve had them come in quiet and never gobble again.
“I’ve killed a lot of birds during the afternoon, around 3 to 4, too,” Prudhomme said. “I’ll move around some and try to spot one in a field or feeding, but it doesn’t hurt to set up in an area where you know they’re at and blind call. I’ll try to get a little excited in the afternoon, because if you get to cutting and aggressive yelping, you might get him excited and fired up.”
If they get fired up, then they’re usually history when facing The Champ.
Weapon of choice: Trumpet
Prudhomme won six Grand National Team Titles with a friend and later competed in the Champion of Champions competition, where one of the required calls is a trumpet. His partner kept after him to learn to run a trumpet, so that’s just what he did.
“I started hunting a lot more with the trumpet after I’d learned how to call with it, and the turkeys were reacting to it differently,” Prudhomme said. “I had less hang-ups, and the turkeys would come straight to me. It was amazing to me. They might not sound good up close, but a good trumpet really sounds good in the woods from 100 yards away.”
“When I won several Grand National Titles, I had to use them, so I practiced and worked on them until I could call pretty good,” he said. “I started with a wing bone and won my first Champion of Champions with it, but I decided to start building my own trumpets so I could get the sound I wanted.”
“I bought a lathe, and it took several years to get them like I wanted, but I won my fifth Champion of Champions title with my own trumpet,” he said. “I prefer the Zack Farmer-style because his sounds more like a real turkey than anything I’d heard before.
“You should be able to get that raspy, high-pitched sounds from your trumpet, so I’d recommend that you buy a quality trumpet and learn to play it. It might take a while to master it, but after you do, there’s no limit to what you might be able to do with it.”
When Prudhomme encounters a wise, old bird that will respond to a single hen but won’t come in, he’ll imitate several turkeys with his trumpet.
“I’ll mimic a high-pitched hen and a raspy hen,” he said. “Sometimes, I’ll do a fly-down hen and then call like one is in the tree and one on the ground while sending the sound in different directions. If I really need to spice it up for more reality, I’ll include a jake gobbler in the mix, all calling back and forth to each other.”
There are not too many toms than can resist a “flock” of sweet love notes sent out by this expert caller and call-making craftsman, but he knows how to speak their language and when to do it.
“Start with a good trumpet and learn to use it before going to another style,” Prudhomme said. “Beginners should ask veteran hunters who makes a good trumpet call and find out who a lot of them like and get one.”
“I’ll sit down and get set up before I make a turkey sound,” Prudhomme said. “A lot of times, I’ve set up beside a tree and called two or three times, and had a hen fly out of the tree beside me and drop down right in front of me. If I’d moved up a little further, I’d have spooked the birds, and my day would be over before it began.
“Beginners should avoid spooking birds at all costs because they’ll be educating the birds and the hunt will be over soon, so be patient and don’t move a lot.”