Use these strategies to bag hard-to-call gobblers.
The wind was stiff, and the sun was blocked by a thick layer of clouds. Lafayette’s Jeff “Bubby” Jackson stepped out of his truck and shook his head.
“These are about as crappy conditions as we could get,” he muttered.
Gobblers love a still, clear morning. Those conditions encourage them to strut their stuff and gobble their heads off, making them easier targets for hunters.
But under conditions like this day, turkeys aren’t as active because of the gloomy skies, and any gobbling they do is muffled.
“The wind messes up your hearing,” Jackson said. “It makes it harder to locate birds.”
But he’s been in that position before, and the veteran long-beard killer marched down the old train tram with a determined look on his face.
Every now and then, he’d stop and hoot. The call, which actually sounded exactly like an owl, was intended to shock turkeys into gobbling, thus giving away their positions.
It took several series of hoots to finally provoke a distant gobbler into sounding off, but Jackson wanted a closer bird.
“That turkey’s hot,” Jackson said. “When you get a hot turkey, you don’t pass it up.
“The problem is he’s so far away and so much can happen before you get to him, like rounding up a bunch of hens and shutting up.”
But it finally became apparent that this gobbler, which vocalized several times over a 30-minute stretch, was the only willing gobbler in the area.
So Jackson found an old logging road and headed up the steep grade into the picturesque Tunica Hills northwest of St. Francisville.
The scenery was stunning, with steep ravines and deep bottoms covered with hardwoods putting on their first greenery of the year. Sprinkled among the oaks, pecans and beech trees were dogwoods in full bloom.
Jackson, however, ignored all of that; he had a gobbler on his mind.
The strategy was pretty straightforward — walk a few yards, stop, listen and send out a few yelps from his slate and box calls.
The high-pitched, yearning calls echoed through the hills, at first provoking a few gobbles still far in the distance. Then the gobbles stopped.
Jackson took up a position on top of a ridge, sitting with his back to a tree and covering his face with a camouflaged net.
“He’s henned up,” the hunter explained.
But that didn’t bother him greatly.
“This is my secret weapon — patience,” Jackson said. “That turkey was probably roosted with a bunch of hens, and when he came down, he had to take care of business.
“When he finishes and starts feeling his oats, he’ll gobble again.”
The spot offered the hunter a good view of the surrounding bottoms, decreasing the chances that a gobbler could sneak up on him, and the high ridge would allow hen calls to travel farther.
But there also was another reason he was sticking to the ridge.
“These turkeys will run these ridges in the evenings because they can drop right off into the bottom and roost 100 yards from the ridge,” Jackson said. “In the mornings, they can fly down and be right where they need to be.”
As he settled down, he slipped his hand into the side pocket of his turkey vest. With confidence born of experience, Jackson’s hand moved through the pockets to locate his calls and strikers.
His pockets were full of them, and they came in all varieties.
“I use all kinds of calls,” Jackson said. “Sometimes they like different calls. They’ll get goofy, now.”
For instance, he uses two different strikers — one made of graphite and one made of plastic.
“It sounds like two different hens,” he said.
Add in a box call, and maybe a diaphragm, and the number of hens in his arsenal jumps to four.
The only type of call he uses sparingly is a diaphragm because he believes they are overused by hunters.
“A lot of people use diaphragms, and when a turkey’s been called to a bunch with a diaphragm, he won’t be killed with a diaphragm,” Jackson explained.
For more than 45 minutes, Jackson sat, the only movement being that of his eyes scanning the woods and his hands scratching out a turkey love song.
The wind laid as the morning aged, and the sun began to burn the low clouds away.
“If that sun pops out, they’ll get active again,” Jackson predicted.
But after more than an hour of sitting on the ridge without hearing a peep from a gobbler, the hunter decided it was time to make a move.
Down the steep ridge he headed, hitting the tram and moving about a quarter of a mile before starting up another logging road.
“That’s the great thing about this. You can ease along, take your time — no big hurry,” Jackson said.
As he entered the woods again, the last of the clouds disappeared and the sun shone brightly.
Again, Jackson sent out hen yelps every few steps.
A small field came into view as he crested the rise, and Jackson scanned intently to ensure no turkeys were out feeding.
Then, he pulled out his slate and dragged a striker across it to produce a short series of sharp yelps.
The sound of the call had not faded when a crashing gobble exploded from a couple hundred yards away.
“There he is,” Jackson said, excitement creeping into his voice.
Jackson reached behind his back and pulled a collapsible turkey decoy out of his vest’s game pouch while sneaking out into the small field.
He quickly staked the decoy out and retreated to the edge of the woods on the far side of where the turkey gobbled.
Again, Jackson set up with his back against a tree.
“You want to make sure you don’t provide a silhouette,” he explained. “You want to be as flat against the tree as possible.”
Out came his calls once more, and on the very first yelp the gobbler screamed its interest.
Unfortunately, it refused to move any closer. It would move, but only laterally.
“It’s acting like it’s henned up,” Jackson whispered after about 30 minutes.
Not long after those words were spoken, clucks and short yelps sounded along with the gobble.
Jackson shook his head, knowing that the hens would make the situation tougher.
But he wasn’t giving up.
“We’re fixin’ to kill this old turkey,” he said.
Jackson then became very aggressive with his calling.
“I’m really trying to call in those hens more than the tom,” he explained. “If we don’t get those hens to come in, he won’t come in.”
After another 45 minutes of hearing the boss gobbler regularly answer his calls, Jackson had had enough.
“I’m going to move to the other side of the field,” he said. “That makes it sound like the hen’s moving around.
“It hits him from a different angle.”
Off he went, almost duck-walking across the green patch. On the way, he snatched the decoy out of the ground and repositioned it closer to where the gobbler was holding.
This time, Jackson chose a small grass-covered mound for concealment. He was barely visible from across the field, as he reached into his vest again for his calls.
The gobbler thundered as Jackson produced another series of pleading yelps.
But the turkey refused to budge.
“He’s acting like an old turkey,” Jackson said. “He’s been educated by somebody.”
Finally, Jackson laid off the calls, only using them to ensure the turkey was still there.
The situation might have frustrated some hunters, but Jackson wasn’t put out.
“I’ve waited three or four hours before for a turkey,” he said.
About 1 1/2 hours into the contest, Jackson eased his calls back into their compartments inside his vest and prepared to move again.
“I’m really getting ready to put some pressure on him,” he said.
And with that, he slunk through a small draw and crawled behind a huge fallen tree.
The aggressive calling began again, but the gobbler still acted like it was nailed in place.
Minutes later, a lone hen slipped out of the woods and began feeding around the decoy.
But after a couple of Jackson’s yelps, the old girl became agitated and started to yelp loudly.
The old tom down the ridge went nuts, as if ordering the hens to pipe down.
Jackson put some more heat on the calls, which were quickly answered by the hen and just as quickly answered by the now-furious gobbler.
Another 30 minutes went by, and the hen finally lost interest and picked its way back into the woods near where Jackson originally set up.
By this time, the hunter didn’t care about the hen — the bird had done enough.
All of the noise had provoked some reaction by the gobbler and the hen; the two birds moved around behind a treetop.
Jackson watched intently with binoculars as the birds mingled about 40 yards away, obscured by the branches of the laydown.
At last, the hen that had been with the gobbler popped around the fallen tree top.
The hunter slowly eased his 12-gauge shotgun into position over the log, knowing that his chances of bagging the wise old gobbler had just risen.
Sure enough, the tom eased around the tree top in cautious pursuit of his mistress.
Fifteen yards from Jackson’s hiding place, the turkey ruffed up and dropped his wing tips to the ground in preparation for a full strut.
A blast from Jackson’s gun ended the gobbler’s plans.
“Patience paid off,” Jackson said as he examined the downed bird.
The 18-pound bird sported a 10-inch beard and long spurs attesting to its age.
Jackson said his second move was made because of a “feeling.”
“I just felt like something needed to be done with that one right then and there. He hadn’t moved 15 feet since we first heard him,” he explained. “It wasn’t like he was going anywhere with a pack of hens.
“He was right there; he just needed something to get him going.”
But Jackson also said the hen that came into the field helped his cause greatly.
“We got into an argument, and he came to settle the argument,” Jackson said. “Credit that one to that hen.”
But he insisted that patience was the real key.
“Patience is the best weapon to have when turkey hunting,” Jackson said.
The reason is that hunters are working directly against Mother Nature by calling gobblers.
“By nature what happens is the hens go to the gobblers,” Jackson explained.
And when a gobbler has already assembled a harem of hens, the challenge increases.
“He doesn’t have to go anywhere,” Jackson said.
That’s why he felt comfortable calling aggressively — he didn’t have anything to lose.
“He’s either going to come or he’s going to go the other way,” Jackson said.
The key when a gobbler is located is to get as close as possible without spooking it, but there are some other general rules.
For example, the oft-heard contention that gobblers won’t cross water is pretty much a fact.
“I’ve seen them cross water but not often,” Jackson said.
Also, it’s difficult to call a bird that’s on another ridge.
“You don’t want to try to call them across a hollow,” he said. “You want to be on the same plane with them.”
Another truism is that too much calling can be detrimental to a hunter’s purpose, resulting in a bird that refuses to budge.
“It depends on the turkey’s attitude. As long as they’re coming, I try to tone it down a little bit to keep from hanging them up,” Jackson explained.
Gobblers often hang up in highly pressured areas, so Jackson is always looking for ways to out-smart his targeted toms.
“If they’re really pressured, I try to use something different,” he said.
As he explained earlier, this “something different” could mean simply using a slate or box call while most other hunters rely on mouth calls.
But there are situations when a different-toned hen call just won’t work.
That’s when Jackson said a gobble call can be an excellent choice.
“If you get a turkey that’s real educated and call-shy, I’ve seen gobblers run the other way (when a hen call is used), and then I’ve killed that same turkey with a gobble call,” Jackson said. “They get goofy.”
However, a gobble call is not something this hunter regularly uses.
“It’s my last resort,” he explained.
That might seem strange, since the call has bagged Jackson some birds he probably wouldn’t have killed otherwise, but he said it’s a matter of safety.
“I only use it if I’m on a big piece of private property and I don’t have to worry about somebody shooting me,” he said.
That is a real concern, since hunter orange cannot be used because turkeys see color. So hunters are well-concealed, with even their faces covered with camouflage.
“I would never use a gobble call on public land,” Jackson said.
In situations in which gobble calls would be unsafe, tricking a nailed-down gobbler isn’t impossible.
For instance, Jackson often will mimic the sound of a hen scratching around in the leaves.
This, along with the live hen in the field, helped Jackson bag his prize for the day.
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