Plan B Gobblers

When the gobblers don’t come running to your calls at daylight, you better have a good backup plan.

Keith Byers | March 22, 2006

I had been set up for 30 minutes. Now I was wondering if I had made the right decision in choosing the location. The area felt right, the sign was there, but still you never really know until you have that gobbler in front of your gun barrel. I knew patience would be the key. Plan B had to have time to work. And what else did I have to go on, since I had heard only one gobble?

As any turkey hunter knows, textbook hunts are not the rule, and if things don’t work out at daylight, you had better have a backup plan.

Sitting there with my gun on my knee taking in the beauty of the Ocmulgee River swamp my mind began to wander, reviewing the information that led me to devise Plan B.

The current set-up had been the result of three days of hunting. The first morning’s hunt was probably one of the most exciting hunts I had been on in a while to have not bagged a bird. It started at daylight when the swamp’s silence was interrupted by the sound of not one but two gobblers. These gobblers were roosted over a large slough that flowed from a dead lake, and as I approached I could tell they were not far apart, like about 60 yards apart. I eased in close and set up, and the adrenaline was pumping. The birds were gobbling at just about every sound. I sat there enjoying their gobbling frenzy for a few moments. It’s not often that I hear that much gobbling at one time, and I was grinning like a kid in an ice-cream shop.

One of the gobblers was roosted in a tree on the edge of the dead lake. The other was roosted down the slough from the lake. I set up closer to the bird over the slough and was just getting ready to give my first series of tree yelps when the bird next to the lake decided to tree-hop closer to the bird over the slough. It was time for me to get involved in the action. I drifted a short series of tree yelps in their direction. They both gobbled.

If the gobblers aren’t talking at daylight, many hunters quickly become discouraged and head for the house — leaving the woods wide open for a hunters with a Plan B.

All was well in the turkey woods. I remained silent until I heard wing beats and watched as the bird over the slough came to the ground. I hit him with a short series of plain yelps, and he responded with a gobble. Moments later the other bird pitched down and they immediately got together. I let them hear an excited yelp, and they both erupted with gobbles.

Along about this time a problem began to arise. From across the dead lake came the sound of a turkey hunter’s worst nightmare: the yelping of a turkey hen. Now these gobblers had come up to within 30 yards of my position, but as luck would have it, they were behind a small, cane-covered rise in the swamp. I could not see them, and the hen got more vocal. My precious gobblers began to make their way toward the lake, gobbling and going in and out of strut as they went. I watched in excited agony as both birds flew across the lake to the yelping hen.

I might have been beaten, but I do not give up so easily. Circling the lake I set up again only to be shunned by the gobblers and their real hen. I  noticed, however, that they were headed to a part of the river swamp where I had bagged a bird earlier in the season.

To be so vocal one morning and to be so silent the next is totally unbelievable, but that’s turkey hunting. Morning and round No. 2 was in its infant stage, and there did not appear to be a turkey in the swamp.

After fly-down time passed without a gobble, I decided to go to an old food plot that had not been planted and set up. The plot was located in the swamp near where the gobblers had roosted the day before and looked like a perfect place to meet hens and strut. I set up and began my calling with a series of loud plain yelps. All was silent. I had been there calling every 10 minutes for about an hour when I finally heard my first gobble. The gobble came from the area where I had bagged the bird earlier in the season. I immediately gathered up my turkey-hunting paraphernalia and moved closer to the still-gobbling birds. Yes, it was my two gobbling buddies from the previous day. I set up and began calling to the birds, and they went silent again. I went home empty handed but with a little more information about the gobbling duo.

As I got out of my vehicle on the morning of the third day, a sprinkling rain had just stopped. I made my way down the woods road that led into the swamp, all the while hoping the rain would hold off until this morning’s duel was over. Gobbling time came and went without a sound. To make matters worse the sky grew increasingly dark. I was about to give up hope when a clap of thunder did what I could not seem to do with a locator call — elicit a lone gobble from one of the swamp gobblers. He was roosted in the area I had killed the bird earlier in the season. I hurried toward this bird. He gobbled twice more at the sound of thunder, and this gave me time to pinpoint his location and set up.

Just as I put my diaphragm call in my mouth the rains came down, and I do mean down. Through this downpour I watched the gobbler pitch to the ground, and I made one series of calls out of desperation. There was no response, no turkey, nothing but wet.

I decided it was time to change calls. Looking through my vest, I took out my glass call and striker. I made sure that the glass was roughed up enough and the end of the striker was clean. Using the striker against the glass I softly clucked once and plain yelped three times ending the call series with a cluck. I then lay the call and striker at my side, adjusted my gun and sitting position, leaned back and waited. Patience and soft calling is what Plan B called for, not to mention a little cooperation from the turkeys.

I am not one of those fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of guys. I plan for everything, including my turkey hunting and that is how I developed the Plan B concept. Most turkey hunters I know do very well when the birds are gobbling on the roost in the morning but throw them a curve, and they do not react well. It has been my experience that turkeys tend to throw you a curve a lot of mornings. This curve can be silence, not responding to your calls, hens, and a million other things. What is the solution to this curve you might ask? Simply put, it’s having a workable Plan B.

In order for you to understand Plan B, I have to explain about Plan A. Plan A is the essence of turkey hunting when everything is right in the turkey woods. You go into the woods, the turkey gobbles from the roost, he flies down, responds well to your calling, struts in, puts on a great show, walks in front of your gun barrel and you pull the trigger. If you have turkey hunted any length of time you know this is what we wish would happen every time but being realistic you know this happens just every once in a while. The Plan B concept is for when things do not go well when trying to execute Plan A. The down-and-dirty definition of Plan B would be a hunting strategy to use when things do not go right in the turkey woods.

Take for instance, the turkey hunt that I am describing now. This is a Plan B hunt. Why? Because things did not go well in the turkey woods this morning at first light. One of the gobblers sounded off one time this morning, and I tried to set-up and call to him but neither did I see or get a response from him. It was either go home or resort to Plan B. I put a lot more thought into my plan. I took the information that I had learned about these two gobblers over the last three hunts, analyzed it, and this is what I came up with: On all three mornings one or both gobblers were either headed to or in the same area where I had bagged a turkey earlier in the season. I concluded that these birds evidently liked to hang around in this area. I had decided before I left home on day three that if things did not go well early, I would immediately go to this area, set-up and do some soft calling and see what would happen.

This is not the only Plan B strategy that I use. I remember hunting on a large tract upriver from where I hunt now and doing battle with a boss tom of epic proportions. Needless to say I lost the battle on several occasions before I finally bagged this very elusive bird. Another problem he was indeed the boss because no other gobbler in the area would make a sound. How do I know there were other turkey toms in the area? Through pre-season scouting. During one of my pre-season scouting excursions I was lucky enough to see 13 gobblers, all with beards of at least 10 inches or better. This tom had all the other toms scared to death.

Knowing there were other birds in the area and after an early morning humbling by this old bird, I decided to walk a woods road that paralleled a creek and led into the river swamp. This walk was more of a scouting session than anything else. Just as I climbed to the top of a ridge that the road went across, I bumped a gobbler out of a tree. This bird was still in the tree well after fly-down time. Having been beaten at first light by one gobbler and bumping into another gobbler, I decided it was time to go home.

On the drive home I began forming a Plan B strategy for the next morning. If things did not go well at first light, I would walk the woods road that led into the river swamp, using my diaphragm call to do some broadcast calling at different intervals along the way.

The next morning began just like the previous one with me doing battle with the boss gobbler. I believe he had every hen in a five-mile radius with him that morning, and I lost the battle. It was time for Plan B.

I made my way to the creek bottom and began easing my way down the woods road that led into the river swamp. It was approximately three-quarters of a mile to the edge of the river swamp. I stopped every 75 to 100 yards along this road and made a calling sequence using my diaphragm call and took a minute or two to listen. These calling sequences consisted of plain yelps, clucks, and purrs, nothing fancy. When I reached the river swamp I had not heard another turkey sound. This is where the strategy comes in. Instead of following the road and continuing down into the river swamp, I turned around and began to make my way back along the road using the same calling technique and sequences. Why? If a boss gobbler is enforcing his presence over an area, subordinate gobblers are intimidated and cautious. Your first trip down a road will let these silent birds know that a hen is in the area. When they hear your calling they might not sound off but they may start working their way toward the calling.

On your return trip I believe your calling will have a better chance of being responded to by one of these subordinate birds because he does not want the hen he came looking for to get away again. This is especially true if she sounds off close to his location.

On my second pass a gobbler answered one of my calling sequences. It happened to be just about where I bumped the gobbler in his tree the morning before. This bird was no doubt in fear of the old boss because when he answered my calls it was with a half gobble that sounded like he cut his gobble off in mid-stream.

The bird was less than 100 yards off the woods road. I immediately eased off the road in his direction and set up. My first calling sequence was three plain yelps, and I got no response. A minute passed, and he short-gobbled again. I cautiously moved another 20 yards in his direction and set up again. This time I clucked and purred to him and all was quiet. After what seemed like an eternity, actually, 15 to 20 minutes I saw movement out in front of me and a little to my left. There he was, and he had not made a sound. He was about 25 yards away when I pulled the trigger. His beard was 10 1/8 inches long. Not bad for a subordinate gobbler.

Another Plan B strategy I use frequently is to do nothing. All of us have been in the following situation and will be there again if we turkey hunt this season. You are in the turkey woods at your listening post at prime gobbling time. The weather and temperature is right, there are no doubt turkeys in the area. The day begins to lighten and you break out your owl call and hoot. Nothing happens. Then it’s time for the crow call, and still nothing happens. Not a turkey sound in the woods. What do you do? You resort to Plan B.

A lot of times I do the same thing the turkeys have done: nothing. I find a good area with turkey sign, sit down and listen. I make no calls. I find a comfortable place to sit, usually with a good view, sit back and take in the morning’s sights and sounds. All the while I have my ears searching for the sounds of a turkey gobbler. There is a method behind this madness. Usually I have found that if no bird gobbles at prime gobbling time through fly-down time, it is sometimes best just to be patient and listen. If mister gobbler is silent during prime gobbling time, he often cannot keep his mouth shut for more than a couple of hours. Which means that sometime within the two-hour period after fly-down time he will give away his position, and the hunt is on. This strategy works.

I remember one hunt where the morning was perfect. Perfect except there were no gobbles coming from that section of the river swamp I was in. Instead of going home I walked down into the swamp, found a good-looking place with a few turkey scratchings, sat back against a tree and waited. I listened for about an hour and guess what? A gobbler sounded off out in front of me less than 100 yards away. You could say I was lucky, and you are probably right, but this has happened to me several times.

I eased my diaphragm call in my mouth and immediately plain-yelped and clucked to the bird. He answered back with a gobble. A few minutes passed, and I purred and clucked to him. He cut me off with a gobble and had closed the distance to the get-the-gun-ready-and-pointed-in-the-right-direction time of the hunt. Moments later he came into view, and I pulled the trigger when he came out of strut at about the 20-yard mark. He had 1 1/4-inch spurs. Patience paid off.

Would things have worked out the same and quicker if I had called actively? Maybe and maybe not. That is one thing we will not know. All I know is that this Plan B technique works. I believe it works well in any Plan B situation of this type, but especially well on pressured birds. These birds have been bombarded with calls of every kind, and this silent treatment is a change. Furthermore many hunters leave the woods pretty quickly in this situation and will miss this late gobbling. Again patience is the key.

A rustling of leaves brought me back into the hunt I began to describe at the beginning of this article. The sound was coming from my left and slightly to the rear of my set-up position. I slowly turned my head and made out the lower half of a turkey walking behind some palmetto fronds about 20 yards away. There was no doubt it was a gobbler, I could see his beard just a-swinging. With him behind the palmettos I quickly swung my gun around. Little did I know that another gobbler that I had not seen spotted my movement and began to alarm putt. The turkey that I had moved on stopped behind a large pine tree not providing me with a clear shot. The excitement was building as I waited for him to make a move. He turned and stepped back the way he had come from, and I pulled the trigger. It had been 10 minutes since my last series of calls. Plan B had worked.

Plan B is nothing more than a well-thought-out alternative hunting plan to use when things do not go well at fly-down time. I use the information that I have obtained on previous hunts to come up with a plan of action. This information can be obtained through sightings, calling contact, or sign. The important thing is that you take the time to think about what a gobbler did or did not do and what turkey sign you have seen. Then devise a plan to use this information against him when the time comes.

Once you come up with a plan it is important to be disciplined enough to stick with it, and above all have the patience to give it enough time to work. I recommend a minimum of an hour once you get set-up. When I go to into Plan B situations 99 percent of the time I use soft calling. I prefer a diaphragm or glass call in this situation, but you may use any type of call that you are comfortable with so long as you can call softly with it. Also, I time my calling sequences. I make up my mind that I am going to call every 10 or 15 minutes, and I stick with this by looking at my watch and not calling until that amount of time has passed.

Other equipment I have used in a Plan B situation are decoys and blinds. The sky is the limit when you are devising a plan to bag that old gobbler. Also, if you are expecting a lot of gobbling when hunting in these situations, you will be disappointed. Most of the time the birds I bag come in silent or strutting and drumming. However, there are a few that I have had gobble when I went into a calling sequence, but they are usually already close by.

No plan is foolproof, and nothing is 100 percent when it comes to turkey hunting. You can however even the odds a little from time to time. All it takes is being aware and the know-how to interpret what is going on around you in the turkey woods. Then taking that information and devising a Plan B strategy and having the patience to see it through. When Plan A does not pan-out and your only alternatives are to go home, a Plan B strategy might be just what you need to put that old gobbler in front of your gun barrel.

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