Silent Spring In The Turkey Woods?
Here's some advice on closing the deal when the birds just won't gobble.
If you hunt turkeys for 40 years as I have, sooner or later you are going to experience days when turkeys just don’t gobble. It may be three to five days, a whole week, month or an entire season. You wake in the morning hopeful and go to bed discouraged and ready to quit, but you don’t because you know tomorrow is going to be “the day.”
Then tomorrow comes and goes with no gobbles. These no-gobble times can be some of the most frustrating for turkey hunters. It’s tough to hunt a bird if you don’t no where it is, but it can be done.
Being successful in no-gobble times requires special skills and a mind-set few hunters have developed because they haven’t encountered the situation before. By all accounts I have heard from turkey hunters from Florida to Texas, the spring of 2008 will go down as the most difficult year for Southern turkey hunters in the last 11 years.
I learned some things during the 2008 season about adapting to the situation and trying new things. The progression of the season and adapting to the conditions led to turkeys being killed, and it made me a better hunter in the long run.
For my long-time hunting partner and me, the 2008 season started in Putman County, Fla. in a clump of small pines adjacent to a fern plantation where the year before gobblers were heard loud and long on opening day.
We heard one distant gobble. Loud and multiple yelps on a Lynch box call produced no response. Yelps and clucks on a slate call seemingly fell on deaf ears.
Finally, after sitting silently for about 30 minutes with my host, who was the caller, I began making very soft purrs and clucks with a Lynch Jet call, which is a small, quiet slate. Five minutes later, a hen walked past our setup followed by two gobblers and a jake. None made a sound, and maybe that sighting was just luck instead of due to my calling. The rest of the week was the same. No gobbles were heard, but gobblers were seen often in the fields.
That Florida hunt got me thinking and provided a few clues about what to do when the birds don’t gobble.
The next week, Dr. Jerre White, and I went 10 days without hearing a gobble at his farm, which in 1985 produced a gobbler with a beard that measured 16.85 inches.
On this property, we saw a good amount of scratching and other sign of turkey activity, but the mornings were silent. The turkeys were there, but standard techniques for getting them to gobble from the roost and then hunting them don’t work when they just will not sound off. It was time for a change in tactics.
On the 10th day we crept into an area called “Dark Hollow” without owling or calling. We slipped into a spot where fresh scratch was found the day prior. After what we considered was 30 minutes past fly-down time, we each began quiet calling on Lynch Jet calls which Jerre had introduced me to some years earlier.
I did not like the sounds the call made on first impression. However, because of success in calling up a turkey the first day he used it with me, I bought one and had used it in Florida. Maybe it wasn’t just luck?
We did not move and were about 60 yards apart. About 30 minutes went by, and all of a sudden hens began to move into our view followed by two or three gobblers. While neither of us got a shot, I became convinced it was the type calling and the Jet call that brought the turkeys into our area.
The following week at my farm, I heard only sporadic gobbling, usually about once or twice in the mornings and then nothing the rest of the day. One exception was a pair of gobblers going after it for about 45 minutes one morning and then nothing.
The next two days these birds did not gobble, but Dr. Max Moody and I knew their area and hangout range. Both birds were taken that week when we hunted in the known range using hen and jake decoys. We never yelped or made an aggressive or excited call after about the first four minutes at the start of the hunt. We would sit for long periods without calling.
The technique we decided on and employed in both cases was to cluck loudly about four to six times followed by about two to three runs of four soft yelps then sit quiet for 15 minutes. The next series of calls would be soft clucks by one of us and loud yelps by the other on a different call. Each tom had come in silently and well up in the morning.
Through a series of unsuccesful hunts, we were able to adapt into a technique that allowed us to kill those two birds on my farm. In that case, less was more when it came to bringing gobblers into range. But sometimes, when it comes to birds that won’t gobble, more is more.
Someone had given me a pair of Primos Fighting Purr calls about 2000, and for the most part I found no need to carry them. They were noisy when both were in the same pocket of my turkey vest, and I preferred a Quaker Boy push-button call which is a lot like the Primos Fighting Purr call.
One afternoon in April of 2008, while sitting on the front porch after a hunt, a friend found those Fighting Purr calls in a drawer and brought them
“Why do you have two of the same call?” he asked.
I explained the concept was to aggressively work each push-button call simultaneously. This would sound like hen turkeys fighting and hopefully force a gobbler in hearing range to gobble.
“Well, since we have not heard a gobble yesterday or today, don’t you think we should try them out?” my friend suggested.
What could I say but yes?
I tuned them slightly by adjusting the screw on the bottom of the calls and got the Quaker Boy call from my vest. For about five minutes we violently and constantly pushed those buttons. It would have sounded and appeared stupid to someone watching us, and we halfway joked about it as we sat there.
I had seen hens jumping on one another making this type sound before. That scene played out with two hens starting a fight and then one running off and being attacked by a different hen as she ran toward the back of the group. There were maybe 30 hens in the group, and this activity went on and on for many minutes. In the midst of the fight, I remembered hearing two gobblers sound off.
Back on the porch, my friend stopped pushing his button first. I kept on with the two, one in each hand until my friend stopped me.
“I thought I heard a gobble,” he said.
I replied, “You wish.”
“No, no, I’m serious. I really think I heard one,” he said.
About that time I heard a gobble, and sure enough, as we sat listening there came two gobblers out of the woods down the hill below us walking right out into a green field below a barn. They stopped and gobbled at the same time looking straight at the two of us in our rocking chairs about 175 yards away.
The Fighting Purrs had made two silent gobblers active and start looking for action. Since that day, I have used them successfully when hunting with a partner on up in the morning and in the early afternoon.
Aggressive calling to quiet birds runs counter to what we have all read and been taught. However, that incident on the porch taught me that in some cases aggressive calling, like mimicking fighting hens, is just the ticket to get something started.
Sometimes hunters resort to the downright ridiculous to get some action going.
During the same time period, another friend, who is in the real estate and construction business, made a date to turkey hunt with one of his former sub-contractors, who was also an acquaintance of mine. I was invited along.
We met early at his home near some national forest land and not more than 3 miles from where my friend Harvey Edwards and I had been hunting three days without hearing a gobble.
We went through the forest service gate and drove to his 40-acre tract which sat in the middle of the national forest. When we stopped and got out it was just breaking light, and I assumed that after a time someone would blow an owl call.
“Is anyone going to owl or are we just going to wait for them to open?” I inquired.
The sub-contractor replied, “I’ll show you my sure-fire way to make ’em gobble.”
With that, to my total surprise, our host began slamming his truck door violently. Wham, wham, wham, wham, wham. The turkeys lit-up, gobbling here, there and everywhere. I stood there dumbfounded.
“Well, men, pick your bird,” our host said, and the hunt was on.
While I have never resorted to this technique and have been somewhat dubious about trying it, at least on that occasion it worked in an area where no gobbling had been otherwise heard. When the turkeys just aren’t gobbling, you might try the “sure-fire way to make ’em gobble.”
Hopefully this hasn’t been a no-gobble year for you so far. But if it has, or if the action slows, remember that adapting and trying different things, no matter how silly, can turn a hunt around. If they aren’t gobbling, what do you have to lose?
Ted’s Tips For Birds That Won’t Gobble
As a veteran turkey hunter, the author has kept a journal for many years. Here are some lessons he’s learned from times when the birds just wouldn’t gobble:
1) Hunt where you know there is a gobbler or where one has been taken, seen or heard in the past. If you hear a gobble in the afternoon after you start calling, stay put until dark and come back in the morning.
2) Soft clucks, most of the time, are preferable to loud yelps. You don’t hear hens calling loudly very often after fly-down and seldom hear yelping like so many novice turkey hunters get locked in to doing. A turkey can hear farther than you can.
3) Patience is everything. The rule about patience is well known and talked about by turkey hunters, but it is quickly overlooked and forgotten when there is no gobbling. I do not believe in run-and-gun tactics when there has been no gobbling over a number of days. So many times I have gotten up to move only to spook a silent bird. Move only after a long time of patient and deliberate calling, and when you move, stay within some proximity of your earlier calling.
4) If you have recorded the contents of the craws of prior year’s gobblers, hunt in the vicinity of those plants you recorded when you see them in bloom or growing. Chances are good turkeys are looking for the same food at the same time each year.
5) Older hunters should make an effort to take a young person with them. Not only is it great to pass your wisdom to younger hunters, younger hunters also hear better. Often, when there was no gobbling, young hunters I have taken heard feeding clucks and soft purrs that I did not pick up.
6) Try hunting from a pop-up blind with decoys set up in front of you. For those long sits while hunting quiet birds, this allows you to shift a little bit without a bird spotting you.
7) Do more listening and less calling. Forget fancy calls after the first few, if you must make them at all. Put that mouth call in your pocket, and resist the urge to call.
Other Articles You Might Enjoy