Waiting Game Gobblers
Tips that will help you bag a gobbler when times are tough.
The hunt was approaching the 10-hour mark, and I hadn’t heard a gobble since 7 that morning. I was tired and began to wonder how much longer I could stand it. Yet, I maintained my focus and fully believed a gobbler would still show up in the roadbed in front of me that was a well-used strut zone. The roadbed was covered with tracks, strut marks, dust bowls and droppings. The property was too small to walk around and do any calling, and my hunting partner, Bobby Knight, was hunting the other side of it. I had to stay put.
I had called a few hens in to this point, but they had no gobbler in tow. I made up my mind to sit tight until sundown if need be.
At 4 p.m., I struck up a conversation with another hen. We chatted briefly, and then there she was at the end of the roadbed. She traveled toward me for about 10 yards when I saw the full fan step out behind her. They were a good 250 yards away, and I knew a lot could happen before they closed the distance between them and me. I called just once more, softly, and dogged it off.
At 4:15 p.m., I finally heard another gobble. It came from the big strutter when I called to make him pick his head up at 29 yards. It was his last one.
I was relieved that the hunt was over and felt truly victorious, not only because I got my bird, but more so because I had managed to keep the urge to hang it up at bay.
Sitting tight in one location all day long is not my style of turkey hunting. Hunting partners Lynn Stanford and Bobby Knight are masters of the waiting game, but both have their own ideas about how to pull it off consistently. Lynn can go to an area where he knows birds are and sit forever, while Bobby can sit until the sun goes down, provided he hears a bird and can keep him interested.
I fall more in the latter category. I am fully aware of the importance of patience, but my bucket doesn’t hold as much of the stuff as I wish it did. There are times, though, when waiting a bird out might very well be the best or possibly the only way to bring a bird to the house. There are different ways and reasons to wait a bird out. Let’s look at a few.
Nowhere To Go: Just like on the hunt I just mentioned, there will often be times where you may be hunting a particular area that just won’t allow you the opportunity to run and gun or even relocate. I used to never even consider hunting turkeys on small pieces of property but have realized over the years that a turkey doesn’t really know or care how big the property is that he is standing on. I have yet to kill a turkey at a distance any farther than I could throw a rock, so whether he was standing on a 1-acre piece of property or a thousand acres never really came into play when I pulled the trigger. The only thing that matters about the property size is how you go about hunting it. That can mean you will have to hunt some places by setting up in a single spot. This is a tough hunt for those who like to move about, but for those who don’t mind hunkering down in one spot for however long it takes, it can be quite rewarding.
There are several things to consider when your game plan involves sitting in one spot for an extended period of time. When I was a younger man, I could sit tight for several hours in one spot and barely ever move. Those days are getting further and further behind me now.
However, when I know I am going to hunt a place where I have to stay put for an extended period of time, I will either construct some sort of blind using limbs and saplings that match my surroundings, or I might bring in a pop-up blind. Either way, it allows me to move around a little from time to time and stay comfortable.
There are a few things to think about when hunting from the same location every time you hunt a particular piece of property though. You might kill several birds from one setup, but you might have birds that become shy about approaching your setup, particularly if they have witnessed a buddy get his head removed. I believe the more birds you have on a piece of property, the more chances you will have of taking a bird consistently from the same setup. Naturally, you’re more apt to have more birds on bigger pieces of property than smaller pieces, so if possible, try to construct blinds in several places or set up your pop-up blind in different places on smaller properties if you can. I believe you have a better chance of keeping the birds guessing if you can set up in different locations from time to time. I also think this becomes more important if you kill a bird with others standing around. They might come back another day, but they might decide they don’t need to get too close to that particular area for a while.
Really, there isn’t much reason to do a lot of moving around on a small piece of property. Remember, turkeys have exceptional hearing, so setting up and waiting is generally your best option when hunting fewer acres.
When choosing a spot to sit for long periods of time, consider what that spot is going to be like throughout the day. Staying comfortable is the biggest key to polishing your patience. What might be comfortable in the early hours of the day might turn into a sauna by mid afternoon. If it gets windy, are you going to be able to hunt the area, or will it be too loud? If you are planning to sit in a creek bottom for long periods of time, are the mosquitoes going to tote you away? Top-notch gear is important in the waiting game. Good cushions or seats, ThermaCells or other type bug repellents, cold weather or hot weather gear or rain gear might be the difference in an all-day hunt or just a couple of hours. That can be the difference in whether or not you take a bird home, too.
Energy is important, also. If you get hungry, your desire to stay put and stay focused for extended periods of time will go to the wayside. Pack some snacks and plenty of water.
Pinned Down: There will be times in the turkey woods where you will be forced to play the waiting game, even if that isn’t your initial game plan. These times can be brutal. You might simply hear a bird in the neighborhood or have one in plain sight that hangs out of range for seemingly forever. The latter happened to me on opening day last year.
I had set up on a hardwood hillside overlooking a creek bottom. The weather was less than ideal as thunderstorms had pounded the area all day. By that afternoon the rain had tapered off, and I knew the birds might move through the open woods as the storms had moved on. I finally caught a gobbler’s attention and watched as he strutted toward me from across the creek. He wasted no time in crossing it and heading up the hill in my direction. When he reached a point 75 yards away from me, and at a point where we were in plain sight of each other, he decided it was time to take a break. He lay down, and I could do absolutely nothing for the next hour.
I sat in a position that became pure torture after 30 minutes, and by the time he gave me the opportunity to try something on him, I was numb everywhere except where I was hurting. He finally began preening his feathers, and when he did, I managed to drop my left hand to the ground and scratch in the leaves and purr at him. He jerked his head up, stood up, stretched his legs and shook his feathers off. He then walked at an angle toward me, and I shot him, with great relief, at 40 yards. I had no choice but to wait him out.
Another case of having to wait will come in the form of knowing a bird is close but not being able to see him. Moving on these birds is risky at best, and if you don’t know the property very well, you’d be better advised to sit tight once you hear him. How long? Your best option will be as long as it takes. It’s never a good idea to move on a bird if you don’t know where he is. Often is the case when a bird will be seemingly coming in and will go quiet on you. Gobblers do it all the time. But how long does it take him to appear after he shuts up? Unfortunately, there is no set time frame. I have messed this scenario up several times and several different ways over the years. I have messed up less lately, though, simply by realizing that there is really no reason to get up and leave when a bird knows you are in the neighborhood. I have begun to take my chances by waiting these birds out longer than I used to, and I have been rewarded more for it.
Gobblers will show up in their own good time. My good friend Nathan Mason and I were hunting together late in April of last spring. We decided to go after two birds that were continuing to gobble off and on a few hundred yards away. When we reached the property line, we stopped and listened. Both birds gobbled shortly thereafter, and both were approximately 200 yards from us, but they were also around 100 yards or more from each other. One was doing all the gobbling by now and was holding his ground. We decided to sit down, make a few calls occasionally and wait them out.
Nearly half an hour passed, and the vocal bird was still no closer to us. I told Nathan to get comfortable and believed the quiet bird was still in the neighborhood. I also felt that the quiet one just might slip in once he figured out that the mouthy one wasn’t going to budge. Forty-five minutes and very few calls later, the quiet bird came around the curve of an old roadbed and walked right down Nathan’s gun barrel. Nathan had no issues this time and folded the bird up at 38 yards. The 4-year-old had waited more than an hour before he was convinced the other bird wasn’t going to move in on the “hen.” We had waited more than an hour, too, and it was worth the wait.
Waiting On The Move: Waiting on a bird doesn’t necessarily mean you always have to do it in one spot. I mentioned earlier that two of my hunting partners are masters of the waiting game, and on the 10-hour hunt I spoke of above, I was right proud of my effort. I can’t let it rest right there though. Bobby Knight, who was hunting the other side of the property, hung in for 15 hours just because he knew the birds were in the area.
Lynn Stanford, hunting a particular WMA bird last year that he had become obsessed with killing, spent 11 hours playing chess with the bird until he finally got him in range and finished the job. He barely covered a few acres the entire day, making only slight adjustments to stay in the game. It will sometimes become necessary to relocate a little to keep a bird interested. By the time Lynn’s hunt hit the 11-hour mark, the gobbler had taken all he could of the “insubordinate hen” and swung in to get her in line. Lynn was determined to wait the bird out, even if he had to move some to do it. The long wait paid off.
Waiting on the move is simply staying within working range of a bird until the bird decides to check you out.
Bobby followed a gobbler that was in the company of a pretty good-sized harem of hens for five-plus hours one day. As the day wore on, the gobbler’s hen supply diminished. Finally the big boy began to realize he was running low on company and eventually turned back to pick up the “hen” he thought Bobby was. The key here was that Bobby never forced the issue. He simply waited until the gobbler ran short enough on hens to turn him around. He waited on nature to run its course.
Calling methods vary for those in waiting, but the key is to keep things natural. If you plan to sit in one spot for a long period of time or you find yourself forced to do so, minimal calling is probably the best style of calling to use. It’s not natural for a hen to stand in one spot for hours on end and call nonstop. Neither should you. If I know there is a gobbler in the area, I’m not going to do a lot of calling. I’ll likely keep things simple, and spread out. It’s basic hen talk here, three- to five-yelp stuff every 30 minutes or so. Chances are, if he’s fairly close to you and you heard him well, he heard you the first time you called, and it needs to be a while before you hit him again. If he wants to come to you, he will do it in his own sweet time, and there won’t be a lot that can keep him from it. If I have no idea if there is a bird close by or not, I’m going to treat it pretty much like there is, except I might call every 15 minutes or so, and I’m going to go to some lost hen stuff or assembly type calls.
I have learned to enjoy the waiting game a little more lately. If the conditions are right, and I am comfortable, or if a certain bird or piece of property dictates that I need to wait, I don’t mind too much anymore. Getting the opportunity to drop the hammer on a longbeard is always worth the wait.
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