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Back Off

One of the most difficult scenarios a turkey hunter faces is dealing with a vocal, henned-up tom.

You know the type. He gobbles at your every call from his roost or on the ground, but he doesn't close the gap, because the hens are leading him around like he's on a leash. Understandably, he excites you with his gobbles, but he's telling your bogus hen to come to him. You can't do that, so you keep trying to change his mind, even though you know down deep he has no intention of coming to you any time soon.

My advice is to back off and let him have his fun -- for the time being at least.

A few hours sometimes makes all the difference. For instance, if breeding season is well under way, chances are that any hen, or hens, the tom was with early in the morning will be visiting their nests by midday, and he may be quite lonely by then. I've had success many times in the afternoon for that very reason.

Or, while you were elsewhere, the flock may have been scattered in some other way. Perhaps the turkeys encountered a predator like a bobcat or coyote. Maybe something else upset their routine. It doesn't matter how they got separated. What's important is that you're back to take advantage of the situation when it counts.

Here's how

Here are a couple of examples of what can happen on back-off-and-come-back-later hunts.

One year, in early spring, my son, Mark, and I watched four toms follow several hens away from their roost site in a small stand of pine trees. The gobblers were plenty vocal, but they weren't about to turn around and join us. Smartly, we decided to back off for a while and look for some other turkeys that were willing to play.

Failing in that endeavor, we returned to the roost site two hours later and relocated the gang with a shock call. They were on the hillside below us, a couple hundred yards away. Moving closer, we set up just in time to hear a brief gobbler fight. When the scuffle subsided, we produced some tentative box call yelps, and one of the longbeards -- loser or winner, we didn't know -- came to us at a beard-swinging trot. Mark was only too happy to carry the big fellow back to our pickup. I realize luck had a lot to do with our timing that day, but with turkeys, I'll take all the help I can get.

Another time, while hunting alone, I walked around a corner and came face to beak with a quiet tom and several hens. Even though I accidentally performed a pretty fair scatter, I couldn't raise the tom again that morning, so I quit trying and looked for action elsewhere. But I didn't give up. Around 2 that afternoon, I was back again and, listening from a nearby vantage point, heard the tom open up with no prompting by me.

When that happens, it usually means Mr. Turkey is lonesome and actively looking for company. As a result, when I got within a reasonable distance of the lonely longbeard and made a few hen yelps, he wasted no time coming to me. I'm sure he was disappointed by what he found, but I was smiling all the way home.

Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't

Turkey hunting is replete with scenarios both promising and frustrating. Sometimes, when it comes to the latter situation, backing off, at least temporarily, gives you time to find action elsewhere. Otherwise, you can return to the site of your retreat and see if things have changed in your favor. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't, but that's what keeps turkey hunting interesting and, most of all, fun. -- J.H.

Back up on backing off

To confirm my thoughts about the wisdom in backing off, I talked to Preston Pittman of Mississippi-based Pittman's Game Calls. Pittman won his first calling contest at 16 and too many others to list here. He's hunted successfully in 32 states, and jokes he's as close to being a real turkey as a man can get.

"I definitely agree that toms with hens can be a real pain," Pittman said. "Once in awhile you can try something different and pull them in, but that's a long shot. Often, it's better to leave them alone for a while and let nature take its course. Have breakfast or something. Let the tom breed the hens, and wait for them to ease away from him, then slip back and start calling again. But don't be too aggressive, especially if you suspect you're dealing with an older bird. Start off slow with subtle sounds like soft yelps, a cluck or two or scratching in leaves."

To add realism, you can't beat Pittman's new Flap and Scratch call.

I don't quit a hunt without plenty of soul searching. When I recognize the futility of a situation, I try to think ahead to what I'll do in the next round. Things are always in a state of flux in a turkey's world, and the conditions may very well change sometime in the near future. The future can be a few hours, a day or a week later. With any luck at all, the birds that don't cooperate during the initial encounter will have an attitude adjustment before you meet again. -- John Higley




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