Bumped. Spooked. Busted. Whatever you want to call it, the bird you’ve been after all morning is on to you. He saw something he didn’t like and now he’s gone, a blur of wings and feet headed in the opposite direction. What’s next?
The obvious solution is to find another gobbler and let the bumped bird settle down. That’s not always an option, though. Small tracts of land, a ticking clock or silent woods can force us to play the cards we were dealt. And that means you have to hunt that bird, spooked or not.
WERE YOU BUSTED?
Before you can figure out your next move, you first have to determine if you were actually busted. A missed shot? Obviously. A bird bumped off the roost? Yep, he saw you. A gobbler that turns and walks away just out of range? That could be any number of things.
How you approach those and other situations will determine what you do next and ultimately, whether or not your morning will end in success or a long walk back to the truck.
A SWING AND A MISS
The most obvious way to spook a bird is to whiff. Hey, it happens. Even veteran hunters sometimes hurry the shot, slap the trigger or lift their head before they pull the trigger. So what should you do?
“The last thing you should do is take a follow-up shot at a running bird,” said Tad Brown, Hunters Specialties new products developer and long-time turkey hunter. “There is a good chance you will either miss again or worse, cripple him. If you shoot and miss and that turkey turns and runs, just sit still and start calling again. He may not associate the shot with danger. They hear thunder all the time.”
Or there might be a subordinate bird lurking in the background. Brown can recall numerous hunts where he and a friend shot two gobblers from the same spot just a few minutes apart. Instead of jumping up to claim the first bird, he and his partners stay put and resume calling immediately after they shoot.
OFF THE ROOST
Bumping a bird off its morning roost is a common mistake, especially when the bird never makes a sound at first light. Don’t fret. Not only is that turkey still vulnerable, it might even be more vulnerable. That’s because spring gobblers often roost among or near a group of hens. When they fly down, he drops to the ground with them, never letting them out of his sight. Spooking a gobbler away from those hens might actually tip the odds in your favor.
“When you bump him off the roost, you’ve interrupted his routine,” Brown explains. “Everything he does revolves around those hens, so if he flies off and leaves those hens, he will want to get back together with them.”
That doesn’t mean you should sit down and start calling. Instead, Brown advises following the gobbler. By cutting the distance between you and where he landed, you give the bird a little more confidence to come for a look.
“He may start gobbling again, or he may not gobble for the rest of the day, but there is a good chance he will come looking for the hen he hears,” Brown said. “It can take a while, so be patient.”
FROM THE GROUND
That’s true with gobblers that were already on the ground when they got bumped. Whether you accidentally chase a strutter out of a field or get busted as you work a gobbler into range, it is important to remember that they are creatures of habit.
“I can’t tell you how many times I spooked a gobbler out of a field, only to come back a few hours later and see him strutting in the middle of that field again,” Brown said. “That’s his strut zone. That’s where he wants to be. It is his home territory. He knows it well, and he knows there are hens around.”
So what should you do? That depends on how he was bumped. The sight of a truck rolling through the field may only push the gobbler back into the woods for a few minutes. A hunter walking along the far edge of that field might send the same bird into hiding for an hour or more. Both mean one thing: That bird may still respond to your calls.
“Set up in that spot and wait,” Brown said. “It might take a while for him to come back, but there is a good chance he will. Just don’t be surprised if he comes back without ever gobbling. A few decoys can give him the confidence to come back into the field, too.”
MAKE A CHANGE
When you’ve spooked a gobbler after you’ve been working him, make sure you change things up. That can mean a number of things, but for Brown, that means changing calls. Instead of using the same one, he grabs a different one from his vest. Brown can’t say if a gobbler can recognize the call you were using when you bumped the bird, but why take chances?
“I will even use two, a diaphragm and a box call, for example, so I sound like two hens,” he said. “That can give a nervous gobbler a little extra incentive to come in for a look.”
The most important change? Be patient and hunt with confidence. Calling a gobbler into shotgun range is a challenge, but coaxing a bumped gobbler to come back for another look is even more difficult. But remember, the most difficult gobblers are almost always the most memorable. Keep after them.