Switch Tactics When ‘Sure-Thing’ Gobblers Don’t Play Fair

Your setup was foolproof; your calling spot-on. Although the turkey gobbled well and approached, he soon stopped or wandered off.

Sound familiar? It should if you’ve spent much time on your butt pad. Turkeys don’t always follow the playbook and run to your yelping. Don’t give up. Stay in the hunt by switching your strategy.

Why do seemingly sure-thing gobblers hang up or lose interest? The easiest and most common answer is hens. If that’s the case, try to engage the girls in conversation and lure them — and him — toward you. If they begin to wander away, determine where they’re headed, and move to intercept them.

Solo stand-offish gobblers are tougher. We sometimes blame obstructions such as fences or creeks for hang-ups, but turkeys cross such obstacles every day, especially if they’re fired up. I usually figure a gobbler has stopped advancing because of something I’m doing, so I’ll pull a 180. If I’ve been calling sparingly, I’ll turn up the heat with plaintive yelping and cutting. If I’ve been calling a lot — typically the case — I’ll switch to soft clucking and purring. Or, I’ll stop calling altogether, which might be the best approach to breaking a stubborn bird. By shutting up for a half-hour or longer, you can often prompt him to come closer for a look.

If you’re certain it’s safe, jake-yelp or gobble at a longbeard. Gobblers hear and interact with other male turkeys every day. Even if they’re seemingly disinterested in hens, they’re always aware of their standing in the local social hierarchy. You might provoke a reaction from a gobbler looking to kick the tail of an interloper. Or, you might connect with a bird that wants to hang out or communicate with other male turkeys, which happens often during late spring.

Changing setups is never a bad idea, either. Yelping from various spots or even while you move seems natural, as turkeys rarely stand in one spot and call incessantly. And remember, closer is almost always better, especially with Easterns. If possible, slip quietly toward the hung-up turkey, and then hit him with realistic soft calling.

Sometimes, turkeys gobble at calling as they walk away or respond tepidly as they travel in a seemingly random direction. Again, hens provide the most likely answer. Try calling to the girls to see if the group will approach. If not, keep them or the longbeard talking so you can determine their travel route and try to cut them off.

When a solo longbeard gobbles while heading away or just meandering, the game is tougher. He’s probably headed toward hens you can’t hear or a place he frequently meets girls. Think back to your scouting, identify likely areas and try to beat him to the spot. Quickly, quietly slip around the bird, and set up there.

You’ll encounter dozens of similar scenarios in the spring woods. Don’t stick with an unsuccessful strategy. Try something different. The results — and the gobbler — might surprise you.  

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