As a prostaff member
for Primos Hunting Calls I spend a lot of time conducting seminars,
and working booths at local and regional outdoor shows. During these
activities one of the most common questions I hear is "How close
should I get to a turkey before calling?"
For years we have been
taught to be conservative when approaching a gobbling bird, and
never get closer than 150 yards of a bird's position. I disagree!
In my opinion there is no exact answer to this question, however
I do believe the closer you get the better. Every gobbler has what
I call a "comfort zone", which is nothing more than the 75-yard
area immediately surrounding his current location. I've learned
over the years that getting into the outer fringes of this comfort
zone can prove deadly.
Most hunters dream of
working a hot bird straight off the roost so lets discuss this scenario
first. When I hear a roosted bird gobbling my ultimate goal is to
get as close as possible to his roost before choosing a setup location.
This distance can be anywhere from 50 to 200 yards depending on
terrain and foliage. The most important thing is that you get as
close as possible without being able to see the bird in the tree.
Keep in mind, if you can see him he can see you! If you call to
a bird on the roost that is within sight of your setup location
you're in trouble because he will expect to see the hen. If he cannot
see her chances are good he will never commit to your setup, so
it is important to remain just out of sight when choosing your calling
location. Let me share two quick hunts to emphasize this point.
It was the first week
of the Pennsylvania season and I had been hunting the same longbeard
for three days without any success. Throughout these three days
I discovered that the bird roosted in the same spot each night,
and after flying down worked his way along the same ridge in the
same direction each day. On day four I arrived at the area an hour
earlier than the previous three days and circled the bird's roost
in the dark to get to a setup location along his daily travel route.
As it started to get light gobbler droppings began falling from
a tree just 20 yards to my right. I looked up in horror as I realized
the bird had changed roost locations on day four and was now sitting
above me in his new roost tree. As the sky turned gray the bird
started to gobble, and for the next 45 minutes I had a ringside
seat to a spectacular show of gobbling and strutting on the roost.
Finally, about fly down time I decided to cluck one time on my mouth
call to entice the bird down. When the gobbler heard the cluck he
immediately turned on his limb, gobbled hard and resumed his courtship
dance. However, it didn't take long to notice the bird becoming
somewhat nervous. Being fully camouflaged and well hidden I was
positive the bird had no idea I was there. Finally, 10 minutes after
my cluck the bird turned on the limb and pitched down into the hillside
50 yards above me. When he hit the ground he continued another 25
yards before stopping to strut and gobble for the next 30 minutes.
I never did coax that bird back for a shot, and there is no doubt
in my mind that calling with the bird in view on the roost caused
my failure. When he heard the call he knew he should have seen the
hen from his roost, and when he didn't he got suspicious and reacted
On another hunt in the
George Washington National Forest of Virginia I located a good gobbling
bird on the roost. It was the last week of the Virginia season,
the foliage was out in full force, and the birds in this area had
been hunted hard for the previous four weeks. I knew I needed to
get close before setting up so I quickly closed to within 75 yards
of his roost using numerous finger ridges and the heavy green foliage
for cover. After choosing a setup location I used a slate call to
throw some light clucks his way, and then after a few minutes used
a turkey wing to simulate turkeys flying down. Using the wing has
become one of the most deadly tactics in my bag of tricks over the
last decade. Primos recently introduced a product called The Real
Wing, which is made of real turkey feathers and perfectly reproduces
the sounds of a bird flying down from the roost. The gobbler's instant
triple gobble told me I was in business. Seconds later I heard his
heavy wingbeats as he pitched from his roost, and within one minute
I introduced him to a load of #4s. There is no doubt in my mind
that my success resulted from getting very close, and then making
the right calls.
But suppose you don't
hear any birds off the roost, or your early morning attempts fail.
Don't get discouraged. Many birds have taken a trip in the bed of
my truck as a result of late morning hunts. The secret to late morning
success is to strike a hot bird, and then get into the proper position
to harvest him. Nothing will improve your success more on late morning
hunts than slipping into a gobbler's comfort zone. Think about this
for a second. You hear a bird gobbling in the distance, most likely
in response to your calls. Due to his excellent ability to pinpoint
sound he knows where the initial yelps came from, and now you start
to move toward him, most likely calling as you go. Suddenly you're
150 yards away from the gobbling bird and he likes the fact you
have closed the distance. Most people would stop and setup right
here. As soon as the gobbler realizes you have stopped the first
thing he asks himself is what happened? Why did she stop? In nature
the hen goes to the gobbler, but suddenly this hen is going against
the grain and the situation starts to appear unnatural to the bird.
Lucky for us some gobblers throw caution to the wind at this point
and cover those last few yards for the shot. However, frequently
a gobbler will not make the last move and you become stuck in a
stalemate. Now, if you had continued to move toward him carefully
using the terrain and foliage while keeping safety in mind you might
have been pleasantly surprised at how much closer you could get.
Again it depends on the terrain, but I'll get as close as I can
without seeing him. Doing this makes the gobbler feel secure, and
adds realism to your strategy because now you have come almost the
entire way to the bird. I have found that once I break the 75-yard
mark it is rare that a gobbler will not come the remaining distance
for the shot.
Let me use another hunt
to illustrate this point. A few years back while hunting a late
spring morning in the mountains of West Virginia I was not having
much luck locating a vocal gobbler so I started prospecting throughout
the area. After walking many miles I finally struck a bird around
10:30am. He gobbled hard at my aggressive yelps and I immediately
cut the distance to 150 yards, but hesitated to go further due to
the open hardwoods in the area. Over the next hour the bird never
moved in my direction, but continued to gobble frequently in response
to my calls. Finally I could stand it no longer and I decided a
move was necessary. Instead of following tradition and circling
the bird, I decided to tempt fate and go straight to the gobbler.
His gobbles told me he was approximately 50 yards below the crest
of a ridge directly in front of my current location so I carefully
made my way toward the ridgeline. When I reached a point 10 yards
from the ridge I sat down and started to cluck and purr on my Primos
True Double mouth call imitating the sounds of a feeding hen. The
gobbler sounded off immediately and it wasn't long before I could
see the top of his fan parading back and forth along the ridgeline.
A few tense minutes later I was tying my tag to the old monarch.
A 10" beard and 1 1/4" spurs made the victory sweet. I am convinced
the only reason I killed this bird was because I entered his comfort
zone. He had heard me calling from 150 yards away for over an hour,
and then suddenly there I was at 60 yards. It was just too much
The last point I want
to make is that getting close does not always mean approaching a
gobbling bird. One of the most effective tactics for harvesting
pressured turkeys is to pattern a gobbler. Archery hunters will
be very familiar with this tactic. Basically this nothing more than
doing your homework to unravel where a gobbler likes to travel at
different times of the day. Not all gobblers can be patterned, but
many can. By identifying a gobbler's strut zones, which obviously
are also comfort zones, a wise hunter can put this information to
good use during his or her hunt. Once I have identified a strut
zone I get into position long before a gobbler arrives at the location.
I then use multiple calls to simulate contented hens feeding in
the area while they wait for big daddy to show. Soft calling such
as clucks, purrs, and soft yelps from this area sound natural to
the gobbler, and are therefore reassuring. You can bet your gun
that he would not be spending time there if he did not routinely
attract hens in that location. By entering his comfort zone before
he arrives you have already put yourself in the perfect position
to come out the winner.
In closing, by penetrating
a gobbler's comfort zone you create a realistic situation in which
the gobbler thinks a real hen is close by. This realism not only
comforts him, but also gives him the confidence to walk the few
remaining yards to meet the sweet hen he is hearing. Try it and
I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with the results. Be safe
and good hunting to you.
Eric Baker is an active
Prostaff member for Primos Hunting Calls, on the State Board for
the PA Chapter of the NWTF, an official Advantage Camouflage team
member, and a staff shooter for PSE Archery. His specialty is deer
and turkey hunting, and in particular hunting highly pressured deer
and turkeys on public hunting lands.
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