Turn on a spring turkey hunting television show right now airing on Outdoor Channel or the Sportsman Channel and odds are, you’ll see the annual gobbler getting game at its very best.
As in lots of longbeards strutting about with their tail fans all puffed up, lots of loud gobbling and plenty of feathered floppage before the hidden television cameras recording all of the action, as long as there is another unused tag left on the hunting license that is.
But if you’ve hunted spring turkeys for any length of time in either Texas or Oklahoma, then you’re probably well aware of the fact that not every longbeard out there in the southern Great Plains wants to be a TV rock star.
You know, the kind of tom that gobbles his head off as he waltzes in towards a waiting hunter hoping to pull the trigger on a bird with a double-digit beard, a sharp set of limb hanging spurs and 20-pounds of the best eating wild protein found this side of a store bought Butterball.
The truth is that in the real world of April and May hunting campaigns, sometimes, it isn’t all about the calling.
And when gobblers get a serious case of shut-mouth disease during the spring season, a hunter who wants to be successful has got to go to work to put the hunt back in the spring turkey hunting game.
But don’t take my word for it. Instead, take the word of a couple of the best spring turkey hunters out there.
“If the turkeys are not gobbling very much and they’re not responding to calls, go back in your memory bank from all of your scouting and get in an area where there is a lot of food and you’ve seen a lot of turkey activity,” said Chris Kirby, head man of Quaker Boy Game Calls and a well-known turkey calling champ from the northeastern U.S.
Mark Drury, a longtime Outdoor Channel TV hunting personality and a former call maker from the gobbler rich Midwest agrees.
In fact, he says that one of the most important things that any turkey hunter can do all boils down to a single word, especially when the birds go into silent mode.
“Scouting,” said Drury. “The more you understand the quarry, as far as their habits (go) and what they do day in and day out to stay alive, the better you become at trying to harvest that bird.”
So what does all of this mean for a Red River Valley turkey hunter this spring?
In my book, it means answering four simple questions and then connecting the various dots to come up with a solid game plan for a day of turkey hunting.
First, you want to know where the birds are roosting on the property that you are hunting. That is best accomplished by getting out in the evening and listening as the birds fly up to roost in big trees near creeks, rivers, and bottomland drainages filled with mature timber.
As the birds move into such areas as the last light of evening fades on the western horizon, a hunter who is sitting somewhere within hearing distance can hear the birds traveling, calling, flying up into a roost tree, and sounding off with a gobble or two while the sun goes down.
The next piece to the puzzle to understand is what the birds — particularly the hens — are feeding on each day and where the local chow hall happens to be. Of similar importance is where a bird is watering — look for tracks around creeks and ponds — and where they may be loafing in the coolness of shade trees that lure in the birds on a warm spring afternoon.
Next, it helps to have an idea of where the hens on a piece of property typically nest during the spring. Usually, that’s a high-and-dry spot that is out of a flood zone and one that offers protection from ground-based and avian predators who might want to raid a hen’s nest full of incubating eggs.
Finally, a hunter will want to know the various travel routes that a gobbler is using each day to get from Point A (roost areas) to Point B (feeding areas) to Point C (nesting zones, shady spots, watering holes, dusting spots, etc.).
That’s as simple as finding a collection of turkey tracks in the soft mud (including direction of travel); long range optical spying (with binoculars) on the birds as they move about each day; and even the use of strategically placed game trail cameras (in states where the practice is legal).
With such data carefully noted — in either an old-school notebook, or more likely these days on a Smartphone hunting app — a sense of a turkey’s daily habits and movement patterns will begin to emerge to the discerning hunter.
Such information can then be put to good use as the spring season unfolds. That’s true when the birds are sounding off well on a given day, but it is also particularly useful when the spring woods go silent and there isn’t a gobble to be found anywhere around.
At such times, a hunter can then put his backside down in a likely area, determined to “sit and stay and make them pay” as the old saying goes from three-time world duck calling champ Barnie Calef.
Except this time we’re talking about spring turkey gobblers moving silently through the woods and not green-headed mallard ducks circling the decoys.
Spring gobblers can be effectively hunted each year, even when they go silent and seemingly underground.
Because while that may seem to be the case, it never is. And even on the quietest of spring mornings or afternoons, there’s still hope to tag a big old tom thanks to a proper understanding of his daily needs, habits and movement patterns.
Dots on a map that a hunter utilizing good old fashioned hunting skills and woodsmanship can use to lure in a cagey old longbeard into shotgun range.
Even if he never utters a peep.