As the parade of unseasonably strong April cold fronts continues, the talk among turkey hunters on both sides of the Red River is this: why aren't the longbeards gobbling and what does a springtime hunter have to do to fill a turkey tag?
If that's where you find yourself these days, you're not alone says Denison's Dakota Stowers, owner and chief guide of North Texas Outfitters (www.northtexasoutfitters.com, 903-815-9842).
“The season so far, I can't give it anything less than an A,” said Stowers on Wednesday. “I mean, between our Oklahoma and Texas properties, our hunters have taken 29 longbeards so far, so that's a heck of a year.
“But the birds aren't playing the game like they do some years and we're having to work our tails off for what we're getting this season.”
For example, take a hunt west of here that Stowers conducted with a pair of clients on Tuesday of this week.
“(On that hunt) we tagged a morning gobbler not long into shooting time for one hunter in a group of two,” he said. “But we didn't hear another peep from a turkey until the last hour of shooting light that evening.
“And we never quit grinding and never came out of the woods. Even with that kind of constant searching and effort, it's hard to hunt a turkey that doesn't want to talk to you.”
Why such springtime silence? Unseasonable and unstable weather conditions for one reason and henned up longbeards for another. At least that's Stowers' working theory.
“It's got all of us kind of puzzled out here,” he said. “It's not like last year when they gobbled all of the time, or so it seemed. This year, it's like somebody has tied their mouths shut once they fly down off the roost.
“They're still strutting around with four or five hens,” Stowers added. “You'll hit them with a call, and when you've got your eyes on them, you can see them puff up and start strutting, but you won't hear them.”
So how has Stowers' outfitting service — which also guides duck and goose hunters, dove hunters, deer hunters and hog hunters — been able to stay near 100-percent success rates this spring?
A lot of hard work, beginning with the day before a hunt.
“It starts with putting the birds to bed on the roost the evening before,” said Stowers, who spends the last couple of hours each afternoon looking and listening for gobblers and hens flying up to the roost.
Once he hears a longbeard or two sound off on the evening roost, the guide looks at the lay of the land and forms a mental plan about where to start the following morning. Usually, that will be a place with about 40-50 yards of open terrain situated about 100-150 yards from the roost.
With any luck, the following morning, he or one of his guides will be able to coax a tom into shotgun range in the first hour of shooting light as they run a combination of Zink calls including the Wicked Series box call and slate calls along with a handful of Zink mouth diaphragm calls.
While most hunters get infatuated with the gobbling sounds of spring longbeards responding to their calls, Stowers said that this year, he's finding better luck in trying to call hens to his location.
Meaning that when a hen yelps, the guide cuts her off with his own yelp, doing so every time until she either walks the other way or comes to his calling out of either curiosity or aggression to put the lid on the unseen loud-mouthed hen.
“If you can get the hens mad enough, they'll drag the gobblers to you,” said Stowers.
If that opening strategy doesn't pay off, Stowers said that hunters are left to trying to strike up a lone turkey into gobbling in the late morning, mid-day, and early afternoon hours. Another strategy is to set up and occasionally call in an area that the local birds travel like a field edge, a creek bottom edge, or even a dusty ranch roadway.
“It's one of those things right now where you've got to put in the man hours and stick it out,” said Stowers. “You've got to be in areas that they want to be in, so scouting is a key to know where they are roosting, where they are going, where they are feeding, and being set up in the right kind of areas whether they are gobbling or not.”
In other words, as the two old sayings go, it's all about location, location, location and the simple truth that patience is indeed a virtue.
For hunters who put the above into practice, Stowers said that there are plenty of mature longbeards out there in 2018, even if they aren't terribly talkative at the moment.
“The two hunters we had on Tuesday, they each wanted to tag a mature gobbler,” said Stowers. “The one that was taken in the morning — which had a 10-inch beard, one-inch spurs, and weighed 19 or 20 pounds — it gobbled a few times after it flew down off the roost and eventually worked in towards our position.”
After that, it was the sound of crickets until evening time when another gobbler was struck up, one that had a 10 1/2-inch beard, 1 1/8-inch spurs, and weighed right at 20 pounds.
“The key is that we stayed after it all day and never gave up,” said Stowers. “And eventually, we found what we were looking for.”
All by exercising the patience of Job during the day-long process.
Do the same and you can still tag a mature longbeard — one with sharp spurs and a double-digit beard — even if he's as quiet as a church mouse while coming in.