I'm a firm believer in getting close to a gobbler before calling. That's true if a gobbler is on the roost, or if I locate him later in the morning. Either way, I try to get as close as I can. Yes, I might spook him, but if I hang back a hundred, or two-hundred, or three-hundred yards, a lot can go wrong—even if he's committed to covering the distance.
At one time I was afraid to get close. I was afraid that I'd spook the bird and ruin my morning hunt. I failed on many hunts until I finally figured out that there are many more things that can spoil my hunt if I don't get close. Here's a list of some of them:
1. He might get intercepted by a hen. After all, the normal pattern is for hens to go to the gobbler first thing in the morning, not for the gobbler to cover the ground.
2. Another hunter might come between you and the gobbler. If he's gobbling his lungs out, and if other hunters are in the area, he will attract their attention.
3. A predator might bump him off course. Coyotes, foxes, bobcats, fishers, hawks, even crows—they will all harass gobblers. (Twice I've had bobcats discourage a gobbler from coming to my call, both in the same day!)
4. The gobbler can hang up at any number of places—a ditch, a fenceline, a gully, a creek bed, a logging road, even a fallen tree can be a barrier the gobbler doesn't want to cross.
5. He might be heading for a spot where he likes to meet hens, and when he gets there he waits for the hen. Many gobblers "hang up" in strut zones because they expect the hen to come there.
6. A dominant gobbler with long, sharp spurs might come along and intimidate a two-year old sub-dominant gobbler and discourage him from coming any closer.
So many things can go wrong when a gobbler is covering the distance between him and you. More often than not, it pays to get close.
Ideally, I like to see the gobblers on the roost. Then I can see what happens if they don't come. On one recent hunt I was within 50 yards of two longbeards. Neither flew down to me because three hens were near them—about another 10 yards away. Two of those hens flew the other direction. One flew down about 30 yards from me, and then walked away. If I had been a hundred yards away, I would never have known what went wrong.
It's not that hard to get close. The secret is to get into the woods an hour before fly-down time, and don't make any noise. Of course, you'll make a little noise and the turkeys sensitive ears might pick it up. But they'll probably think it's a deer, or a skunk, or a raccoon. A few sounds on the ground don't bother turkeys because they hear them all night long. The key is to get in early while it's still dark.
I’ll be posting more “Tips on Turkey Hunting” as often as I can until the end of May. I don’t claim to be the best turkey hunter around, but I’ll share what I know. It might be helpful to those who pursue America’s greatest game bird. While you're at it, check out my gobbler-killin' Northern Scratchbox turkey call at EverydayHunter.com/turkey-call. It's full of deadly sounds.