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Saturday, April 19, 2008

What’s your style for spring gobblers?

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA, April 19, 2008.)
If you’re going through a dry period,
it’s time to broaden your approach.
Spring gobbler season is upon us, and it offers one of the longest seasons of the year. But many hunters enter the woods on opening day unsure of what it will take to call in an unpredictable gobbler. This year, what’s your approach?

Unpredictability is not always bad. Sometimes it works in favor of the hunter. My earliest experiences taught me that gobblers can be surprisingly easy to call in. You don’t need to be an expert caller, a seasoned woodsman, or a turkey biologist to hang those first few beards on the wall. In fact, a successful novice will often wonder why hunters think it’s so hard. After a few more turkey hunts the rookie will wonder why his luck changed.

Usually nothing has changed, and that’s the problem. The rookie got stuck on his first successful strategy. If you’re going through a dry period, it’s time to broaden your approach.

Turkey hunting strategies can be broken down to two basic styles. I call them the low-impact and the high-impact approaches. Everything else is a combination of these two.

Both approaches require you to become invisible in the woods. Begin with proper camo. Practice stealth. Be as silent as a bobcat sneaking through the woods.

Both approaches rely on woodsmanship. Being able to identify certain areas where turkeys will be comfortable is essential to success on a regular basis.

Both approaches resist the assumption that just because a gobbler is not sounding off, there is no gobbler nearby.

Other than that, the two styles differ.

The high-impact hunter is looking for a dominant breeder, and assumes the gobbler is looking for love. That dictates his approach.

He’s likely to open the hunt with shock calls – calls that trigger a vocal response from a gobbler. He might use owl calls, crow calls, hawk calls, coyote calls, even peacock calls. Any sound that penetrates the woods will often prompt the gobbler to reveal his position.

The low-impact hunter listens to the morning’s orchestra of songbirds as they awaken. Even if he doesn’t hear a gobbler, he knows that the gobbler might be as active as the conductor of the orchestra – but just as silent. The bird might not be looking for love, but will be looking for companionship, or to satisfy dominance. The gobbler might not make a sound, and that doesn’t mean he can’t be called in.

The low-impact hunter knows that loud shock calls might reach out a mile or two, and get gobblers to answer beyond the hunter’s own hearing range. If they do, he may only be helping other hunters. So, he’ll often allow the woods to awaken naturally. Our woods have plenty of owls, crows and hawks, and the low-impact hunter lets them sound off on their own.

The high-impact hunter thinks the gobbler is driven by instinct, and he’s right. That makes him an aggressive hunter. He uses all the calls and tactics in his tool box, wanting to make sure he gives the gobbler something that flips his love switch on.

The low-impact hunter also knows the gobbler is driven by instinct, but not just the mating instinct. He tries to capitalize on the gobbler’s inborn anxiety. So, the low-impact hunter hunts as though the gobbler is always on the brink of a nervous breakdown.

The high-impact hunter is an aggressive caller. He covers lots of ground and does everything he can to get a gobbler’s attention. A loud box call is his best friend. He doesn’t worry about making perfect sounds, because turkeys aren’t always good callers.

The low-impact caller also knows his calls don’t have to be contest-winning quality. He might rely more on slate calls and diaphragm calls, using them softly and sparingly.

The high-impact hunter and the low-impact hunter both carry home their share of gobblers, but most of the best hunters use both styles. The high number of hunters in the woods on weekends might dictate a low-impact hunt, but on weekdays the high-impact approach can be very productive during the first half of the season. Make it your goal this season to learn what works best for you, and when.


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