Choose Wisely

Posted on April 26, 2016



Every second you are in contact with a mature gobbler, events and circumstances take place, any one of which could have a direct bearing on your losing the game.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   — Gene Nunnery


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How many choices do you make during a typical day? How about while actually on a turkey hunt where there are decisions to make which can make or break the final outcome? Each of us makes scores of choices each day, many of which are done subconsciously.


As you sit in the pre-dawn darkness, listening intently for even a faint gobble the question arises, “Did I select the right location to set up this morning?” Second guessing yourself comes easy in the absence of light and verifiable proof that turkeys are located within striking distance. Although roosting and patterning birds is not rocket science, we must remember that when dealing with nature’s children, there is no guarantee how they will behave on any given day; especially turkeys.


It humors me whenever I see some ‘over inflated’ expert posing with his dead bird sharing with us all how simple the entire process is. If you are anything like me, you know that it is anything but easy. Many decisions are weighed during the entire process that also requires a bird that will cooperate. Even more humorous and predictable is when ‘Joe Ego’ fails to bag a bird and then becomes as silent and unresponsive as a henned up gobbler.


And there it is… the first gobble of the morning not more than 100-yards from where you sit! A sigh of relief is felt as we are now reassured that we’re at least in the ballgame; for now anyway.


I can still remember with distinct detail the unconventional tack I took in bagging my oldest limb hanger to date. This old boy had tantalized, mocked, eluded and even laughed at me for much of the season. I had determined a week prior to our fateful meeting that I’d hunt him exclusively with the cliché attitude: Go big or go home.


Following two back-to-back mornings of on the ground gobbles disappearing directly away from me, I decided to find out where, and better yet, why, these birds were taking this route. The landing strip for the turkey’s fly down was a green patch surrounded by stately pines that made for great overnight accommodations. The green plot dropped off on three sides into a partial swamp, which included a brook. Upon making my way over to the bird’s exit route it all became clear as to their preference for this corridor. They could easily walk down a dim path, across a shallow stream, onto a hardwood bench and out into a large field. Sitting down against a blow down I spent two-plus hours getting acquainted with this piece of real estate and began to make a plan for the next day. After a lengthy inward debate, I finally picked out the exact tree I would sit against come morning. The final remaining piece to my plan was how I would get to this spot using the proverbial back door. I continued my investigation by walking the game trail, which eventually led me to a road that I would be able to use to quietly access my new found ambush in the dark.

Strangely enough, at 2 A.M. I was suddenly awoken with a thought reverberating in my head that yelped, “Don’t cross the stream!”

What in the world is that supposed to mean? As I laid there for an hour, trying figure it out, it continued to make no sense to me. Dismissing the thought, I arose, ate and departed for the Old Man’s domicile. In the dark I made my way down the road, reached the location where the game trail emerged from the woods and began walking toward the stream; all the while attempting to perform my best rendition of a white-tailed deer in the act of browsing

When I reached the edge of the stream, the very words that woke me earlier returned with even greater impact, “Don’t cross the stream!” Now it had my attention, and I began to look for an alternative set-up. In the darkened wood I picked out a large birch tree growing against a stone wall to sit against. As the sky began to brighten and the first gobbles could be heard just over the hill, I realized that the ash tree next to me offered a better shot angle and a bit more ground cover. Timing my short move to the height of the gobbling, I quickly, although tentatively switched my position.


And then, as if on que, like the spectacular, breathtaking beauty of the sun that has just broken the horizon in its entire glowing splendor, the Old Man came over the top of the rise following the exact line of the hen before him. As he closed the distance to the half-way point, he suddenly stopped, perhaps assessing the situation. Maybe he thought something amiss, but rather than depart he casually strolled a few steps to his left, still looking…


Finally, at long last this grand bronzed king was before my gun, and from 18-yards distance my sixes hit the mark squarely ending the Old Man’s Kingly reign. Of special note and of particular interest: had I not listened to the voice in my head and crossed the stream to sit where I’d originally planned, getting a shot would have been nearly impossible. It’s always best to listen to that ‘still small voice.’


From the lyrics of the famous Clash song, “Should I Stay, or Should I Go” is the one choice many of us turkey hunters routinely face. A choice that can have either profitable returns making us appear genius or become a complete disaster leaving the impression of us having a brain size smaller than the bird we hunt. Again, let me remind us that wisdom is born from experience; the better our understanding of turkey behavior, the more informed our decisions become. Trust me when I tell you, none of us is ever going to make the choice that guarantees success 100-percent of the time; nature doesn’t work that way.


Regarding what decoys to use, how to use them and how many to put out all predicate on personal choice and most importantly, what the birds are currently exhibiting for behavior. The irony of hunting this grand bird, at least to me, is that on some days it doesn’t matter what you use to visually entice the gobbler, he’s not having any of it. It is as if he ostensibly has taken on an aloof persona. And then on the very next day, a long beard might come racing into the set with unabashed urgency. Those are the birds that ultimately take one, or better stated, take several #6s for the team.


The fickleness of the fowl is as pervasive a trait as any that he possesses. And none more so as to what ring tone that he may or may not respond to. Calling birds allows the sport to be interactive and provides us enough stimuli to keep us up (3:30 am risings can become debilitating) and focused beyond 8-second sound bytes. But what call should I use? How often should I call? Should I get aggressive once a bird is responding? These questions have, and will continue to plague turkey hunters everywhere.



I have always been of the mindset to try and mimic what I am hearing and seeing in the birds I’m currently hunting. Without seeming redundant, the more you understand the bird’s behavior, the better our choices become. And, despite the best instruction from those who’ve become very good at calling, I firmly believe that each new day of turkey hunting is yet another experiment in what is going to bring the old gent in close enough to rob him of his tail feathers. After all, as an old Italian friend would routinely say, “Talks cheap, it takes money to buy rum!”


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Posted in: Turkey