Things seemed to be going well when Big Tom finally appeared in the distance. He had devoured every call on my board and steadily reduced the distance, a good indication that this hunt would soon come to a successful end.
He was in full strut, this tail fanned out and his head shone in bright red, white and blue. Just a few more steps and he would be within reach. There didn’t seem to be any reason to be hasty until he stopped at 40 yards. His tail went down, his head went up, and he froze. It was now or never.
The subtleties can be important when hunting turkey. By evaluating how a turkey responds to your calls, you can determine whether you want to tone it down or crank it up. However, body language also provides important clues as to how you should deal with the situation. Here are a few examples.
You see a Tom strolling across an open field, hitting him with a volley from Yelps, and he stops, blows into the full strut and begins to pirouette in his courtship dance – all good signs. He’s clearly excited about the sound of a potential partner. When he turns around and sets off, all you should have to do is be patient. If he hangs up, still striving, he may need a little more persuasion. A few soft purrs should do the job.
Slowly, gradually, he is getting closer. You can hear the deep, swaying sound coming from his chest: “pfft-dooom”. He doesn’t seem to notice anything except the chicken bait that stands between you and him, but he stops just at the limit of your reach. If he’s still in the process, be patient. Let him come.
Suddenly it breaks the strut and folds up. What now? Waiting. Let him take the next step. He can break and walk, or even run closer, or he can decide that’s close enough.
Look at his head. If it’s still brightly colored and in a relaxed or slightly elevated position, you’re in business. If it suddenly turns pale, or if he lifts it up like he’s looking for potential danger, it may be time to take your shot as a few steps could safely get him out of range.
You don’t always get the full show. Sometimes turkeys just show up unannounced and surprise you. What mood are you in? Do they seem relaxed or alert? Look at the head again. Is it up or down Watch how the birds move, whether they scratch for food or stop frequently to look around. If the former, wait. If the latter, take the first good shot you get.
Turkeys always seem nervous, especially when they are around other turkeys. Toms are constantly challenging each other for domination, running, hunting, and even sparring. It can shake the nerves of even the most seasoned veteran hunter, but as long as they care about each other and not you, there is hope.
One of the more subtle but important signals is the flapping of the wings. It’s fast so you have to be careful and stay focused because it’s a sign that the turkey is sensing something wrong and is about to leave. The birds may not even realize they are, but it is likely a reflex to test their wings to make sure they are ready in case a hasty retreat is necessary.
There are other subtle signs in body language and behavior that can alert you to a turkey’s mood, whether it’s on the go or ready to go. They will come to you on time and with experience. Be patient and watch. Don’t be too hasty to end your hunt. Waiting too long can cost you a bird or two, but in the long run, these experiences will ultimately help you be more successful.
Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide and lives in Pownal. He can be reached at: [email protected]
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