Pennsylvania hunters should go to Plan B for stubborn gobblers
Have you found yourself without a gobbler after the first week of the season? Don't let it frustrate you. Despite your lack of luck, lack of gobbling action and lack of optimism, it's important to remember that sometimes these birds are just plain old stubborn.
It's anyone's guess how a mature tom might make up his mind on any given day, and there are dozens of reasons – beyond weather, terrain and hunter error – for him not to cooperate with or fully commit to a hunter’s calling attempts and setup.
The gobbler could be with hens or focused on pushing off opposing male rivals. He could be feeling temperamental, finicky or disinterested in one’s calling. Other hunters could’ve recently pressured him, or perhaps he was slightly spooked by something he thought he saw or heard scurrying across the forest floor. Maybe he’s hungry and simply more interested in dining before dancing.
Regardless of reason, hunters should not be discouraged when an unresponsive tom foils an initial setup by doing his own thing. Just because all didn’t go as planned doesn’t mean it’s time to throw in the turkey towel. It just means that a Plan B option – meaning a change in location or even tactics – might be warranted.
It is always helpful for turkey hunters to keep a secondary setup option tucked away in their back pocket just in case it’s needed. In fact, persistent hunters can often find more success killing birds in these fallback locations than in their initial sunrise sets.
Of course, hunting at the crack of dawn certainly has its perks, as this is when gobbling activity typically peaks. However, gobblers become more susceptible to calling as the day progresses, especially once hens go to nest. So instead of forcing it, a simple change in venue may be all it takes for the birds to settle in for the morning.
The 8- to 10-o’clock range seems to be the sweet spot for Plan B action. If something doesn’t happen right away at first light, a quick switch in location can be the ticket. By now, other hunters may have packed up and left, subdominant gobblers are scattered, hens have retired for the day, and the big boys are ramped up and ready to play.
Finding these secondary target areas is a combination of hunting experience and locating sign through low impact scouting. Hanging a trail camera in likely travel routes may be all it takes to confirm a hot turkey hub without upsetting the delicate balance.
Ease into areas known to consistently hold birds, set up a decoy or two and begin calling quietly. Gobblers may or may not respond vocally, but if they’re in the mood, they’ll slowly work their way in if hunters can remain patient and sit tight.
If nothing shows, a mobile approach can be employed by hunters trying to locate a tom on the move through mid-morning. If that doesn’t work, hunters can return to the initial tract for one last crack at the birds first pursued in the morning, which by now, are hopefully more willing to participate.
This is one way for the impatient to demonstrate patience where patience is needed without going stir-crazy. However, those who possess the tolerance and resolve to sit still all morning, can sometimes experience even better results than those who choose to move.
Many times, a tom will hear a hunter’s subtle tree yelps over yonder, but knowing the grass isn’t always greener, he will choose to stay with the hen company he already keeps. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t logged it in his mind for future reference. Often by mid-morning, he’ll circle back as a love-struck loner to inspect the area more closely. If the hunter still remains, the wait will be well worth it.
Having a general idea of where the birds want to be later in the morning can be beneficial as well. Staking out a travel zone or feeding area can be an extremely effective strategy, especially later in the season when birds become a bit more call-shy from repeated pressure.
For those who are lucky, the first setup of the year can sometimes be the only one necessary for filling a turkey tag. But for most, subsequent attempts will be warranted in order to seal the deal. Hunters equipped with patience and several backup options will be better prepared for a season filled with frustrating and unpredictable turkey behavior. Just hang in there and don't be afraid to try something new.