Field of nightmares: Dealing with tough gobblers
Ask any turkey hunter what’s the toughest turkey to hunt and you’ll most likely get a variety of answers. Nobody’s asked, but I’ll volunteer my opinion anyway.
For me it’s the strutting tom in a field. Turkeys are likely to be seen in farm fields or other open areas for a number of reasons. First, on warm days there are plenty of bugs and tender grasses are emerging – farm crops like corn or sprouting wheat on which they can easily feed. Secondly, toms can strut and be easily seen by hens.
Even if the weather is wet and rainy, farm fields appeal to turkeys because they can dry their feathers quicker and they can see potential predators better. If it rains in the early morning, I often sleep in and slip into the woods later in the morning, but not before checking the fields on the way to my hunting spot.
In my experience, I’ve come to the conclusion it’s nearly impossible to call a mature tom out of an open field unless he’s with hens. If I can get the hens to come, then the tom will often follow. Many hunters have taken to using decoys in open field areas, but I’m not one of them. For one reason, I can’t be bothered carrying decoys around, and for another, I really get a great deal of satisfaction in being able to fool a turkey solely by calling.
Decoys work well and I know several guys who stake out decoys early in the morning and sit all day waiting for a bird to show up. I have to admit they are successful, but it’s just not for me.
If I encounter a bird in a large field I try to pinpoint exactly where he is so I can approach the area from the cover of the woods. Sometimes tall grass or tall clumps of multiflora rose can hide a gobbling bird, so it’s important to know where he is and what he’s doing.
When moving near a field from the woods, I take great care not to get too close to the field edge. Turkeys will tolerate sound like footsteps, but they won’t tolerate movement, even if it’s several hundred yards away. To minimize my chances of getting spotted, I carry a small pair of binoculars and scan the field from as far inside the woods as possible. If I see the bird and he’s without hens, then it’s a matter of patience and luck. By watching him I have an advantage in determining which direction he’s headed, then it’s a matter of circling around and guessing where he might enter the woods again.
This may take some time, but getting to the place he wants to be will be more productive than to try to call him to a place he’s already been. Once in place I do some soft clucks and purrs, and if I get an answer I stop calling and wait for him to possibly show up. If I get no response to my hen yelps I may hit him with a gobble or two to make him think another tom has invaded his territory.
I’ll be the first to admit this approach may fail more often than it works, but over the years I’ve killed enough birds to know it can be an effective hunting strategy and that it’s my best chance to fill my tag.