Clayton: Turkey talk: Hunting birds isn't as simple as it sounds

Luke Clayton
Luke with a gobbler he took with his bow a few years ago.
Luke Clayton

Spring turkey hunting at its core seems pretty basic; the hunter goes to the woods or fields where turkeys live, mimics the sounds of a love-sick hen with his call and ultimately shoots a big gobbler. While this is textbook turkey hunting, I can tell you from almost 40 past springs hunting them, it just ain’t that simple! After all these many springs spent in pursuit of gobblers, I can honestly say no two hunts have turned out the same,  maybe this is what keeps me coming back year after year.

A hunt on the Dale River Ranch near Palo Pinto a couple years ago is a good case in point. For reasons unknown to man, turkey gobblers will be gobbling their heads off one day and go silent the next. This was one of those almost "silent" days. I did get a response gobble from a couple of birds down along the Brazos River but after much calling, they simply would not leave the heavy cover and come to what I hope sounded like a lovesick hen.

I decided to employ an old turkey hunting trick. I would walk back to a big field where I knew there was a pop-up ground blink, stopping to call about every hundred yards. The theory behind this little trick is to make the gobbler think the hen is leaving and entice him to follow. Well, I made it the quarter mile or so to the ground blind on top of a hill, got inside and continued calling through one of the windows.

After 20 minutes of striking that box call, I was beginning to think about moving. I struck several very loud hen yelps on the call and was answered by a mature longbeard that was sounding off only 10 feet or so from where I was setting. I peeped through a crack in one of the blind’s windows and there he was, strutting and gobbling. A strutting gobbler with a landscape of pale green spring colors always reminds me of an American flag. This bird was big and with the early morning sun shining on those feathers, lit up like a Christmas tree!

There was my bird within spitting distance, but how would I ever get a clean shot through the cedar branches my blind was setting against? In retrospect, I wish I would have waited for the bird to walk around the blind and into an open shooting lane, which he might have done. But at the moment, I was afraid he would spook.

I slowly snaked the muzzle of the shotgun barrel into one of the tiny openings and when I saw the turkey’s head through the cedar branches, I pulled the trigger. These super tight chokes on shotguns today are what their name implies, super tight! My pattern could not have been more than a couple inches wide and the shot centered on a cedar limb.

The turkey shot straight up in the air and hit the ground running back to the Brazos River bottoms from where he came. That limb still bears the scars of my unsuccessful shot and I stop by and chuckle a bit every time I hunt that area. I’ve hunted the Dale River Ranch for several years and taken some big gobblers, not every one of my hunts would qualify for “Hunting’s funniest moments” like this one!

There are few things in the outdoors more exciting to me than calling a gobbler up from several hundred yards and suddenly see him clear the brush and present a shot. I like to "run and gun" when turkey hunting — cover some distance by walking slowly until I hear a gobbler answering my call and set up to hunt him. If a bird is close, it’s necessary to size up the area quickly and determine where to set the decoy so that an approaching bird will see it and equally important to find a quick place to conceal yourself.

I carry lightweight camo netting with me and if the cover is sparse, I will get behind the available brush or weeds, wrap everything but my arms and shotgun with the camo, point the barrel in the direction I hear the gobbling and remain motionless. With the shotgun up and pointed in the general direction the bird is coming from, a slight adjustment of the barrel is often all that is necessary to draw a bead on the gobbler.  

Camo is extremely important when turkey hunting. It’s been said that the mere blinking of a hunter’s eye is enough to spook a nearby gobbler and I believe this to be true. It’s important to wear a face mask and camo gloves when hunting turkey and I want a little green in the fabric rather than the fall camo patterns that mimic dead leaves and tree bark. Royce Carnley, a veteran turkey hunter and guide spent years perfecting a camo pattern that is as good as it gets for hunting turkeys in the spring. The pattern blends well with a variety of landscapes and is very versatile; you can check it out at www.mtrcamo.com.  

We still have a month or so to get our gear in order for the opener of turkey season. Now is the time to chalk up those box calls and pattern the ole smoke pole. I can almost taste those wild turkey fajitas!

LATE WINTER OUTDOOR RON-DE-VOUX: March 6 on four wooded acres a few blocks north of downtown Greenville. Come by and spend a few days in the outdoors with Luke and many of his friends. Larry Wieshuhn will be on hand around the campfire. Live music, an antique car show, food, booths, it’s going to be fun. For more information or booth space, contact Randy Koon (903) 456-3048.

Contact outdoors writer Luke Clayton via email at www.catfishradio.org