You can’t make turkeys gobble. And in spring—a time of year when we like to depend on noisy birds on the prowl for some lovin’—that can make hunting tough.
But that doesn’t mean success is impossible when the gobblers go silent. You just have to change your approach and “go whitetail” on them in sneaky, silent ways.
But first: Why do gobblers quit talking for a few days at a time in spring, when they should be gobbling up a storm? Several reasons.
OCCUPIED WITH HENS. When a gobbler has all the hens he needs, why sound off to attract more? To paraphrase Crosby, Stills & Nash: Gobblers love the ones they’re with.
BUSY WITH BREEDING. When hens are hot to trot and sitting pretty, gobblers are busy doing other things.
HUNTING PRESSURE. Lots of hunters in the woods, and a few close calls with funny-sounding turkey sounds, booming shotguns and whizzing shot strings, can put the clamp on gobbling activity.
LATE SEASON. While I love late-season hunting, it really can slow down the gobbling action.
So what’s a hunter to do? Aren’t noisy gobblers, and all the sounds they make, necessary for spring hunting success? The answer is no—not if you’re willing to use whitetail ways to hunt silent gobblers. Here are options for lowering the boom on tight-beaked toms.
HUNT TRAVEL ROUTES. Just like you hunt whitetails where they travel, that’s a great way to hunt silent turkeys. Local flocks have their daily routines, and preferred travel routes between roost sites, feeding areas and loafing spots are the places to go.
Set up and wait, silently, and be alert because action can happen fast and without sound warning. This is a great opportunity to put that portable hunting blind to use.
HIT FEEDING AREAS. We hunt whitetails at food plots, crop fields, clearcuts and other places deer like to feed; use the same strategy on turkeys. This is smart when the birds are with hens. Hens are focused on feeding in spring, and the gobblers always follow. This kind of hunting is often a lesson in patience—waiting and waiting for birds to wander in range.
PUT ON A STALK. If the birds won’t come to you, take the hunt to them. Some hunters won’t stalk birds for safety reasons. That’s fine. But even if you feel safe enough, some hunters say it’s unfair or unsporting to stalk turkeys. I say: You wouldn’t hesitate to maneuver into range of a nice buck … why not a trophy gobbler?
The ideal situation here is when a strutting bird is close to cover such as a wooded edge or fenceline, or near terrain that allows you to sneak and approach (think stone fences, hills, rises, ditches, draws, gullies and creek-bottoms).
HEAD THEM OFF. In open country such as that found in the prairie states, or in the West where vistas are long, it’s great fun to glass moving flocks of birds, estimate their travel route, then plan a merry stalk to “head them off at the pass.” Western whitetails (and of course their gray cousins, mule deer) are hunted this way all the time. You just have to get in a little closer to be in shotgun range. Again, terrain is your friend for making an approach and getting in position for an ambush.
WAIT AT ROOST TIME. Just like it’s a great time for whitetails, evening is the perfect time to hunt silent turkeys as they head back toward roost areas. (Check regulations to be sure hunting is allowed until sunset.) Of course, deer are just getting active at this time of day, and turkeys are winding down, but the birds are on the move and that’s the key.
One trick to smart roost hunting is to set up back from the roost, along the birds’ approach. This way you’re more likely to get an opportunity when legal shooting light remains. Always select your roost hunt evenings with caution; I prefer to save them for the end of a hunt or the season, in case I spook the birds and they vacate the area.
Bottom line? Don’t use silent birds as an excuse to sleep in, stay home, lounge around at camp, work on the honey-do list, catch up on errands … there’s plenty of time for all that stuff after turkey season. Just think more like the deer hunter you are, and get out there and hunt.