By Bob Humphrey
The birds just aren't cooperating. It's a common lament among turkey hunters when things don't go according to plan, which seems to be a fairly widespread and common occurrence this season based on what I'm hearing from other hunters and guides. When that is the case you can give up and go fishing, modify your tactics or simply tough it out until things turn in your favor.
The basic premise of spring turkey hunting is to locate a gobbling (male) bird, then set up and call it to your position by imitating a hen turkey. Locating occurs either the night before or the morning of your hunt. Then you slip in under cover of darkness, set up a decoy, wait for light and call. A slight variation, known as running and gunning, involves moving from place to place trying to "strike" a bird. Once you get a response to your random calling, you shift back into conventional mode; set up and call.
Even under favorable conditions, success is far less common than failure. So many things have to work in your favor. First, the turkey has to hear your calling, usually not a problem. Then, it must respond favorably. If it gobbles back, that's a good sign. What happens next is where most hunts go awry.
The gobbler must not only respond, it has to come to you. I've heard people say, "that goes against nature because it is the hen who goes to the gobbler." That's not entirely true. If it were, we'd never kill turkeys. Gobblers will go to hens and to hunters imitating them, just not as often as we might like, especially this spring.
Perhaps they've become call shy. Despite what some of my learned colleagues contend, it happens. Maybe it's from being called to by so many hunters before (a big no-no) and during the season. Or from too many negative encounters associated with marginal calling. Regardless of the reason, when you call to a gobbling bird and he shuts up and/or moves away, that's a call-shy bird.
There also seems to be a good deal of indifference this spring. Call all you want, the longbeards could not care less. They don't shy away, but they don't show much interest either. They gobble on their own, not to the call, and they hold their ground. They could already have what they want -- hens. Or maybe they're just being stubborn.
It's particularly interesting this phenomenon is so widespread this year because a lot has to do with the past weather conditions. Mild, dry conditions two springs prior (which we had) mean plenty of 2-year-old males now (which we have). Two-year-olds are the bread and butter of turkey hunting as they tend to be fairly naive and receptive to calling. Two years after a cold, wet spring, those naive longbeards are much scarcer. You're dealing mostly with 3- and 4-year-old birds, which are much less receptive to calling in general. But this year's 2-year-olds are acting more like older birds.
I don't know the reason, but there is one possibility I find particularly troubling. Perhaps we've weeded out the birds with a strong penchant for coming to the call, leaving only those call-shy, indifferent or wary old birds to pass along a similar temperament to their offspring. Or maybe we just need to be a little more patient and wait for that day when Old Tom drops his guard and decides to take a closer look at the source of that seductive calling he hears under the big oak in the back corner of the field.
Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be contacted at: