It seemed like an ideal set-up. You roosted the bird the evening before your hunt by owl-hooting to elicit a shock gobble. You knew exactly where he would spend the night, and had a pretty good idea where he would fly down the next morning; and you were right.

After serenading the dawn with a chorus of thundering gobbles, Ol’ Tom launched from his limb and sailed to earth amidst a cacophony of cackling hens and flapping wings. You fired him up with a volley of clucks and he triple-gobbled a reply. Each time you called he responded, getting closer and closer. Adrenaline pulsed through your veins and you expected at any moment to see his brilliant red, white and blue head come into view; but it didn’t. The next gobble was farther away, and the next farther still. What could possibly have gone wrong?

There’s a saying among turkey hunters that roosted ain’t roasted. In other words, there are no certainties, even under the best of circumstances. We all love those gift birds that gobble back at every call and waltz into the decoys with abandon, but veteran turkey hunters know those experiences are few and far between. Far more often Ol’ Tom fails to close that final, fatal gap. However, knowing some of the reasons why that happens can help improve your odds of avoiding it.

A henned-up tom is probably the most common cause. It’s mating season, when a tom turkey tries to assemble a harem of hens. We try to lure him away but he’s already got what he wants and though his brain is little larger than a walnut, even the turkey knows a bird in the hand is better than one, or two, in the bush. You might lure a subordinate in, you might not; but the dominant tom is not going to leave his ladies.

Scouting is a key element to a successful hunt but if you could fractionalize the results of your efforts, knowing where a tom roosted the night before might represent a quarter of the information you need. The other three quarters is knowing where he and his harem are going after their feet hit the ground. Turkeys roost in trees and most often head for open fields first thing in the morning. You need to know which field, by which path they’ll get there and at which location they’ll enter it. Otherwise, you might be left watching them parade around in the wide open, well out of range.

The basic premise of spring turkey hunting is to call a male in by sounding like a female. It sounds easy, and sometimes it is. However, the two biggest mistakes hunters make are calling too much and not calling enough. The trick is in taking a tom’s temperature, evaluating how he responds to your calls and adjusting accordingly. Volumes have been written on finding that sweet spot. Suffice to say, practice makes perfect, or at least as close to perfect as you can get in turkey hunting.

Even the best callers are often ignored. Maybe your intended victim is henned-up or maybe he’s intimidated. Before the mating season kicks in, and even after it has, adult males spend considerable time and energy sorting out the pecking order. Once a bird resigns itself to subordinate status, it may not be too eager about rushing to the sound of a lovesick hen, lest he get his tail feathers kicked. When they do come, it’s not uncommon for them to shut up and slip in slowly and quietly, which is why you must be still, silent and above all, patient when a gobbling tom goes mum.

Interference is another cause for the premature cessation of an intended arrival and it comes in several forms. You’re trying to sound like a turkey and there are lots of other hunters in the woods. I’ve had committed birds run off by all manner of predators including coyotes, bobcats and unfortunately, other hunters.

There’s not much you can do about it, except be respectful of other hunters so you don’t end up doing the same to them. If you hear another hunter calling a gobbling bird, back off. Give them space and let things play out. You never know. Maybe they didn’t scout enough and the bird will eventually come your way.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

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