The situation I found myself in seemed untenable. Through a series of maneuvers I’d managed to close the distance on a gobbling bird but now could get no closer. The magnification of binoculars showed him strutting for several hens, uphill from my position on the far side of a red maple swamp riddled with puddles, and on the opposite side of a barbed wire fence. To make matters worse, the flock’s proximity prevented me from moving.

I was still a relative novice at the time, but had read enough on the subject to know the odds were firmly stacked against me. “You can’t, call birds downhill… across an obstacle … away from hens,” the books and magazines instructed. But with little alternative I rolled the dice and belted out my best rendition of a lovesick hen. The gobbler responded immediately, a good sign. More calling prompted more response. Then, to my astonishment, the gobbler folded up his fan, abandoned his hens and headed my way. His course was straight downhill at first, then more circuitous as he meandered around the pools of standing water, but on he came. He paused at 20 yards, offering a clear shot and I sealed the deal, seemingly accomplishing the impossible.

When seeking expert advice from veteran turkey hunters you’ll often hear certain pronouncements that hold true much – but not all – of the time. Adhering to these general rules is most often the better course, but when the situation calls for it, it’s OK to bend them a little, and occasionally ignore them altogether. Here are a few examples:

You can’t call a turkey downhill: Turkeys do prefer to move uphill, where visibility is better and their calls can be heard from farther away. But if that’s all they did, pretty soon all the turkeys would be stuck at the top of the hill. It’s better to call from an elevated position when you can. If you can’t get above a bird, you can still call it down, sometimes.

You can’t call a turkey across an obstacle: Your odds go down considerably if the bird you’re calling is on the other side of a fence, waterway or waterbody, but all is not lost. I’ve seen turkeys utterly perplexed by a 4-foot fence, until they realized they could fly. They don’t like to cross streams or get their feet wet, but they will when the urge to breed overcomes their hesitancy. Try to get on their side but if you can’t, make the best of the situation.

You can’t call a tom away from its hens: Most times you can’t, but flocks may contain several toms. While the boss tom will stick with his harem, subordinate, satellite birds may be more inclined to investigate a distant hen. As the sun goes higher in the sky and hens filter off to their nests, even a dominant tom becomes more susceptible to calling, especially if the few remaining hens seem indifferent to his advances.

You’ll never beat a turkey on the draw: If a bird is in range and you’re not in position, any sudden movement will almost certainly send him on his way before you can draw a bead, which may result in a miss or a wounded bird. You still have options, though. One is to wait until the bird’s field of view is obscured to make your move. Another is to move very slowly. They’ll still pick you out but may be more inclined to freeze momentarily before fleeing, giving you a split-second advantage.

Learning the rules can make you a more successful turkey hunter as you’ll know what outcome to expect given a certain set of circumstances. However, they may be better thought of as guidelines. Over the long run, following them will give you better odds. However, turkeys don’t always play by the rules and neither should we. Sometimes you have to break bad in order to be good.

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


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