A wild turkey will come down from its roost in the morning, and it’s up to the hunter to decide which way it will go and where to set up. Kathy Willens/Associated Press

“Where to hunt?” That was the question I pondered in the pre-dawn darkness. So much of turkey hunting success depends on decisions, each of which will set in motion a chain of events. Make the right one and your morning may end early. The wrong one could make for a long day.

Your first decision involves where to start the day. Assuming you know, or have a reasonably good idea where the bird you seek roosted the night before, your next decision involves where to set up. If you’re familiar with the area and the birds, that decision should be a little easier. Set up where you think they’ll go when they leave the roost.

The next question: how close to get? You may have a general idea which way they’ll go, but if they don’t come within range you might be out of luck. The closer you get to the roost tree, the higher the probability of intercepting the bird

How close is too close? You can’t be seen or heard getting into position, so you’ll have to approach slowly, quietly and under cover of darkness, using vegetation and terrain for concealment as well. You also need to be mindful of other birds. You may only hear one gobbler but there could be others, not to mention the hens that are likely to be roosted in nearby trees.

All seems to be going well as you settle in against the trunk of a big hemlock with just enough cover for concealment, but enough open space for a clear shot. Old Tom is still gobbling and the hens are starting to cackle nervously, signaling that fly-down won’t be long. Should you call and announce your position, or wait for the birds to leave the roost?

Listen to what you hear, and mimic it. A few soft tree yelps sends the message: “There’s a hen over here too.” Then a hen launches from her limb, hits the ground and begins an assembly yelp. The rest of the flock will follow, unless you can out-compete her.

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You could give a fly-down cackle to remind everyone of your presence. The tom gobbles back but the real hen increases the intensity of her calling. What to do… what to do? You could challenge her, calling more loudly and intensely, hoping to draw her and the rest of the flock your way. That might backfire though, causing her to go the other way and take her suitor with her.

The birds start your way then hang up in the field while the hens feed and the toms strut. The object of spring turkey hunting is to call a tom by imitating a hen but if he already has what he wants, the job becomes more difficult. You could call to a henned-up tom until you’re blue in the face and out of breath and it may do no good, or you might be able to pull a subordinate bird away from the flock. More decisions.

The flock slowly filters away and disappears into the woodline. Should you could slip out, trying to circle ahead and intercept them? Or, should you head for greener pastures? It’s still early and there are plenty of other birds worth taking a figurative, and hopefully literal, shot at.

You opt for the latter, drive to a new location, head into the woods and belt out a few loud yelps on a box call. The answer is immediate, but distant. Should you set up where you’re at, or try and close the distance? One more call and an answering gobble suggests you have room and time to move the cut the distance in half before setting up.

You make a 100-yard dash and decide that’s close enough, but now … where to sit? There’s a slight rise to the right, but it’s too brushy. A few large trees to the left offer a good backstop, but it’s too open. Split the difference, plop down, prop your gun up on your knee and get ready.

Another call gets another, much closer response. The bird is now just out of sight and over the rise so you wait… and wait… and wait. The gobbling continues, but from the same spot. The bird has hung up and now you need to decide if and how much to call.

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Two of the biggest mistakes turkey hunters make are calling too much and not calling enough. Too much might intimidate the bird. Not enough and he’ll lose interest. It’s more often better to be reticent, but sometimes super-aggressive calling can turn the tide on a reluctant gobbler.

You roll the dice and hammer out some aggressive cutting and yelping and the tom cuts you off, double-gobbling over your calls. He’s committed, and now all you have to do is wait, patiently and silently. Soon you hear the deep resonant sound of a drumming tom. He’s close. Then you see the red head, fanned tail and the long beard dangling from his chest.

It worked out this time. It might not the next. Any one of the many decisions you make over the course of a turkey hunt could be the wrong one and the turkeys win again, as they so often do. But you only have to win once.

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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