Don't let it happen to you
It’s ridiculously easy to blow a turkey hunt and it often happens when your dream tom is at close range. Make all the right moves when a sneaky tom surprises you up close. Here’s how to close the deal when your gobbler is nearly in your lap and you can’t put the bead on his neck.
First, try to prevent sneaky ones from getting up on you by keeping your head in the game. Once you set up and begin calling, listen for and pay attention to every little sound. You may hear a silent tom sneaking in on you out of your line of vision. Listen for his soft call, the spit and drum, and assume any rustle in the leaves is a stealth mode long beard approaching. Without moving your head, cut your eyes over that way to see what is coming sooner. The sooner you see him the more options you’ll have as the hunt plays out.
If a tom that has been gobbling to your calls goes silent, don’t relax thinking he has lost interest. Be more vigilant because crafty old toms go silent to sneak in rather than come in gobbling.
Sooner or later a gobbling tom will come in to your call from a direction you weren’t expecting. First, avoid a close range staring duel by changing your set up right away. If he is gobbling repeatedly you can judge his direction so scoot around the tree to get him in your field of fire. Make this move while he is still well out of sight but make sure there are no obstacles for him on this side as he gets closer or he will go around them and you’ll be out of position again.
If you can hear him gobble, he may hear you slide your behind in the leaves around the tree. That’s not a disaster. He believes he is coming to a hen so he expects to hear some leaves rustling as though a hen were scratching. Just be sure not to break a twig or let your gun or calls clink together. With your hands, sweep the ground for twigs and remove them. Then secure your gear before you make the move. Cover the noise of your movement with a few clucks from your mouth call.
Another way to beat these change-up toms is with a change- up of your own. Mount your gun to your other shoulder if he comes in on your off side. If you can mount and shoot your gun from either shoulder you have a two hundred and seventy degree field of fire. You can mount to other shoulder more quickly and quietly than moving around the tree and it’s a good option if the tom is about to step into view or close enough to be spooked by moving your butt. Practice shooting from your other shoulder with a .22 or you shotgun before the season starts so you’ll be ready.
But sneaky long beards have many ways to frustrate all of the above planning. Coming in totally silent or going silent and changing directions at the last moment or coming from directly behind are three tricks that let them suddenly appear at bayonet range without you being able to move the gun to them.
When a tom has you pinned with your gun resting across your legs and he’s so close you can smell the grasshoppers on his breath, don’t get flustered and busted. Remain motionless. Trust your camo. He won’t figure you out if you don’t move. Turkeys recognize humans instantly when we are standing or walking but they never see us sitting down. Resist the urge to lunge and grab him by the neck or raise you gun to your shoulder and swing fast on him. He’ll be airborne or hot footing it out of there before you get the gun up. And your pattern is tiny at close range. If you get a shot, it’ll be a poor one resulting in a missed or wounded tom.
Stay as still as a stump and let the sneaker make the first move. When it’s time to shoot remember your pattern will be small at close range you need to aim precisely. Here are some options to save the situation.
Obey this rule. Only move when you can’t see the toms head. If you can see his head, he will see any movement you make. If the tom is putting his head down in the weeds to feed or will walk behind a tree or is fanning his tail, wait until his head is out of sight down in the weeds, behind his tail fan or the tree to move your gun. Move your muzzle to the side of the tree where you expect him to come out. If you make any noise at all he will come out faster and more alert so be ready to shoot fast.
With a mouth call you might be able to make a tom go into strut and hide his head behind his fan so you can swing the muzzle to him. Generally you should never call to tom you can see because he will look right at you and realize you’re not a hen. But if you are pinned and have a mouth call in place, give the softest, barely audible cluck you can, barely opening your mouth. Do this when the tom is facing away from you. This might trigger him to fan his half-moon tail without letting him lock onto you as the source of the call. Only try this once. Repeated calling will get him looking right at you and he’ll figure out something’s not right.
If you use a tom or jake decoy always place them facing toward you. When the tom approaches them he will face them head on and away from you. So if he goes into strut his head will be behind his tail fan. If you use a squatting hen decoy face it away from you. The tom will approach it from behind.
If you have your gun up to your shoulder and resting on your upraised knee and only need to move the muzzle a couple of feet or less and the tom are going to walk out of range, there is a slow motion tactic. If you have the strength to hold your gun up without shaking, move your muzzle with glacial slowness to the tom. I mean, move it so slowly a snail with a limp could pass it. Something this slow doesn’t appear to be moving at all to the turkey. This takes nerves of steel and muscles like rope. If the tom’s level of alertness goes up one notch move the barrel quickly and smoothly to its neck and shoot fast. But if you know you’re not fast at getting on target or think you’ll start shaking don’t try this because there is one more good option.
That is to do nothing, not even blink, and let the tom walk out of sight. Then, the instant he can’t see you, shift your position or mount your gun to the other shoulder and call him back. If he left without being spooked he may come right back for one more look because he really believes there is a hen around. Call sparingly to him with the same call you used originally because he liked it enough to come the first time. If he doesn’t come back, at least you haven’t spooked him with a wild shot and educated him to your calls. Now you can hoof it in a wide circle around him to get in front of him and set up on him again or hunt him another day.
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