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Gary Howey

” IN 2017

Let’s Talk Turkey By Gary Howey

Entered by Gary Howey

Former tournament angler, hunting and fishing guide. Inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing "Hall of Fame" in 2017. Active member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW), Past Executive Director (AGLOW). Howey has been an outdoor communicator since 1980 with his award winning syndicated "Of the Outdoors" columns appearing in magazine, newspapers, and tabloids throughout he upper Midwest and nationally.

March 26, 2015

Gobblers in the spring re busy, strutting, doing their best to impress the ladies, fighting off other Toms who try to cut into their action and to doing all the other things turkeys do.

This is the time of the year, before the season opens that you need to get out and figure them out. Find a good observation point, and use your binoculars to figure out where they roost, strut, feed and their travel lanes.

Since the states I hunt in allow hunting a half-hour before sunrise, you will want to head out early. Because turkeys don’t see well in the dark, I’m not saying they won’t see you or a predator sneaking in on them, because they are up in a tree, they can see for a long ways, they don’t see a coyote or hunter, they see a dark form coming in.  This spooks them: where they shut up and will fly down as far away from the thing that disturbed them.

The hunter, especially an archery hunter needs to get as close to the roost as possible, set up decoy, then hunker down, and wait for the bird to pitch out of the tree. This is going to take time and getting into the field an hour before sunrise is not a bad plan.

If you haven’t done your scouting in the spring, you may find that the roost area they used in the winter isn’t the same roost they are using in the spring. There are several reason this happens, one is their food source may have changed or something might have spooked them out of the area. You’ll want to locate their spring roost or you may be calling to an empty tree on opening day.

Once you have, their roost tree located, it’s not a bad idea to get your gear out into the woods a few days earlier, especially if you are hunting out of a blind or some other type of camouflage hide. If you get it out several days ahead of the opener, the birds will become familiar with it and it won’t spook them.

If you have done your scouting, you will have a good idea as to where the birds will land once they pitch out of the tree. You will want to set your blind up close to their landing zone, the area where the birds will have the opportunity to strut and not be called away by the hens.


Calvin, Casey and James Christensen, Hartington, NE. celebrate another successful spring turkey hunt.

I like to have my back to the sun, which means the early morning sun will be in the bird’s eyes, where they won’t be seeing as well.

Don’t go crazy with your calling at sunrise, go with a soft yelp before the birds come out of the trees, this will focus their attention on your decoys and they will think other birds are there.

Toms love to gobble at first light, especially when the hens wake up and starts too talk. Just because the birds are gobbing, their heads off when they are in the trees doesn’t mean they will continue to gobble once they hit the ground.  Some may gobble for a long time; many times these are the young male turkeys, the Jakes.

The birds have been up in the trees all night, so they will want to feed once they hit the ground. The hens will look for food as soon as they hit the ground, not the gobblers. This is the time they have been waiting for, when they are strutting their stuff, drumming, trying to convince the hens that they should join their harem.

Many times, after the birds hit the ground, they are busy feeding and strutting and may quiet up. If the roost set up didn’t pay off, you may have to relocate. This when your pre-season scouting will have paid off for you, if you know where they are strutting and feeding you can attempt to get in between the moving birds and either ambush or call them. Ambushing them is not my favorite way to tag a bird, but I have done it in the fall.

I’d rather set up in that area the birds are heading, put out my decoys and call. I’ll start with a soft yelp and then bring up the volume. If there’s response from a gobbler, I’ll start getting loud, attempting to draw the attention of a lonesome gobbler and if that doesn’t work, I’ll work putting out a more excited call. If that fails, you have only one choice, call to the hens.

Once the hen is getting close, I’ll cut the volume,  listening to the sounds she is making and duplicate it using a low volume putt, and purr to her. If you can get a contented hen into your decoys, it doesn’t get any better than that and now have a live decoy feeding and walking around your decoys, it couldn’t get more real than that!

If your second set up fails and it’s getting close to midday, you may have to move again, to the area where the birds will find a shady area where they can dust themselves.   If you had located areas where there are  the dished out depressions where the turkeys have dusted themselves, head for that area as turkeys, like all animals in God’s kingdom are creatures of habit and will return to these areas regularly.

As we move into the later part of the season, many of the hens will have been bred and head for the nest once they have fed. The gobblers will be getting lonely and out looking for a receptive hen. Try a few soft yelps as you work your way quietly through the woods as in the late season, lonely Toms may gobble their head off trying to get the hen to join him.

When it gets later in the day, the birds will start to move back towards their roosts, feeding along the field edge and feeding areas, packing it in before they have to go to roost.

If you are approaching last light, try calling to the hen, when she responds, give it right back to her, make her mad, wanting to come over and kick your tail feathers. If you can get the Boss hen to come over, she will probably have several gobblers’ right behind her.

When hunting turkeys, as the season goes on things change, Toms are out looking and can be more e receptive to a call. This is when gobblers will be willing to sneak in and try to breed another Tom’s hen, when the fights break out. The sound of two Toms going at it draws a crowd, when I use the fighting purr, as everyone, every animal likes to watch a good fight and while the two Toms are fighting over the hen, it’s an opportunity for another Tom to steal the hen they are fighting over.

No one like to lose, but If all of your attempts have been close but not close enough, no matter what you do, the birds just won’t work.  When this happens, I’ve found the best thing to do is, hang it up, go home grab a good meal, hit the sack and start over tomorrow morning, as there’s always tomorrow.

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