Turkey Hunting Q & A
By Ryan Graden, Aaron Stonehocker, and Earl Taylor
Time for some Q/A on Turkey Hunting and we are putting our turkey hunting freelance writers on the hot seat. We compiled a list of 10 turkey hunting questions that come up pretty regularly when hunting these wily birds. Keep reading to see what each writers take is on the questions.
Question: What is your best tactic for hunting a hung up Tom?
Ryan Graden: First you have to figure out what’s keeping him hung up. It could be the lay of the land, a fence, a stream, or something else. For me, most of the time, I wait to hear that he’s moved away from where he is. Listen to his gobbles fade like he’s wandering off. Then I move closer and call again. I’ve had birds hung up on ridgetops in the timber and no matter what, they won’t come to the ridge I’m on. So, I wait till they wander another direction and I’ll cross the ravine quietly and set up just below their ridgetop. When I’m set, I’ll call again and most of the time they come running!
Aaron Stonehocker: This is the age-old question here. You are working a bird, he is responding, your excitement peaks, and so does his interest. The battle we are fighting here is the pure instinct of the wild birds. Hens go to the Toms naturally, we as hunters fight the natural pattern when we call the Toms to us. My tactic has two phases: pull out and double back. Depending on how far out the bird is or if he is in eyesight, I will pull back about 30-50 yards and continue calling. This may be the trick to forcing his feathered hand. If not, I do the opposite and start carefully working toward the bird until I can seal the deal.
Earl Taylor: Nap. Eat a sandwich, roll over and take a nap in the sun. But I keep one ear open if he lets out an “up close and personal gobble”. I let him make the move, not me.
Question: What is your best tip for hunting a henned up Tom?
Ryan Graden: If you have a Tom that is henned up, I’m sure there will be a “boss Hen” in the flock that’s intent on keeping him there! Here’s what I do, GET HER FRUSTRATED! When you are calling and that old boss Hen is the only one calling back, keep calling almost obnoxiously! I’ve had success when that boss Hen gets so frustrated with this “other” Hen (you) that she actually comes to the call to investigate and guess who follows? That’s right! Your Tom. Once he’s in range, take your shot!
Aaron Stonehocker: Catch him on the move. The Hens are going to drag ol’ Tom around as they go about their business. Toms will be lonely for only a few periods throughout the day during breading season, so if you don’t catch him on his way to a flock, you will have to catch the flock as they go about their business. I like to work into range of the flock if possible using cover and topography to get within shooting distance. If this is not possible, work as close as you can and start calling to see if you can pull him off. If not, I position myself between the flock and their roosting site so I can work him as they make their way in for the night.
Earl Taylor: Stay in bed and wait until 9 a.m. to hunt. Too many people leave the timber too early. I am usually going into the timber when others are leaving. I have shot maybe five gobblers before 8 a.m., and probably more than 50 after 9 a.m. Let the hen go and lay her egg, and the gobblers will be ready to cooperate.
Question: What is your go to decoy setup if you use them?
If you don’t explain why?
Ryan Graden: Personally, I avoid a strutting Tom decoy in my setups. I’ve had too many times when lone Toms will come to the edge of a field, see that, and run. I typically use a Jake decoy set up over a laying hen. I want it to look like he’s about the breed her. Then I will put another Hen decoy up within five feet of them. Toms do not like to see that happening. You can bet if a lone Tom comes to a setup like that, he’s going to do his best to chase off that Jake. Take your shot as he’s coming into rumble! By the way, lifelike decoys are worth the investment! Lifelike details are convincing to the eyes of a turkey!
Aaron Stonehocker: I like to pack 3-4 hens and a Jake. This set up allows me versatility while being simple enough to be mobile. Whatever will fit in my back pack is what I am bringing even if I am in a blind. The big bad Tom will find the hens tempting, and the baby Jake with them is usually enough to get him fired up to show the birds who’s boss. When I am on the move, I leave the decoys in the bag and use my position and the live birds natural movement to my advantage.
Earl Taylor: I like putting them on field edges where gobblers can see them from a distance. My loud calling attracts birds from a distance, and having something visual helps draw them on in.
Question: If you had to pick one style of call to use what would it be and why?
(Be specific with brand name if possible)
Ryan Graden: I’m a diaphragm fan. They are easy to pack and easy to use without too much movement. And if you learn to operate them right, they are very realistic. I have grown fond of the Primos diaphragms as well as the Quaker Boy diaphragms. I usually have three different ones I use. I like the “Long Hooks with Upper Cut” and the “2 Inch hooks with ghost cut” by Primos. Then I have the “Old Boss Hen” by Quaker Boy Calls. Again, it’s what I like, but I think each hunter will find what he’s best at. Using a diaphragm takes practice! It also helps if you have somebody to mentor you.
Aaron Stonehocker: Mouth. Enough said. I have used them all, and have been successful with them all. The box call is great for beginners, but requires one or two hands until the bird is within gun range, usually meaning within eyesight. This makes it tough to move from calling to shooting when the bird is on top of you. Slate calls are awesome…if you have two people. Same scenario but they can be tougher to get the right call unless you are used to them. Mouth calls give you perfect versatility without having to sacrifice precious movements when the moment counts. Call Preference: Box: Primos Box Cutter, Slate/glass: Knouse-Trap Turkey Calls (custom call maker out of VA, Mouth: Turkey Thugs Half Moon Pro Pack
Earl Taylor: Easy. My Quaker Boy boat paddle. I have a custom made walnut and cedar call that Dick Kirby made for me several years ago. I have other boat paddles made by Quaker Boy, but the walnut/cedar combination is a winner. It never needs tuned, it always sound clear, and it is loud. I love being able to call in birds from 600+ yards. The call fits my personality: brash and loud! I only use Quaker Boy mouth calls as well.
Question: How do you hunt turkeys on rainy days?
Ryan Graden: Oh boy, this is not my favorite! I’ll be honest, if I have the days to spare, I usually don’t go out. There is nothing more miserable than sitting in the rain and calling to unresponsive birds. In my experience, rain makes a hunt ten times tougher. However, it’s not impossible. My best suggestion would be to get ahold of a blind and hunt in a stationary fashion. The truth is, birds will still move during the rain. You just need to put yourself in a high traffic area and be patient. Regular calling is a must and don’t always expect an answer. Toms and Jakes will all of a sudden appear without much warning. So be on alert! I will say this, if it’s a thunder storm, when the thunder cracks, those Toms will sound off! It’s kind of neat to hear.
Aaron Stonehocker: Open fields. The birds like to be in the open because of their impaired ability to hear predators coming in a wooded setting. If you know where they like to congregate on your property for a nice midmorning meal, be there and be ready.
Earl Taylor: It is not my favorite. But if I had to be out, I would be in a blind along a field edge. Turkeys seem to like being out of the timber and picking in corn or bean stubble during rainy days.
Question: How do you hunt turkeys on windy days?
Ryan Graden: Windy days will also increase the challenge of your turkey hunt. With wind and the noise it causes such as blowing through branches, leaves, and more it becomes hard for both turkeys and hunters to hear each other. In this case, my windy day hunts become more of a spot and stalk situation. Birds will still be out and moving on windy days, but if you can’t hear them, you’ll have to see them to hunt them. When spotted, set yourself up in a positon that they might hear your calls, but you can see from a distance. I would also suggest using a decoy set for this too. Watch as they come in and take your shot when you can.
Aaron Stonehocker: Carefully. I like to hunt rain or shine, wind or still, and one thing I know about windy days is that there are a lot of birds who will sneak in on you and may not call, or have been calling but you can’t hear them. Personally, I like to hunt from a blind on windy days. I can call in all directions out the windows, and it gives me the ability to check my 6 o’clock without being seen. Birds will usually come from downwind because the sound carries in that direction.
Earl Taylor: My boat paddle box call is capable of blasting out loud enough to even beat the wind. I try to go to the head of ravines and make some a series of loud and aggressive calls. After I call, I just wait. I move and repeat. I keep moving until I can stir up some action.
Question: Do you prefer to run and gun or stationary hunt?
Ryan Graden: I grew up with a grandfather and father that were taught and practiced a stationary approach. However, in college, I learned run and gun and that has been more successful and fun for me to do. When the sun rises, I will let out some soft yelps. When I get an answer, I move! You have to be cautious with where the bird is located and how you approach him. You want to get closer, but not bust him. Think like a hen. You’re coming to the big boy you’re hearing, but you want him to come the last 100 yards. It’s exciting and a challenge all at the same time!
Aaron Stonehocker: This is completely situational. I think most hunters, unless they are “turkey reaping” (check these videos out on YouTube) are going to start stationary and then adjust as necessary. I am no different. I know where the birds typically move and work on the properties I hunt so I try to get in early and be stationary in a place I think I can make them come in. You know what they say about “best laid plans” so of course I remain flexible.
Earl Taylor: When I was younger, I ran and gunned more, but as I have aged, I know that my sitting will eventually pay off. I have spooked way too many birds running and gunning. For ten years, I harvested gobblers by sitting on the same logging road; I had found a honey hole and stayed put every season. It wasn’t until it grew over with briars, that I had to move.
Question:What time of day have you harvested most of your birds? Is there a reason why?
Ryan Graden: There are two times of day that I’ve had the most success with. Sunup and late morning. If you can locate a bird the night before in a roost, get close the next morning and call him in! Be the first ”Hen” that he wants to meet! But if things don’t work out in the early morning, concentrate on that late morning time. Somewhere between 10 a.m. and noon. About this time, the hens that have nested will finish eating for the morning, leave the Toms, and return to their nests. At this point, those lonely Toms and Jakes are looking for other ladies. If you keep calling, chances are you can entice some poor old fella to come pay you and your shotgun a visit!
Aaron Stonehocker: Hmmm, younger Aaron would have said morning because my first couple of birds were as bright and early as I was bright eyed and bushy tailed. Honestly, I have taken more birds throughout my career in the afternoon or evening. They seem to be more responsive and are more willing to come into a set up on their way back to the roost. This gives the birds the day to do their natural thing, and then gives me the advantage of catching Toms looking for a last-minute piece of the pie before bed time.
Earl Taylor: Between 10 and noon. The hens have moved off to their nests, and the gobblers are out looking again. I get up, have a good breakfast, let the dew dry from the grass, and let the sun warm up. I am content to sit longer, because I am dry, warm, and well fed. Cold, hungry, and wet hunters can become discouraged easier.
Question:What is your preferred hunting season in Iowa and why?
Ryan Graden: As an Iowa resident, you can purchase two turkey tags in the spring. Your first choice can be one tag for either the first, second, or third turkey seasons. Your second tag must be for the fourth turkey season. Personally, I “test the waters” the week before the first turkey season opens. I like to get out a few mornings that week and do some calling. If I some good response, I’ll purchase a tag for the first season. If I don’t hear a lot of calling, I’ll hold off and purchase for second season. I then, will always purchase a 4th season tag too. By that time, most hens are bred and toms and jakes are still in the mood to breed. 4th season has also brought me great success!
Aaron Stonehocker: Late season. This gives me the most time to make it happen, more hens are on the nest, and the Toms are looking for action in all the wrong places. If I can play the part, it usually works out well with a couple of hen decoys on a ridge near a roost. Early season hunter may argue that the birds have been hunted too much, but I argue that if you are patient, most birds are still willing to participate in a little role playing fun.
Earl Taylor: I actually get both of my tags for 4th season. I like the mushrooms, I like the wild flowers, and I like that by about May 5, and most of the hens are sitting on the brood of eggs.
Question: Best piece of advice you can give new or novice turkey hunters?
Ryan Graden: First, take the time to educate yourself! Don’t just head out to the timber and “wing it”! I would suggest finding a willing person to take you with them and show you the way to hunt. It’s a different hunt than deer, pheasants, and any other game. Second, take time to practice your calling! If you sound like a “dying dog”, you won’t have too much success. Third, keep trying! Don’t give up. Sometimes failure can be your best teacher. Asses what went wrong and fix your mistake the next time you go.
Aaron Stonehocker: Stay the course, be patient, and be flexible. No two turkey hunts will ever be the same. The best thing you can do is get out there and hunt the suckers and gain experience about your hunting grounds and the birds that live on it. Get used to a mouth call because movement is a sacrifice that you do not want to make on a bird whose eyes are much sharper than yours. Be safe, be ready, and soak it all in. When it all comes together, it is one of the most rewarding hunts you can be on.
Earl Taylor: Wait until 9 o’clock to go out. You give up hearing the gobblers coming off the roost, but you are able to stay put longer, because you are rested and warm. Comfort is everything if you want to be patient. Padded cushions are a must, and plenty of snacks and water too.