Toms The Hard Way
Spring Turkey Hunting in Wisconsin can be as challenging a hunt as any I have ever been on. Oh, you would think that by the number of birds you see in an afternoon drive around the countryside, that it would be no challenge at all. In fact, I myself used to decline to hunt the silly looking bird by the same argument. I used to boast that it could not be a challenge to hunt a bird so plentiful and so dumb. Wrong answer! Most Wisconsin residents who live or spend much time in the country would agree they have a better chance of hitting one with a car, than not. The turkeys seem to be everywhere and have no fear of the road or cars. How is it then that this bird can flip a switch and become the most wary and illusive creature when we don our expensive camo and do our best to look like a tree?
It seems we can spend hundreds of dollars on blinds, Camo clothes and calls, but we cannot get close to the bird when we try to. This is what makes the thrill of hunting them so great. Our group finally decided one year to take on this challenge to prove that there was nothing to hunting Turkeys. We set out to show just how easy it was to hunt the bird that was too dumb to come in out of the rain. What we found was one of the best challenges yet and were hooked on a new sport that we will enjoy for years to come.
Wisconsin has many seasons to choose from, so we sent in our requests for tags. Almost perfectly, we all drew for different seasons, which gave our group the opportunity to hunt a much longer season. We went with each other to call and run the camera, taking turns with whoever had the tag and could hunt that year. I drew a tag for the first season.
We set up our Carbon Cabin blind against the backstop of some young mixed trees, along a food plot that runs in front of my wife’s deer stand. There is always an abundance of turkeys here. You cannot come out here to check the land without spotting a flock of turkeys on this opening. They play and keep my wife company all deer season long, giving her something to watch while she waits for a deer to pass. Surely, this would be an easy set up.
The first morning, we were greeted by sounds of gobblers, calling from every direction. As I said, there is no shortage of these birds in this area. This was going to be easy. My brother-in-law, Brad was on the call and he set the decoys just as we had seen in all the Realtree and Mossy Oak programs. We had this all figured out. As the sun warmed up the birds, high in their roosts, Brad began to call. He had practiced and could work his Primos "The Freak" Slate call as good as any I had heard. My father-in-law, Rick was along with his H.S. Strut "Push Button Yelper" box call and the two sounded like different birds almost perfectly. We had Toms answering from all over.
The sun continued to rise and the gobblers got further away. The first day passed without a bird coming anywhere near us. We could hear hens in the woods and Toms calling, but nothing came to us. “Ok”, we thought, we called too much we’ll get them the next day. We hunted that afternoon and watched birds in the sand on my hillside taking sand baths. With binoculars, we could see several Toms, but we could not get any answers.
This game of cat and mouse went on throughout my whole season and I never got so much as a bead drawn on a Turkey. Well, we were not about to claim defeat. We had three more seasons. Surely it would get easier.
The next season was my brother-in-law, Brad’s. He watches every video and has all the toys and calls. He is a regular Gander Mountain poster child. If you need anything, he has it and if he doesn’t have it, you don’t need it. There is no way we can strike out with his season, right?
Again, we sat the season setting our decoys and calling. We spent entire days setting and resetting decoys and following birds. One day, we set up on the south edge of the land and the birds come out on the North. The next, we set up on the north and they come out on the south. What on earth are we doing wrong? We came out at night and put them to bed just like we are supposed to and we knew exactly where they were, but they would not come in.
Several times during Brad’s season, we had birds come up behind us so close, we could hear them spreading their fans and blowing themselves up to impress the hens. Ah Haa! The hens. There are so many hens in Wisconsin that these Toms are just not interested in coming to them. They do not intend to leave a dozen hens to find one no matter how hard you call. They seem to have the attitude, “if you want me, come to me”! So another season comes and goes without a bird. By now, we figure we have met our match. Who were the real Turkeys?
The next season was that of my son, Brandon. There was a week with no hunting by our group in which we watched the birds to see what they were up to without any calling on our part. They seemed to have regular patterns of feeding and scratching. Yet, for some reason when we were hunting them they avoided us like the plague. Brandon’s season came and we tried setting up on the sand hill where they like to come and bathe. We had some hens come in as well as some Jakes, but no Toms. The one thing we were now doing different was, we quit calling. Let them do their things the way they wanted.
Still we could not get the birds close enough to us. We used the UV wash, sat still, but still nothing. On the third day we got up to walk out and saw a nice Tom and a hen scamper off to the north onto my brother Dan’s Land. I had seen this same big Tom several times when I walked back to the truck. It seemed he was always hanging out where we would park, no matter where we moved the truck too. I had to start locking the doors for fear he may be trying to steal my truck.
As the bird scampered off to the north, we thought we would try something a little different. An ambush! By gosh, we were going to get a turkey somehow. I quickly told Brandon and Brad to go all the way to the north clearing and set up in a brush pile. I told them I would wait five minutes and continue walking the same course we were on. I just had the feeling that this Tom was just inside the woods waiting for us to go away. It seemed every time we saw a bird and walked back to the truck they would reappear in the same spot after we walked by. Surely if I walked on the path, the Turkey would move to the other clearing right in front of my son.
With this strategy in mind, we set the plan in motion. I waited as I said, and then began to walk. I had not walked 50 feet when I heard a shot that sounded far off. My heart sank as I thought the bird had beaten Brandon to the north and someone else had gotten him. We knew that none else was on or near our land, but these birds can move fast when they want to. With a disgusted feeling, I started to walk up the trail toward my son. Low and behold, when I got there he had the Tom down. Victorious at last, he was filled with excitement. His Tom had a nice 11 7/8-inch beard and 1 inch spurs. It was beautiful. Yet, we had to get it the hard way. No decoys, no calling, just set up and wait for it to pass. Brandon had taken this Tom at 25 yards with his Browning BPS, while secluded in a brush pile with his uncle. The first bird in the group. However, we still had one more season.
The next week was my father-in-law’s turn. The first morning he could not hunt, as he is a truck driver and was just getting in from the road. So we decided on an afternoon hunt on the sand bath area. I had gone out earlier in the week, set up a blind for us, and had the decoy bag all ready inside the blind so we could set up quick. We got to the land early in the afternoon, but the birds were already out. Now, we could have set up in the morning and sat there all day without a sound and not one bird would have come out. Of course, since we were not there, we had four huge Toms strutting in the sand 10 yards from the blind.
We stood for a while trying to gather a strategy for getting to the blind. “Well”, I said, “We could wait until tomorrow”. That idea was shot down. The plan was to just walk down as we always do, as quiet as possible and get into the blind. So, we set out to sneak in the back door. Now I would swear we never made a sound, but there was not a bird in sight when we got there. We decided to set up, grabbed the decoys and began placing them. Rick and I stepped out into the open, when I saw something out of the corner of my eye. To my left 10 yards away was a nice Tom looking at me as if I had lost my mind. I knew Rick was right next to me so I said, “ Rick, right next to me, shoot”. Just then, I heard the crack of his trusty Remington 870 wingmaster. But the Tom Turkey still stood looking right into my eyes. I slowly tuned my head to see what the heck had happened as my father-in-law started to yell with excitement. “Yeah”, he said, “I got him”. Sure enough, there were two Tom’s running away and one lying on the ground on the other side. They had ambushed us right in the middle of setting the decoys. Most importantly, we got one.
Still after all this, we had to admit that Turkey hunting was not at all as easy as we had thought. We had harvested two nice birds, but we still had not figured them out. Maybe we never will. The Turkey seems to have almost a sixth sense for knowing exactly where the hunter is. I am sure that the difficulty in calling them stems from the amount of hens in the area. There has to be an easier way to hunt them. Oh, we got better as the years went on but we have great respect for the cunning Turkey now. We have learned some new skills and have become much better than the first year. That year will live with us forever as one of the most interesting though.
If you have never hunted for Turkey, you are missing a thrilling hunt for a game animal that will keep you guessing. Each area is different and each Tom is different. The Pure Adrenaline team has had great success at calling them in over the years, but we had to change our tactics as the season grows. You will see some great hunts on our videos, as we have them coming out of the roost dropping right into our decoys. Every hunt is as exciting as the last. If you haven’t yet tried it, you owe it to yourself. Good luck and great hunting.
Pure Adrenaline, Host