April 2008
Talkin' Huntin'

Common Turkey Hunting “Hang-Ups”

By Todd Amenrud

For two days and three set-ups, this big tom had gotten the better of me. The past two mornings he gobbled to me off the roost, but then hit the ground and walked away, gobbling his bright red head off as he left. During all three attempts, he met-up with hens, stopped gobbling and I ended up losing him. Each time I chose the same set-up, and each time the gobbler went down a large drainage away from me.

It may take me a while to catch on, but guess what? The third morning I set-up down the drainage about 150 yards from his roost and called him straight to #6 turkey load.

Some turkey experts say, when choosing your set-up site, you must choose a spot on the same incline or above the bird to have success. From my experience, being on the same level may be best, but I’ve called just as many birds down a hill as I have up. The most important detail is it needs to be easy for the turkey to get to you.

If you make your set-up across a barrier like a creek, fence, steep break or bunch of blow-downs, you can’t expect to call in the bird. This is one reason why scouting is so important. You need to learn the lay of the land. Once in a while, you may call a bird over, around or through such an obstacle, but I wouldn’t count on it.

When scouting, watch for the heavy concentrations of turkey sign. Rather than trying to call them into places they don’t normally frequent, if you set up in a spot the turkeys commonly go to or travel through during their daily sequence of activities, it’s much easier to get them to come to the call.

Scouting is also important to determine the travel patterns of the local flocks. I guess you could say "I was scouting while I was hunting" during that trip. This bird, for some reason, just didn’t want to come up the hill to me. Obviously, if I keep finding him toward the top, he had to have traveled up the hill at sometime but he sure didn’t want to travel up it for me.

Understandably, every situation is different. You must play your particular type of terrain and learn to use it to your advantage. Use those "hang-ups," like creeks, blow-downs and fences, to help funnel turkeys in a particular direction. Once you locate a gobbler, try and imagine what is in between you and the bird(s). If there’s the slightest chance the gobbler might find difficulties reaching that spot, move to where he can gain easier access.

I find decoys to be a huge asset for coaxing turkeys in close. While hunting in Missouri several years ago, my good huntin’ buddy, John Haspel, and I had two toms gobbling across a raging creek. I wanted to try and cross this "hang-up" so we found what seemed to be a shallow spot and I started down the bank. The mud was still wet from a rain the day before. I took two steps and started to ski down the bank on my rubber boots. I made it about ten yards and my feet came out from under me and I went sliding on my backside the rest of the way until I was waist deep in water. John found it funny the only thing I could think to do was to hold my bow above my head to save it. John decided not to try...

This whole time the two gobblers were still sounding off. (Apparently they hadn’t heard John laughing!) We made our set-up directly across the creek from them, placed out a mix of a strutting jake and two hen decoys and hoped for the best. We called them to the edge of the creek where they both put on a show by strutting up and down the bank. After a few minutes, one of them hopped up on a big log, looked across the creek at our decoys and pitched across. His buddy followed seconds later. John harvested one of the big toms after he had strutted around the decoys for several minutes. It was a very cold and wet hunt for me, but a good one. Every once in a while you can call a bird over, around or through a hang-up.

When choosing decoys, hen decoys may not be enough. You definitely need at least one hen decoy. But, I believe the most important decoy for seducing gobblers in close is a jake. As you should know, turkey biology says the hens are supposed to go to the toms. Many times gobblers will hang-up just out of range and insist your phony hens go to them. Adding some "subordinate competition" most of the time will entice them the rest of the way. Rather than a plain jake, I like to increase the insult to them by using a half-strut or full-strut jake decoy.

Use common sense. Two years ago, my brother-in-law, Mike Berggren, and I woke up to terrible winds of 35 to 40 mph. All the rest of the hunters stayed in the motel while Mike and I ventured forth. We had located several toms the afternoon before and had planned a set-up. When we got there in the dark of the morning, because of the severe wind, we scratched our plan to call the birds up to the top. Really it was nothing more than a little "common sense" and "hunter savvy." Where do you want to go in a bad wind? We both called gobblers down the hill out of the wind that morning. Why? Because, it was naturally where they wanted to go.

In flat areas, where you don’t have to play the "up-hill, down-hill" game, this detail is still important. In severe winds, look for turkeys to be on the lee-side of thick timber or where ever they can get out of the elements.

Regardless of where you hunt turkeys, my best advice would be to do your scouting, remember your decoys and simply set-up in a spot easy for the turkeys to access. Persistence pays off and, if you hang in there, you can even call them past a "hang-up" from time to time.

Todd Amenrud is the Director of Public Relations, Territory Manager & Habitat Consultant for BioLogic.