Tempt Those Hung-Up Gobblers

By Bob McNally

Not every “hung-up” gobbler can be turned into a roasted turkey. However, over the years I’ve learned from some of the best turkey hunters in America how to tease, finesse and cajole gobblers into finally stepping within gun range, even the most timid of turkeys.

World Champion caller Preston Pittman (right) called in this heavyweight eastern tom for author Bob McNally. The bird was hung-up for more than two hours.

World Champion caller Preston Pittman (right) called in this heavyweight eastern tom for author Bob McNally. The bird was hung-up for more than two hours.

One of the best turkey hunters and callers I’ve known is Preston Pittman, owner of Pittman Game Calls, and five-time world natural-voice calling champion. Preston is a master at making a hung-up tom come running into gun range.

Double-Team Action
Many times Preston has proven to me that double-teaming toms is one of the best and easiest ways of luring hung-up birds into finally coming within range of my Hevi-Shot 6s.

In a double-team setup, the man out front never calls, and he’s most likely to get the shot. But the “call man” who is farthest away from the hung-up bird had best be on his toes, too. Such toms are cagey and have been known to circle a caller, coming in quiet and careful and closer to the hunter doing the yelping.

The End-Around Move
The “end-around” move is another tactic Preston may employ to unhinge a hung-up gobbler.

“It’s never a sure thing, and it can be risky because you might spook your bird or others nearby, which blows the whole deal,” says the Mississippi-native. “But if you make your move slowly, carefully, quietly, and use terrain features to best advantage, it’s often possible to successfully get around a bird. Often all you’re doing is crossing a ditch, fence, or working around a dense thicket or pond that a bird refuses to cross to your call.

“But the tom may have hens with him, or he is just too smart to come to your first location. When you set up a second time, try using a different call, even if you just change the type of mouth call. If you used a slate call, try a wing bone or box call. You’re trying to mimic a different hen coming to the tom from a different direction, which hopefully unhinges his location anchor, and he’ll come running.”

Old birds with long spurs often are tough to take, and they're known to hang-up for many hunters. Preston Pittman offers sage advice for putting such gobblers into shotgun range.

Old birds with long spurs often are tough to take, and they’re known to hang-up for many hunters. Preston Pittman offers sage advice for putting such gobblers into shotgun range.

Loud And Aggressive?
Being patient with very soft calling, putts and purrs also is a choice way to trick an old tom to strut to within shotgun range, particularly on public land or hunting property where birds are called too often.

Preston is quick to add that sometimes, especially on private land, old birds that wouldn’t close the final 50 yards to his gun can be taken by super-aggressive calling.

“Loud and incessant cuts and yelps, or even going into the now-classic fighting purr scenario has worked for me plenty of times,” he says. “Long periods of silence works well. And if you can pull it off, moving away can be the final nail in a gobbler’s casket, but this is often best with a pair of hunters.”

One time in Texas while hunting for so-called easy Rio Grande turkeys, Preston and I ran into a smart tom that hung up as badly as a 4-year-old Eastern in hard-hunted Pennsylvania. Preston decided we should re-locate our calling position on the bird, so we withdrew, circled to the east. We set up again, called, and the bird answered, but he wouldn’t come in. We move again, to the east. We set up, called, nothing. Again we moved east, and still the bird stayed put.

Finally, nearly two hours later, we move yet again, setting up unknowingly only a few yards from our original calling position. Preston used his voice instead of a manufactured call, and within 10 minutes the tom was down.

Why that gobbler didn’t work close sooner and come to other calls, I’ll never know. I do know that repositioning is effective in unhinging birds, especially if you can get above a tom. I had that work twice in two days one spring in Missouri with Preston, another time for Merriam’s birds in North Dakota.

“Probably the best advice I can give to a hunter having a tough time with an old or stubborn tom is to call soft and not too much, and be very patient,” explains Pittman. “Sometimes you’ve got to just hang in there and sit and watch, and just scratch the leaves or soft purr every 10 to 20 minutes.

“Even then, the bird may not do what you want it to do. Put in the time, watch, wait, learn that bird, and be a hunter.
“Slip out and come back that afternoon, or the next day. With turkeys it’s often a chess match, and you’ve got to make all the right moves slowly, patiently and perfectly, or you’re not going to take down that ol’ long beard.

“And that really is what makes this sport so special. It’s not easy, not ever. So when you do succeed, it’s a real occasion for celebration.”

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

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