by David Hart
Confidence, persistence and patience are attributes a successful turkey hunter needs when gobblers are silent.
But turkey hunting is far from perfect. Gobblers don’t always sound off when they hit the ground and head your way. Sometimes, they don’t utter a peep at all, even when it seems like the perfect morning.
When a gobbler doesn’t gobbler, that’s where your confidence becomes the most important ingredient of the day. A silent spring morning doesn’t mean the turkeys have vanished, and it certainly doesn’t mean they can’t be called into range. You simply have to believe that gobblers are hearing your yelps, clucks and purrs. And you must believe they will respond, even if they never make a sound.
“I learned a long time ago to be ready for a gobbler every time I hit my call,” says Rick Patterson, a lifelong turkey hunter from central Missouri. “Gobblers will often come without making a sound, especially if they’ve been pressured, so you need to be sitting down with your gun up as if you are certain a gobbler is on his way.”
In other words, don’t just walk down a trail and throw out a few yelps hoping a gobbler sounds off. Expect one to come in quiet every time you call.
“They actually do that a lot,” adds Patterson. “I don’t know how many times I’ve been standing there waiting to hear a gobbler after I made a few calls when I saw one running to me. Now, I won’t make a call without sitting down and getting ready. I expect to see a gobbler every time I call.”
Not all gobblers sprint to his calls. More often than not, Patterson doesn’t see anything. Sometimes, though, he does. It just takes a while. Most silent gobblers are in no hurry to investigate the sounds of a hen. It can take an hour or more for a nearby gobbler to make his way to you. That was another hard but valuable lesson Patterson learned over the course of 40 years in the turkey woods. He would sit for a few minutes before assuming there was no gobbler within hearing distance.
“It seemed like every time I stood up, I’d see a gobbler running away,” he recalls. “Any more, if I’m not working an active bird and I haven’t heard a gobble all morning, I might as well stay in one place and stick it out. I’ll sit for two or three hours sometimes.”
Staying put is much better than simply walking through the woods. In fact, there’s no better way than to burn out a tract of land than by constantly walking around. You may not see or hear them, but there’s a good chance you are doing nothing but spooking birds and ultimately decreasing your opportunities the rest of the season.Be Persistent
Waiting in a single spot may be a great way to kill a silent gobbler, but it also helps you kill time. That’s important on those silent mornings. Patterson says gobblers often start talking later in the morning, even if they didn’t gobble at first light.
“They may already have hens in the morning, but those hens may leave and the gobbler will start gobbling to attract new hens or to call his harem back to him,” he says.
“If you can stick it out to 10 or 11 or even later, there’s a pretty good chance you can hear one gobble.”
That late-morning activity is even more likely to happen on public land. Although some hunters do stay in the woods throughout the morning, the majority are gone within a few hours of sunrise. Turkeys figure that out. They wait for hunters to leave before resuming their normal breeding activity. They may not talk much, but a single gobble is often enough to lead you to the right general location.
Once you close the distance, you shouldn’t “talk” much, either. Spend enough time in the woods, and you’ll realize hens just aren’t that vocal most of the time. They might cluck occasionally and they’ll make a few soft yelps at times, but they are rarely loud and aggressive. You shouldn’t be, either.
When All Else Fails
If you can’t get an answer or you never hear a gobble, find a known strutting area, sit down and wait. Fields, ridges, openings in big woods and along river bottoms are all common strutting areas. Gobblers will often follow their hens around for a couple of hours before heading to their strutting zone. If you get their first, there’s a good chance you can punch a tag. It’s a roll of the dice, but if you are greeted by the sound of silence the next time you step into the turkey woods it’s better than loading up your truck and heading home.
What Influences Gobbling Activity?
A number of research projects have examined gobbling activity and the various factors that influence it. One, conducted on an unhunted area in South Carolina, found a distinct peak of gobbling activity in the early spring when flocks of hens and jakes break up. Gobblers also increased vocalizations during the peak incubation period. As more hens were sitting on nests, gobblers were more active in their search for unbred hens.
That study looked at activity throughout the spring and developed a trend for the entire season. It didn’t examine daily or short-term factors like weather and hunting pressure. A study in South Dakota did. It examined gobbling activity of a hunted population and a nearby unhunted population and examined gobbling activity related to various weather conditions and hunting pressure. There was no discernible pattern in gobbling activity related to various weather factors. Temperature, precipitation and barometric pressure don’t seem to dictate gobbling activity, at least not in any way that researchers could tell. However, hunting activity did. The results were obvious: Pressured birds clammed up.
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.