This article originally appeared in Woods & Waters April 2010 on Turkey Calling.
Turkey calling in high pressured areas can be one of the most frustrating situations. Their weariness to come into turkey calling and need for visual stimulus to feel safe in an approach can make some near impossible. Like most things I am a firm believer in thinking outside the box of traditional hunting. Do to my realistic restraints of being an urban hunter I do not have opportunity to hunt land not littered with other hunters and educated birds. This has all gave birth to what I call the turkey retreat.
The concept is rather simple; turkeys will come with in a certain distance and then do the dreadful hang up. That sometimes frustrating display they put on outside a distance you can shoot them is their way to stay safe. They want visual confirmation and stimulus; they are no stranger to turkey hunters and ground blinds. This trap has been presented more than once.
In the real world of turkeys you can note that birds tend to make large amounts of movements and displays. A simple turkey decoy standing still will arouse the suspension of any Tom presented with a dead beat mating partner. Hunters will turn to such extremes of real turkey mounts for life like appeals and even moving decoys. These methods can be costly and still ineffective to these high pressured birds. So how do you close this gap when a bird will no longer respond to the trap you set up?
The Turkey retreat is a method that takes advantage of the “movement” stimulus without the use of decoys. Turkey calling (sound) can be just as deadly if not more deadly to a turkey when on the move. The lack of visual conformation for a bird will peak the curiosity of any urban street smart Tom. The process of creating a moving mate for a male turkey is rather simple.
What I do is place the shooter in the original location of where a turkey calls back and shows a willingness to participate in my turkey calling. This gives you time to set them up in the most ideal situation as I continue my calling. Then with the best cover possible I will retreat 15 yards and continue the calling. What turkeys are not used to is their potential mating partner walking away showing no interest in their game of hang up.
In fact, the game of hang up has not even occurred yet. In a Toms mind this hen might be hot and ready for a competing Tom in the opposite direction. This can cause birds to move more aggressively and much quicker.
I will work the bird slowly towards me and then again retreat another 15 yards. It is important to maintain this retreat movement when the turkey is still too far out to see you and make sure to use as much cover as possible. As I said early there is no reason to even give the bird an opportunity to play the game of hang up.
Your methodology is to peak a Toms desperation to mate, you are the unwilling partner that is driving him mad. The less interest you show by moving away from him the more he will want to even just get a glimpse of this alluring hen. Continue this process of retreat as long as it takes to put that bird in the red zone of your shooter.
I do not have any exceptional talent in turkey calling; I would consider myself only average in such skills. This method does not rely on competitive advanced calling skills. My call of choice is a basic double sided slate and glass call. I will experiment with both sides while calling for a bird and see which the bird I am perusing prefers.
Urban Turkey behavior is set slightly apart from rural Turkey. Although a Turkey may display a willingness to fight cars in the streets, once into the limits of legal shooting distance as defined by law they become very weary of human activity. They are not stupid or naive animals like some choice to believe. Their ability to adapt to the understanding of mans tricks such as ground blinds and decoys show that.
There are benefits to urban environments rather than rural settings. These Urban settings can often limit a Turkeys approach to certain directions or make different avenues of travel more appealing. Urban obstacles like houses and roads allow you to plan a successful ambush with the shooter having to make little to no adjustments. This method of turkey calling can be adapted to any location and may involve the shooter having to readjust the ambush location as you retreat.
It is good to have faith in that hunter’s ability to make sound calls on movement as the hunt progresses. Being spotted by a searching bird can mean the end of a hunt quickly. It is imperative they are not spotted and sometimes letting the bird pass might be the only option available to them. Passing birds can lead to an ability to dram bow backs or make slight movements that may not have been possible with a searching Tom early in the game.
This past spring this method paid off as I called a turkey in from a couple hundred yards away to my father. The irony of the hunt was that we suspected the bird to be on one side of the road rather than the other. The urban environment can often play tricks with sounds and can cause you to believe locations of Toms are different then they truly are.
As we went up the hill to set up I proceeded turkey calling only to look down the hill and see the Tom putting on a nice display ten yards from my truck on the wrong side of the road. At this point despite the great distance both the bird and I were committed to the challenge.
I retreated slowly up a power line, turkey calling and had my father wait in a hedgerow in ambush.
The bird at first showed not much willingness to do anything but call back and maintain a great distance. The more I moved away from the bird, turkey calling and my father who was in between us the more the bird showed interest in his potential mating partner. In his mind he thought his potential hen was moving out to bigger and better things and he was not going to let that happen.
I continued turkey calling and moving back 10 to 15 yards at a time. The bird was more and more hooked on the idea of seeing me the more I retreated against his advancement. As the bird and I played this game of chase, my father lay in wait camouflaged by natural cover waiting for the bird to be guided by the urban lay of land right by him.
After a short fifteen minute game between the bird and I the chatter of Turkey talk was silenced by the boom of a twelve gauge shotgun. He harvested a nice impressive Tom, with a 10 inch beard and ¾ inch spurs. The aggressive nature and high paced action of turkey hunting hooked my father. After a celebratory hug and quick recall of events he asked, “when are we going to do this again?”