In the Field

Scratch and Win! – Spring Turkey Hunting Tactics

turkey hunting tactics, leaf scratching

“Scratch and win” may sound like a catchy slogan for all those alluring instant lottery scratch-off tickets, but much more important than winning a few measly bucks and buying a candy bar at the gas station (if you’re lucky), “scratch and win” is a recipe for winning the jackpot in the turkey woods while on your next hunt.

Let me start by saying that I’m a guy who has learned the ways of the crafty wild turkey by attending the school of “hard knocks.” I didn’t have a mentor to teach me how to hunt those dirty, but delicious, birds, so I had to educate myself by simply getting out there and doing it. Of course, before ever loading up the first 3 ½” magnum shell into my trusty shotgun or peppering a turkey target with many a deadly arrow, I read countless articles and watched hours upon hours worth of turkey hunting instructional videos and such.

Many of those articles and DVDs were very informative and entertaining, and I did learn a lot from them, but year after year, things never worked out like they did in the magazines or on those video hunts. The birds hardly ever “shock gobbled” back to my fancy locator calls that were “guaranteed” to make them go bananas! Half the time, when performing some new “break-through” turkey calling sequence that was supposed to make those greedy, lust-filled toms come a-runnin’, they’d shut their mouths and go into hiding! Never once (until years later) did I have a bird just causally fly off the roost, waltz right up to my seductive calling, take a gander at my lovely, lonely hen decoy and hold nice and still for a perfectly paced shot…like in all those TV shows. I just could not catch a break!  Something would always, and I mean ALWAYS go wrong during those first few years of trying to fill my initial turkey tag.

However, while I was consumed with madding frustration as a consequence of those first several hunting seasons and felt like there was truly some kind of a turkey hunting hex on me, at the same time, I learned a very important lesson: as the old song goes, “Ain’t nothing like the real thing baby!” As a result of spending countless hours in the woods during both the spring and fall seasons, hunting every possible minute of the day no matter what, even during some extremely dangerous weather conditions, I got a REAL education! I began to genuinely understand and decipher what in the world those crazy birds were saying to each other (and to me), what message their body language was sending, what kinds of sounds they’d truly react to and why. I learned how to “speak the language” as game calling legend Will Primos says, and as a result, success began to come on a regular basis. Indeed, while arm-chair knowledge can be a great starting point, I learned that there is just no substitute for that real life, in the field experience.

After hunting for many years now and filling my fair share of turkey tags with both gun and bow, I’ve noticed that one of the most deadly turkey calls of all is rarely talked about in hunting articles or demonstrated on videos. The call I’m talking about does not require any fancy, new, scientifically engineered gizmo that will reproduce the exact frequency of a yelping hen or make toms gobble from a sub-sonic tone that only they can supposedly hear. The simple, yet incredibly effective call that I am referring to is that of leaf scratching. That’s right, the simple sound of rhythmically, yet methodically scratching around in the leaves or brush on the forest floor (either wet or dry) can bring the birds in like nobody’s business. Doing this, coupled with making some quiet, soft feeding “purrs, putts” and relaxed “yelps,” is indeed a major recipe for a successful turkey hunt. In my experience, it has been the “ace in the hole” and has proved extremely effective in both the fall and spring seasons.

As many of you know, once a tom turkey is with his hens first thing in the morning, it can be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to pull him away from his ladies in order to come check out your desperate calling.  One can use decoys and all manner of turkey trickery to try and get a long beard to come in close. Most commonly used turkey calling techniques appeal to the bird’s breeding urge, sense of jealousy, dominance, etc. One can try to call in the hens, hoping that ol’ tom will follow, or even try to ambush or stalk up on the birds and take one out, but in most cases, if the gobbler is with the girls, he’s going to stay with them until his business is done. However, when the ladies go back to their nests later in the morning, leaving Mr. Tom all alone, he can be quite vulnerable and much easier to call in using the traditional yelping, cutting, etc.

Something else that many of you experienced hunters can attest to is the fact that even when alone and vulnerable, quite often that bird will only come in so far, and he will not budge another inch!! “Hung up birds” are very tough and frustrating to deal with. As we know, most of those older birds stay put for good reason…the natural order of things is for the hens to go to him…not the other way around. It’s in such a scenario that this “leaf scratching” technique is especially deadly!

I have wise, old gobblers hang up on me every year, just out of range, and most of the time, they will eventually just get tired of gobbling and strutting, and simply move on. On many occasions such as this, I’ll immediately lay off of the mating calls, and start gently purring and putting, and scratching through the brush like turkeys do when they are feeding. I’ve found again and again that if a bird will not come in because of greed or lust, he will because of gluttony! Yes indeed…even animals fall prey to the “seven deadly sins!” When a gobbler or hen hears what he/she thinks is another bird stuffing its greedy beak with all kinds of delicious turkey chow, they almost always come right in. Sometimes they come running in so fast that they are right on top of you, and other times they come stealthily tip-toeing in to investigate, so be ready for anything.

turkey hunting tactics, leaf scratching
Don’t let his good looks fool you! The ol’ Tom turkey is a crafty one, indeed!

This technique has worked so well that I’ve even called in birds by accident with it! While deer hunting one fall day many years ago, I had to suddenly get down from my tree stand and dash off to an area of the woods that I was not specifically hunting to take care of, well, #2, if you know what I mean. As I was kicking the dry leaves and dirt over my earthen toilet, an entire flock of long beards came right in, all the while leaf scratching away themselves, thinking I was another turkey who had found the jackpot! Boy, were they in for a surprise!

So to wrap it up here, I certainly encourage you to get out in the field and learn the ways of the wild turkey from the greatest teacher of all: the bird’s themselves.  I’d most assuredly recommend learning and using all the tried and true traditional (and more recent) turkey hunting tactics, but don’t be afraid to try things “out of the box,” as they say. There are many simple, yet incredibly effective ways to get a birds attention that can produce results as exciting and rewarding as scratching off that winning lottery ticket!

 

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