They say that seeing is believing, but I still couldn't believe my eyes as
the two gobblers strutted and rapidly closed ground. It was opening day in
Indiana's heavily hunted Hoosier National Forest and I had little confidence
when the morning began.
Nevertheless, I felt it best to take advantage of the situation and ask
questions later. The first longbeard to arrive in range fell victim. The other
rushed forward as if he too had a death wish. He spotted me when I stood and
finally decided to run deeper into the public hunting ground.
Opening day can be tough because of hunter crowding. Statistics show most
birds are harvested during the first few days of the season ... and for good
reason. That's when most hunters are actually hunting. If you want to tag out
early, you must also figure out ways to outsmart other hunters.
The One-Bird Rendezvous
When scouting one calm morning before that successful opening day, I knew
hearing gobbling would not be a problem, and I heard no fewer than six birds
serenading the countryside. That provided hope, but I knew the gravel road that
led me to the birds would probably evolve into a regular hunter highway.
So, after 30 minutes of listening to eager toms, I headed for a new location
nearly a mile away. I walked an old roadbed, pulled out a crow call and went to
work. Instantly, a bird gobbled along the next ridge.
This was the only bird that gobbled to the locator call. In heavily hunted
areas, most hunters tend to head for areas where a majority of the gobbling
occurs. This bird couldn't be heard from the main road, so I singled him out as
a candidate for opening day.
He gobbled on opening morning within 200 yards of where I had previously
located him. I moved in and set up, but had no idea that two longbeards were
I'm not saying you should look exclusively for out-of-the-way places. Sometimes, these areas don't even exist. However, I've always believed it's
better to have one gobbler to yourself than to have several gobblers and one
more hunter. Invariably, it seems the other hunter will end up working the same
birds you're pursing. Fortunately, there are additional tactics for beating the
Patterning Dependable Birds
Strut zones have been defined in recent years as areas gobblers visit with
consistency. Whether strut zones really exist remains questionable to both
hunters and research biologists. Nevertheless, veteran hunters do believe that
some gobblers have favorite areas where they sometimes strut.
Consider a turkey my friend hunted several years ago. For some reason, you
could count on the tom to walk back and forth across a ridge top every day
during midmorning. This occurred during late season when most hens were
nesting. In fact, on opening day when breeding is intense, you can't count on a
gobbler to visit a strut zone with any consistency.
However, this doesn't mean you can't pattern a gobbler for opening
day. Many toms travel through the same areas each morning shortly after
leaving the roost. However, hunting pressure can change gobbler habits quickly,
so I suggest you do it right the first day.
Let me clarify that I don't prefer to pattern birds for opening day. I'd
rather make things happen by pursuing a gobbling turkey. To me, it's much more
exciting and challenging to go after a turkey using a run-and-gun method. If
that fails, though, it doesn't hurt to have a backup plan and pursue a turkey
you have patterned.
Because patterning a bird should be a second option, let's get back to luring
opening-day birds into range. First, consider that you could get lucky and have
a bird respond without asking questions.
Even on opening day, most pressured-area toms possess an obstinate attitude.
Many hang up, and many won't answer calls. For this reason, always keep in mind
that the closer you set up, the better your chances that the birds will
We've all heard the basic rules of setting up on a tom. Get within 150
yards, sit against a big tree and start calling. You can pitch that theory out
the door when it comes to an opening-day bird in a pressured area. Sometimes
it's better to set up real close -- in some of the thickest stuff -- to make
the turkey hunt for you. In other words, you need to make something happen
before another hunter shows up.
You know the old saying, "If it can go wrong, it will." Turkey
hunting and Murphy's Law go hand in hand. In areas where there is little hunting
pressure, you can spend hours on one turkey. You won't get by with that in an
area with other hunters.
Of course, the talk you use might play a role in how well an opening-day
Many veteran hunters prefer not to use aggressive talk on opening day. Excessive gobbling is sure to attract other hunters in pressured areas. (Photo by John & Vikki Trout)
Avoiding Aggressive Talk
Some like it hot. Some don't. Harold Knight of Knight & Hale Game Calls
once explained to me how he likes taking a gobbler's temperature before calling
That is sound advice. The only variable in exercising this tactic is
deciding where and when you take a gobbler's temperature. In other words, it
might not apply to an opening-day bird in an area where there are several
hunters. Consider that a turkey that gobbles consistently will probably attract
other hunters. For this reason, call sparingly and do your best to keep the
bird from talking too much.
In areas with little hunting pressure, you can make mistakes and often find
another gobbler to pursue, but in pressured areas, most birds are wise before
the hunting starts. You have to do it right the first time!
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