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Where Did They Go?

Eastern_tom_2It’s one of the most frustrating situations in all of hunting. You hear turkeys gobbling one day, but the next, silence. “Where did they go?” you ask yourself.

One Massachusetts hunter recently told me how he had noted at least 12 different toms hanging out in the area behind his home during the opening week of the season. A week later, he had to search high and low to hear a single gobble.

Ask Missouri hunter and Hunter’s Specialties pro staffer Ray Eye what’s going on and he’ll tell you, “They’re just being turkeys. They don’t follow our logic and they’re not on our schedule.”

That’s for sure as my hunt last weekend proved. In fact, sometimes it seems like the birds vanish in even less time. But as this hunt bore out, the birds, though silent, are never far away.

On this Virginia trip a group of us decided to set up before daylight along a field where Primos Hunting Calls’ Tommy Barham had spotted four gobblers two days before. The evening before, the same group had been spotted right across the street, so we were hopeful they were still nearby. With us was Gerber Blades’ Mark Schindel, Navy SEAL Jay Manty and Jay’s teenage son, Dylan.

We were in a large, irregularly shaped field with a lot of corners and points jutting into it. About 6:50, two, maybe three gobblers cranked up. Mark set up on a point near the tom closest to the road, while we set Jay and Dylan along another corner that put us directly across from the loudest and most frequently gobbling longbeard. It was near this gobbler that there may have been a second turkey that gobbled only once or twice. We couldn't be sure it wasn't just the loud one turning away from us on the limb.

I set up close behind Jay and Dylan so I could call and watch what was happening, while Tommy would set farther back, splitting the difference between our two groups of hunters in hopes of pulling one of the turkeys past a gun.It’s important when splitting hunters up like this that you keep them safely apart (our hunters were about 150 yards from each other and with a clear idea in which direction they could and couldn’t shoot.)

Just like we hoped, the tom across from the Mantys pitched into the field and burst into instant strut. He looked beautiful. I just new he was on his way, when a single hen, sailed into the field and walked right past him, dragging him back into the woods. The two soon emerged from another point in the field about 100 yards away and lounged around, the hen paying no attention to the gobbler and the gobbler, strutting in vain like a schoolboy showing off for his older sister’s friend. Our calls had no effect on either of them.

After they headed out of sight an hour later, Tommy, Jay and Dylan moved toward the back of the property to hopefully intercept them, while I went to get Mark and work the front side of the land.
The gobbler nearest Mark that had gobbled several times that morning had not been heard nor seen since fly-down. Now mind you, Tommy and I laid out some of the best calling I’ve heard all season if I do say so myself—all of it within earshot of both gobblers. But don’t you know as soon as he and I stood up and edged around the corner of field, not 100 yards from where he had been sitting all morning, that other longbeard was standing right there, by himself, just pecking around in the field. If I had been carrying a gun, I could have aimed and simply fired. The turkey was barely 30 yards away when I rounded the bend.

Later that day, we came up on four more birds strutting in a field, but the birds spotted our truck and slid into the cover of the forest. Now normally, if you back out of the area, give the turkeys some time to settle down and then start calling, you are still in business. We never saw the birds again. The whole situation left us more than befuddled. Limited to a half-day hunt, their whereabouts would remain a mystery as we gave it up at noon

Hunting_wyo2_printTips for Silent Toms

When turkeys do start to go silent on you or refuse to work to your calls, here are a few tips that might help you still fill your tag.

Try A Different Call—This is why veteran callers like Walter Parrott and Quaker Boy’s Chris Kirby always carry a variety of calls in the woods with them. From raspy boxes to high-pitched glass calls you need to be able to sound like different birds. That sound that got him gobbling yesterday may do nothing for him today. Switch it up to try to get him to sound off.

Sit Tight—When birds quit gobbling, if you move, you’re only going to bump them. If turkeys have been coming to a field every day, set up in a likely crossing spot, call sparingly and wait them out. And if it has seemed like turkeys have been overly call shy, you may just want to shut up altogether and wait for one to come along. This isn’t the most exciting way to hunt turkeys, but more often than not, the patient hunter will fill more tags than the man-on-the-move every season.

Take A Different Approach—Where we may well have messed up this past weekend with the four turkeys that left the field after spotting our truck is that because of the time and terrain, we were sort of forced to setup in the same direction from where they had been spooked. If possible, come in from a different direction, use a call the turkeys haven’t heard yet calling lightly every 10 or 15 minutes and bide your time. Call softly at first. If a turkey cuts your call off, hit him again, if he suddenly starts responding, don’t go back to being quiet, for whatever reason, he’s right. Keep working him into a frenzy and be ready.

Use Your Eyes—Windy or rainy days will drive birds to the fields where they can see. Likewise, turkeys will often naturally gravitate toward fields where they can strut and be seen by hens, particularly when there isn’t much gobbling going on. Use a good pair of binoculars to ease up to the edge of woods and scan fields. Slowly work inside the wood’s edge where you can remain hidden and search for birds loafing in the shadows. If he is feeding along in a particular direction, get around in front of him; ease to within shooting distance of the field’s edge and wait for him to naturally walk into range.

Work the Hens—In the event turkeys aren’t gobbling because they are henned up, sometimes you can get a boss hen fired up, by aggressively calling. Get her cranked up and you might pull her in with a gobbler in tow. Everyone, after all, loves a catfight!

Let us know your best tip for hunting silent birds by entering your Comments below.


Fran Keilbach

Let your decoys do the work - Silent toms will often skirt your perimeter and make a cursory investigation before marching on in. By placing your decoys in a conspicuous and natural position, you're helping yourself in two ways. First off, an interested tom will see the source of the calling, and will be more apt to move in for a closer look. Secondly, the decoys will divert his attention away from the caller. The biggest hurdle to calling a silent bird is getting busted. Since you not sure where he's coming from, he may sneak in and catch you picking the slate, moving your hands or turning your head. By giving him something else to look at, he's that much less likely to pick you out before you see him.


You're absolutely right Fran. When staking out a setup for awhile, I find a decoy serves as a good visual beacon. If you're not calling a lot, a turkey is apt to step out and see your decoy even if it didn't hear your last call. Thanks for sharing your tip.

Olin Bodenheimer

I have been an avid hunter all my life - 50 years or so - and have never hunted a turkey untill this year, 2006, and I don"t think I have ever done anything like it. I called in and bagged two nice toms this year. You can bet I'll be hunting turkeys for the rest of my life or at least as long as I'm able to.

Thanks for listening, Olin

mike pug

i shot a jake bird this morning and if it hadn't have been for my feather-flex decoys those birds would have never come in close enough to give me a shot, but the two jakes followed three hens right in to my decoys for a clean 30 yard shot, i was hesitant to take a jake but 11 days into the season i was getting a little ansy so i harvested my 8th turkey (2 jakes/6 longbeards)


Congrats on an awesome first season Olin. When my old friend James Ramsey first talked me into going turkey hunting with him probably about 17 years ago, little did I know the fascinating path it would set me along. Of course, unlike you, James knew little more than I did on hunting birds and it ultimately took me five years to get my first gobbler.

As for the jake, Mike, I would have done the same thing if hunting in an area where there is no restriction on jakes. It's easy for a lot of guys who hunt real hot spots or who have hunted for years to say they won't shoot a jake, but if it is apt to be the only bird you have a chance at that season, I say why not! They're still great to eat and more often than not still lend themselves to a great hunt and memory.

wayne vreeland

what would anyone sugest for fall hunting besides run-and-flush tactics? my pardner and I are both old,fat guys w/ heart problems.also,Wisconsin does not allow dogs[yet]for turkey.Any ideas would be welcomed.


Wayne Vreeland:

How about a remote controlled airplane?
BTW so you're old and fat now huh?