By Jay Scott
We caught up with Jay Scott of Colburn and Scott Outfitters and learned about his well-earned success on the trickiest turkeys out there. He’s the host of the Jay Scott Outdoors Western Hunting & Fishing Podcast, but he is also a passionate hunter, angler, and big game guide.
Read on to learn about his relentless turkey hunting process and what it takes to get birds on the ground with his top spring turkey hunting tips and tricks.
For many years as a beginner turkey hunter, I really struggled with calling birds into archery or shotgun range. I’ve been schooled by so many birds that it would seem silly for me to even write an article on bowhunting or shotgun hunting turkeys.
But like lots of other things in life, it seems that persistence usually pays off. I’ve been taught many things by veteran turkey hunters whom I have constantly bombarded with questions on the “Do’s and Don’ts” and “Tips & Tricks” of turkey hunting.
I’ve also learned a lot from trial and error with the turkeys themselves. I’m constantly learning something new about spring turkey hunting every day that I pursue them. One thing I’ve learned is that no two wild turkeys act the same but there are some turkey hunting tactics that can be repeated which will increase your odds of harvesting this magnificent animal.
I’ve attempted to outline some things to remember when chasing these weary longbeards. I hope that one of these turkey tactics will be something you can latch on to and incorporate into your turkey hunting routine.
I always try to set my alarm 30 minutes earlier than my calculated time to get to the roost tree. Usually my alarm goes off around 3:00 AM during turkey season.
I like to be sitting in the dark waiting for the grey in the eastern sky and set up in my position at least 30 minutes before the first call of the hens or first gobble. It gives the woods some time to settle down after I just walked into the roosting area.
It also gives you time to go to plan B if something goes wrong prior to your setup. Another advantage to being early is usually that puts me ahead of other hunters. Being early will never work against you.
It is good to have several diaphragms, slates, and box calls. Sometimes the birds will especially like one call or another. The worst feeling in the world is not having the right call.
Don’t be afraid to take a gobble call either (be very careful using the gobbler call on public land).
Locator calls such as coyote howler, owl hooter or peacock don’t have to sound exactly like the natural thing to be effective in getting birds to gobble in the roost.
Quite the contrary, I’ve found that my external reed coyote howler by Primos which does not sound near as natural or authentic as my diaphragm coyote yelp, seems to get more of a response by roosted gobblers.
Remember, you are looking for a shocking response so sometimes the worst shrieking noise you can make will be the best for getting a gobbler to answer.
In the morning when you're too close, the roosted male turkey might answer but they will be very leery to come into your hen yelps because they think a coyote is close and they don’t want to get eaten.
An owl hooter is a much better choice when you are close to the roosted bird. When I say close, I mean within 200 yards of a rooster gobbler.
When roosting a gobbler in the evening, make sure you try to pinpoint the exact tree that the gobbler is roosted in. Often, I will get them to shock gobble and then I will sneak in as close as possible.
I then plan my setup for the morning. Things to be looking for while pinpointing the exact tree are:
• easiest way into the setup since it will be pitch dark.
• exactly which tree you want to be leaning against and set up under.
• which way the bird will fly down.
• which way the bird won’t go, etc.
I like to mark the spot where I will setup on my GPS and allow the breadcrumb feature to bring me right into the setup spot the following morning. Be careful not to let the roosted gobbler see your light on the GPS.
In the morning or afternoon, when the birds are already on the ground, and you are just prospecting for gobblers by walking ridges, if you get a gobbler to respond move as close to his position without being detected as you can.
Once in close to the gobbler (within 100 yards) set up and try to call again. This works way better than calling from the original position. Now, if you are moving towards his direction and he gobbles loudly and in your direction like he is coming immediately get setup.
Make the gobbler want to come to you. If you get a bird gobbling sometimes just shutting up is the deadliest tactic. I like to fire them up and then shut up.
I usually let them gobble twice before I call again. Usually, they will come hard if you use this tactic. You may risk a bird walking off because you shut up but if they are halfway interested, they will be headed your way. This may be the single best bit of information I have learned over the years.
In the evenings be in the roost area and be patient. I like to get in areas that I know birds like to roost. I sit and call about every fifteen minutes. The last 30 minutes before fly-up is primetime. Let’s say it is 30 minutes before fly-up and you make a series of yelps and a gobbler answers off in the distance.
I might hit him right back with a series of excited cuts and then just shut up. More than likely he will come to inspect. If they come in but not in shooting range just sit still and watch they fly up into their roost trees. Then you can attack in the morning.
One thing to keep in mind while hunting Merriam’s turkeys is that they typically like to roost on a ridgeline or at least where there is a contour break. The birds like to walk uphill from their roost tree and then coast horizontally into the branch.
This tactic helps them conserve energy by less flying. Sometimes you can roost turkeys without hearing them gobble by just listening for the ruckus of their wings flapping when they fly up.
When the evening hunt does not produce a roosted gobbler for the next morning. There are several options for the following early morning hunt.
Go into an area where you have heard gobblers before and sit tight. Listen at prime time for gobblers in the area. If you can move while it is still dark, then pursue them. If not, wait until they hit the ground and sneak in close to them.
Another option is to cover as much country as possible in hopes of hearing a roosted bird. This can be done either on foot or in a vehicle.
Wake up extra early and drive to an area where you have seen or heard turkeys. Stop every half a mile and blow your peacock or coyote howler.
Always try and get as close to a gobbler before calling to him. If you spot a gobbler with your binoculars try and move in very close to him without being detected.
I will try to get within at least 100 yards or closer if the terrain and vegetation will allow prior to making my first call. Your success goes up tenfold if you practice this method.
The cadence of your calling is more important than the tone and sound of your call. This opinion is debatable but I noticed a big difference in my success when a friend of mine showed me the correct cadence to my hen yelps.
He told me I sounded decent, but my rhythm was off. As soon as I changed my rhythm and cadence it was like a light switched on and the gobblers became way more consistently responsive to my calling. The key is to listen to the hens and focus on the cadence or timing/rhythm of their call.
Position your turkey decoys at a 45-degree angle from the hunter on the opposite side of where you think the gobbler will come in from. Decoys can be a huge asset if you use them correctly.
On the flip side, they can hurt you if they are positioned on the wrong side of where you want the birds to end up. An example of the correct way to set them up would be: If the gobbler answers your calls to your left it would be best to set the decoys out to your right about 25 yards.
In this case, the bird will come to your call but when he gets close, he will see the decoys and walk right by you (or the hunter) on the way to the decoys to your right.
Remember when the gobbler gets close to remain silent and very still because he will be really looking for the turkey he heard. He should then spot the decoys. You will then be able to have a clear shot as they focus on the decoys.