WOODS ‘N’ WATER: When it came to old Tom, old Mike was right

WOODS ‘N’ WATER: When it came to old Tom, old Mike was right


Let’s talk turkey. Better yet, let’s not overdo the turkey talk.

I’m talking about the wild male turkey that is in such demand from hunters during the spring of the year.

It seems to me that even the most amateur wild turkey hunters have no problem getting a male turkey to give them a gobble or two, especially in the early morning hours when the woodland creatures begin to wake up.

However, getting them to answer your imitation hen turkey calls does not guarantee that you will be putting a tag on one. Trust me, I am talking from experience.

Many years ago, at the start of Connecticut’s wild turkey hunting season, I had a permit to hunt Skiff Mountain up in the northwestern corner of the state.

I was new to the area and never had a chance to explore it prior to opening day. It was going to be a roll of the dice.

I entered the woods under the cover of darkness and found what I thought would be a suitable spot to call in a wild turkey.

After setting down and at first light, I made a couple of hen yelps on my brand-new, push-button turkey call and was astounded to get the booming gobble of a male turkey coming right back at me.

“Man,” I thought. “This is going to be a piece of cake. I thought they told me wild turkeys were smart.”

I hen-called again and the old boy gobbled right back. I figured I would have my first wild turkey in a matter of minutes.

Long story short, I got him to gobble a couple of more times and then the woods became silent and I never even got a glimpse of him.

Wild turkey 1, turkey hunter 0.

But the more I hunted the wild turkey, the more I learned, and over the years between hunting them in Connecticut and New York, I did manage to fill a number of turkey tags thanks to the lessons taught to me by the wild turkeys I hunted.

Oh, there have been times that the wild turkey I tagged seemed brain dead as it came running into my hen calling, but they were the exception, not the rule.

Of course, calling and receiving an answering gobble from a wild male turkey is always a thrill, but overdoing your calling can also be a blockade to success.

Let me give you a couple of examples. At the start of one Connecticut season, I had a fellow hunter tell me he had found a small flock that contained a couple of big Toms. He said he knew this because he called them in a couple of times before the season started. He never saw or heard a wild turkey on opening morning. He had educated them.

Then, when we had our land in New York State, I went up there to hunt with my hunting buddy, Mike Hanlon, one of the best turkey hunters I have ever known.

The morning before opening day, I told Mike that I was going to get up early and go up the hill to check it out for the next day.

“Are you going to try calling them?” Mike asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

To which Mike said, “All you are going to do is educate them when they come into your calling and there are no hens around.”

Of course, I did not listen to him. That morning, I went up onto our land and waited for first light to start the day. As the morning became brighter, it seemed like the woods were overflowing with wild male turkeys, if all of the gobbling I was hearing was any indication.

I proceeded to let out a couple of yelps with my hen call and, before long, I had four long-beards looking for the “hen” that I was imitating. All I could think was, “Wow, tomorrow is going to be great!”

I went back to our house and was all excited as I told Mike what I had seen and heard. He just smiled and said nothing.

The next morning, on opening day, I made my way to where I’d seen all the turkeys the previous morning and waited for daylight.

I called. No response. Not one gobble.

More hen calling. Still no gobbling. I finished the entire morning without seeing or hearing a wild turkey.

Needless to say, Mike went a different way and came back with a hefty male turkey with a 10-inch beard. He did not rub it in and I had to admit he was right.

Then there was the year that I tagged three turkeys, one in New York and two in Connecticut, but here is the amazing thing. That year not one of the three turkeys gobbled before coming into the sound of my hen calling! Each of those wild Tom turkeys came in as silent as a morning breeze. It was as if they had been fooled by fake calling before.

And my favorite turkey-calling memory regards a wily old bird that I called “Old Henry.” I had numerous run-ins with Old Henry during the spring season. Each time he would gobble to my hen calls, but never show up before going silent.

On the last day of the season, I decided to do something different. I would limit my hen calls. At first light, I made a hen call and, sure as shooting, Old Henry replied with a thundering gobble.

He gobbled a couple of more times, but this time I remained silent. He gobbled a couple more times and appeared to be closer. Again, I stayed silent.

He finally came within tagging distance and ended up as Thanksgiving dinner.

Sometimes silence is indeed golden.

See ya’ and God Bless America and watch over our troops, police, firefighters and first responders wherever they may be serving this great country of ours.