Spring Gobbler Secrets

By Stu Bristol

Are there any “secrets” left to learn about spring gobbler hunting or has everything been written, using the same old tactics with a new twist? Wild turkey hunting legend, Ben Lee told me this way back in the early 1970’s, when literally no one in New England had a clue how to hunt these critters. “Stu, you are going to learn something new about turkey hunting every time you go out until the day you die, and every long beard you chase will teach something new.”

It’s been 52 years since I chased my first wild turkey and I say “chased” because it was a couple years and a whole lot of phone calls to southern turkey hunters before I finally caught on.


The basics of turkey hunting are as simple as threading a gob of night crawlers on a hook and dropping in into a sunken tree stump. In the spring, adult male wild turkeys sound off from their roost in hopes of attracting one or more hens. Hens in return answer with soft, seductive clucks and yelps.

The chore of the hunter is to become a play actor and a military strategist combined, assuming the role of a hen willing to mate then formulating a plan of deception. How good an actor are you and to what level of expertise are you when formulating a strategy?

Just as it is in hunting whitetail deer, some animals can be taken without much effort. Turkey hunters often see flocks going up to roost at the edge of a meadow, set up before daybreak near where the birds might fly down, set up a decoy or two and boom, Sunday dinner.

However, it is not that often that a trophy long beard will fall for those meager efforts. In National Wild Turkey Federation record book and in MASTC scoring a wild turkey must accumulate 60 points or more to make the book. Visit www.nwtf.org for application and details on scoring.

Over the years I have resisted the urge to say, “look what I got and you didn’t.” I shy away from answering the how- many big birds did you shoot question. My accomplishments are well documented.


Hunting exclusively for birds that score 60 points or more, I follow six basic criteria.

  1. Hunt almost exclusively in deep woods as opposed to fields.

  2. Keep an eye out all year for flocks and upcoming trophy gobblers.

  3. Never enter the turkey woods if I see another hunter’s vehicle.

  4. I become a deer when walking in the woods (sound) and a variety of wild turkeys once I set up.

  5. I listen then converse with only the longbeard, never underlings.

  6. Call only when necessary. Over calling is a common mistake. I am trying to convince a longbeard that I am a mating hen.

Over 50 years I can only think of five or six times I have encountered hunter interference. Most hunters stick to the fields, tote roads and ATV tails. I search out the softwood covers, water, food sources and elevation.

I am on the high ground before sunrise and listen for long beards and jakes to sound off on their own. I seldom use an owl call to get them started.

I listen for a dominant long beard to sound off curtly silencing the youngsters. That is the trophy long beard I am after. Only then will I move quickly to close the distance and I wear an orange hat for safety until I get set up.

Play Acting

Within 100 yards I begin my play acting, first listening for other hens. They will become my competition. Still at dim light while birds are still on the roost, I call softly using tree yelps in series of three with a soft cluck in between and wait for responses.

Most often I will see or hear the long beard come down and possibly nearby hens who immediately sound off with fast yelps trying to lure the gobbler away from me, the intruding hen.

Whenever possible I will expose myself to the hens provided the gobbler is not in sight, driving them away or even flushing them. No matter how expertly I play my role as a hen, I and you will never out call live hens.

The rest of the hunt, successful or not is a conversation between me and the long beard. The last thing I want to do is to move anything more than my head and only in rare occasions will I feel it necessary to move calling location. I need to have him come to me.

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