Bob Humphrey photo
By Bob Humphrey
There are certain traits that define a successful turkey hunter. Woodsmanship is one. An intimate knowledge of your quarry is another. But the single most important characteristic one must possess in order to be consistently successful is patience.
Turkeys don’t wear watches, and aren’t bound to time constraints like we are. They may have a destination in mind, but will take their own sweet time getting there.
I re-learned this lesson last spring while escorting my son on a youth hunt. We’d scouted the birds, knew where they frequented and set up our blind well in advance. Unfortunately, that morning they decided to exit the roost in the opposite direction. The decision was made to try another location, where our search proved fruitless. We returned a couple hours later to find a pair of longbeards strutting in front of our vacant blind.
A hung-up bird can try the patience of even the most seasoned veteran. More often than not however, patience wins the day.
I was reminded of this fact again, just last spring. Two compatriots and I were riding a Nebraska ranch road when we spied a lone strutter. “Easy pickings” we thought; so we hastily stashed our ATVs, set out a decoy and made the most of a small patch of cottonwoods for cover.
My plaintive calls were greeted with eager gobbles, but the bird held its ground, refusing to come an inch closer to our location. After a seemingly eternal 20 minutes we decided to cut our losses and move on to greener pastures. About the time we were up and pulling up the decoy I glanced over to the bird’s general direction and noticed he’d broken the stand-off and was headed our way. He saw me about the same time, and beat a hasty retreat for the hills.
Even tougher than a hung-up bird is one that suddenly goes silent. Immediately you start questioning what went wrong. “Did something spook the bird? Did a hen come along and draw him away?” You feel dejected, but it’s quite common for a fired-up gobbler to go silent just before he commits and decides to close the distance to a perceived hen.
Now, more than ever, you must find patience and wait him out. If you’re not sure you’ve waited long enough; you haven’t. If you think you have, wait at least another 20 - 30 minutes. If you’re sure you’ve waited long enough, sit tight for another 10 - 15 minutes. It’s better to let the bird lose interest and walk away, than to risk spooking, and educating him.
Occasionally we’re blessed with seemingly suicidal birds that run to the call. They boost our confidence and spice the broth of turkey hunting. More often however, we’re resigned to doing battle with stubborn birds that hang up just out of sight, or go silent, leaving us wondering. The successes may come less often, and clearly take more time, but when they occur, they are far more rewarding.