Conditions seemed perfect for a spring turkey hunt. Azure skies. Calm winds. No rain, sleet or snow. No other hunters around. And the tom I’d located was gobbling back aggressively.
At the start, things worked according to the game plan. The deep-voiced tom responded well, moving toward me ever so slowly. I even caught sight of him once through the trees about 75 yards out. His head was fired up crimson, neck vivid blue, fan stretched out in stunning display.
Then, right when things were going well, for no apparent reason, the gobbler stopped coming. In turkey parlance, he “hung up.”
It’s a common problem in spring turkey hunting, whether you hunt Merriams, Rio Grande, Osceola, or Eastern birds. The solution is not clear cut. In fact, there is no single answer.
Sometimes one response works. Other days a different strategy is required. But if you have a number of hunting tactics at your fingertips when this problem arises, chances are one or the other will entice the bird in those final few crucial steps.
Here are ten solutions that have worked for me on difficult toms throughout the country. Give them a try this spring when a gobbler frustrates you by holding back shyly just out of shotgun or bow range. One or more of them should do the trick.
1. Pattern the Bird
Pattern the bird and try to set up the next day in the direction it usually heads. Your calling may be fine, but if a tom is used to heading out a certain ridge or going to a specific clearing to strut in the morning, being there ahead of him will help more than the best calling in the world. Not being in that favored location could be why he hung up.
2. Call the Hens
If you suspect or know he’s with hens, try to call them in. Get a response from the dominant hen in the group and then try to replicate what she says in tone, volume, cadence, and rhythm. Usually soft, pleading calls are best—often a long string of yelps with a few clucks at the end.
You want to lure her and her flock in, not sound like you’re aggressively trying to steal the gobbler from the group. If the birds come in, expect to see hens in the lead, then a jake or two, followed by the biggest tom at the rear of the group.
3. Leave & Come Back Later
If a gobbler is with hens, they’ll usually depart fairly soon. But he’ll still be looking for action and should be susceptible to calling by mid-morning when they leave. Start calling again around 9 or 10 a.m.
4. Roost the Bird
Go fishing for the day or hunt a different area, but come back right before sunset. If you can hear the gobbler fly up for the night to a tree limb, you can move in real close the next day under cover of darkness.
With that advantage, the bird simply has to fly down and move a few yards towards you to be in shooting range. Expect to find the tom flying to roost on a point, knoll, or side ridge spur near where he hung up on you earlier in the day.
5. Slip Back & Circle Around
Setting up behind the gobbler in the direction he came from. Make a crow or woodpecker call occasionally as you move, to keep track of his location. A tom will often feel more comfortable moving towards you if it’s an area he’s already been in that morning. After all, he just walked through there without encountering any danger.
6. Change Calls
A gobbler may like the call you were using, but not quite be convinced. A different call might do the trick, or he might think another hen has come in. That could be more than he can resist.
Sometimes trying two turkey calls at once can pull hung up birds in. Turkey legend Rob Keck once used three calls at the same time to lure in a stubborn South Carolina longbeard for me.
If you were mostly yelping, try soft clucks or sharp cutting. Switch from diaphragm calls to glass, slate, push-pin, or box calls. As a last resort, try loud purring to make the bird think two other toms are moving in on his territory and getting ready to fight over a hen.
7. Move Back Away From the Turkey
If you continue calling, but from a more distant location, that might convince the gobbler you’re leaving. He’ll likely decide it’s time to stop playing coy and march right in. Get ready.
8. Stop Calling the Turkey
Sometimes this will get the bird so riled up with curiosity that he’ll sneak in to see if you left or if another tom moved in. This is hard to do. We all love to call. But it’s a dynamite tactic.
9. Flush the Tom
This is a common fall tactic, but it can work in spring, too. I use it when several gobblers are flocked up together but won’t come in close enough for a shot. Move towards the birds fast and yell loudly to scatter them.
Wait 30 minutes to an hour then try to call them back with raspy yelps, clucks, and possibly gobbles if no other hunters are nearby. It’s a desperation tactic. But hey, sometimes it works.
10. Rake the Leaves with Your Hand
This added bit of realism simulates a hen scratching in the leaves. It can often entice a hung up bird those final few yards into clean shooting range, meaning the difference between success and failure.
That was the trick that finally put the bird described at the beginning of this piece onto my family’s Sunday dinner table.
Seven Potential Reasons Why a Turkey Hangs Up
- A deadfall or thicket lies between you and the bird.
- The calling doesn’t sound totally convincing or natural enough.
- He does not want to walk into direct, low-level sunlight.
- He picked up a hen on the way in.
- He caught a slight movement or senses something suspicious.
- He can see the area you’re calling from but can’t see a bird.
- He is used to hens coming to him—that’s the natural way it’s done in the real turkey world.