Explore a less traditional but effective approach to hunting turkeys that are silent during the spring season
It’s tough to put a finger on what turkeys are doing, want to do, and why they are behaving certain ways. Many turkey hunters have experienced an unusual season this year with birds that are both silent and still flocked up. By no means am I a turkey biologist and I can only muse about why this is the case. Climate change, a bad season of winter feed, just a hiccup in the turkey world? Who knows.
What I can gather is that the places we are hearing about with silent turkeys have birds that are still in large flocks. That, for the most part, means that the males are yet to break out and travel far and wide looking for one more mate to finish the breeding season.Those birds are desperate (sometimes), more vocal, and looking for just about any piece of property that has even the slightest proximity to good turkey habitat.
Turkeys also have certain triggers that research has pinpointed on when they are most vocal.
When and why turkeys gobble
A few years ago NWTF reported on a study done by Dave Godwin, turkey project leader for Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, and Derek Colbert, graduate student at the University of Georgia. The idea was to pin down when and why turkeys gobble during the season. Here are some key points
- More jakes means more gobbling
- Gobbling is at its highest in winds ranging from 3-6 mph, and decreases significantly at 12 mph or higher
- Peak gobbling occurred in temperatures between 60-69 degrees
- Low pressure in the weather translated to less gobbling, peaking at 29.9-30.2 inches
It’s important to note the factor of temperature based on the region. Although we’ve been unable to find reports focused on northern states, you must consider that temperature ranges could vary based on wild turkey acclimation.
How to hunt silent turkeys
Sure, part of the allure of turkey hunting is to get out there and interact with the birds. The idea of calling back and forth is both exciting and an anticipated part of our spring seasons. But this silence can often call for much more patience, scouting, and plain old woodsmanship.
Think of turkeys as whitetail deer in these realms. The first and foremost approach is to understand the travel routes of the turkeys you are hunting. Trail cameras are often the fastest way to pin down travel routes and you should be mindful of how turkeys move across the landscape. They will avoid thick cover, walk trails or “strutting zones” and have travel routes between fields — also in relation to roosting areas.
Once we figure out what the patterns look like we can set up for ambush. This will take patience and for some of us all those chips were spent hunting deer during the past season. But if you can come to terms with it, this is the way to go on these silent days. The question that remains is should you call at all?
The issue with silent birds is not that they don’t necessarily want to come in but that they may come in silent. Sounding off a call occasionally reveals your position, and sometimes the reality of a turkey’s uncanny eyesight results in us getting spotted first rather than them. Ground blinds can help, but many still choose to pick a tree to sit at (myself included). Our own silence is about the last advantage we can get on days of silent turkeys.
I hate to say it, but the days I’ve been most successful in these scenarios are the days I do not call at all. And I would be misleading you if I did not point out that more often than not, I will abandon silent days in hopes of a future day of gobbling interaction. Sure, you can try the call every so often and wait, but more often than not — whether hen or tom — someone will surprise you in your setup and probably before an opportunity presents itself.
This approach is really simple, almost crude in traditional turkey hunting methodology. Turkeys, like many animals, are creatures of habit. With a little bit of scouting, reading of the lay of the land, and most of all, patience, you can turn those silent days into successful ones. Just don’t expect to be running through the woods calling to a lonely tom pulled from a county away. If you can manage those expectations, then by all means, hunt these silent birds.
A.J. DeRosa founded Project Upland in 2014 as an excuse to go hunting more often (and it worked). A New England native, he grew up hunting and has spent over 35 years in pursuit of big and small game species across three continents. He has a passion for side-by-side shotguns, inspiring him to travel the world to meet the people and places from which they come. Looking to turn his passion into inspiration for others, AJ was first published in 2004 and went on to write his first book The Urban Deer Complex in 2014. He soon discovered a love for filmmaking, particularly the challenge of capturing ruffed grouse with a camera, which led to the award-winning Project Upland film series. AJ's love for all things wild has caused him to advocate on the federal and state levels to promote and expand conservation policy, habitat funding, and upland game bird awareness. He currently serves as the Strafford County New Hampshire Fish & Game Commissioner in order to give back to his community and to further the mission of the agency. When those hunting excuses are in play, you can find him wandering behind his Wirehaired Pointing Griffon in the mountains of New England and anywhere else the birds take them.