Gearing Up For Spring Gobblers

Tom LounsburyHunting Stories & Adventures, Hunting Tips & Techniques, Spring Fling

There is no other atmosphere which can compare to spring turkey hunting in our beautiful state, and Michigan offers an abundant bounty of opportunities. It ranks as being one of the top turkey hunting states in the nation, something I truly appreciate, and sure do enjoy! The fact that spring turkey licenses can now be purchased over the counter certainly works for me.

A real nice offering for southern Michigan turkey hunters is the ZZ Unit which runs for the entire April 20 – May 31 season this year on private lands only and is presently in progress. However, my favorite is the 0234 offering which runs from May 4 – May 31 and allows hunting on private lands only in southern Michigan, but also allows hunting on both private and public lands further north. Although I enjoy hunting close to home turkeys, I also have my favorite “hotspots” up north. I especially appreciate the rolling hills near Atlanta which offer more elbow room for my favorite method of “run and gun”, whereas things are a bit more confined on private land in southern Michigan. Of course, these days with my “rough mileage” knees, it is more like hobbling and gun, but I do still love it so!

The key to run and gun is locating a gobbler with calling and then closing the distance and setting up to call when it feels right. It doesn’t always work, especially if you unknowingly get too close, but it is an active way to go about matters and it is always filled with anticipation. I don’t ever recollect actually running, but definitely doing a hustle to eat up the distance is often the norm. Moving in on a gobbler is an exciting moment like no other! 

A favorite run and gun tactic I’ve had great success with is “roosting” gobblers just as it is getting dark. Knowing where they will be still up in the trees, I’ll head in to be as close as possible when they do their morning “fly down”. However, one morning I overshot the estimated location, and as daybreak arrived, I found myself sitting directly below a large flock of turkeys roosting in the trees surrounding me, and all were looking down at me. Since it is illegal to shoot a turkey up in a tree, and there were a couple of dandy gobblers, all I could do was stare back, and when they all performed their fly down in unison, their landing site wasn’t anywhere near me. No surprise there!

The wild turkey is an amazing game bird to hunt in North America due to its acute senses used for survival. It has excellent hearing, and super sharp vision which includes better color perception than that of we humans. It can also run quite fast and is able to flush up and fly away as nimbly as a ruffed grouse. Its only downfall is that it doesn’t have a sense of smell, and trust me folks, if they could smell, it would be nearly impossible to ever bag one!

I’ve been turkey hunting for over 50 years, and such has given me a firsthand observation of how the gear, gadgets and even guns have evolved into what we have today for pursuing wild turkeys, and as far as I’m concerned, it is all good. It says a lot about how popular spring turkey hunting has become. In the early days, I never used a decoy, because I could bring gobblers in without one. However, I hunted with a friend who used one, and could see the advantage of it, because it creates a focal point for an incoming gobbler, instead of it focusing on the caller’s location. I’ve been using them off and on ever since, and I personally only use turkey hen decoys and tend to avoid gobbler/jake impersonations.

 I had a friend using a gobbler decoy, as well sending out an occasional “gobble call”, and he had another hunter who he didn’t know was around, stalk in from behind and blow the decoy to bits, with the shot going over my friend’s camouflaged shoulder and just missing him. There is always that to consider, even on private ground where nobody else is supposed to be hunting, as was this case! And today’s outstanding camouflaged garments do a great job in helping hunters blend in with the environment and making it hard to be seen by other hunters. It is the reason nothing larger than number 4 birdshot can be used to hunt turkeys in Michigan.

For that reason, I tend to stick strictly to “hen talk”, especially on public land. I also prefer to use friction calls, with my favorite being the dependable box call which has reach and can be quite alluring, sweet and melodious. Pan calls, including real slate with various strikers are also great as well, and even the simple to use calls which only require a finger pushing down on a rod can do the job, and I’ve done it all. The first turkey call I ever used and still like today is called a “scratch-box” which is a small rectangular box used with a wooden striker, and everything can fit in a shirt pocket. It can make all the calls necessary and works for me in an easy to carry small package. I do know how to use mouth-diaphragm calls, but discovered early on they don’t go well with chewing tobacco. However, mouth calls can send out just about all the very convincing turkey repertoire and are hands-free. Just the same, I do appreciate my friction calls, because they have always worked very dependably for me. 

A very handy item is a “turkey vest”, which can carry everything needed for a day in the field, including multiple calls in easily accessed pockets. Mine has a padded seat which drops down from the back, and there is also a concealed hunter orange flap which can be pulled out and exposed for safety when needed, especially when carrying a turkey out of the woods.

A gobbler can be brought in by using only one call, but sometimes changing to a different call can lure in a “hanging up” gobbler, my theory being there is more than one hen beckoning to him. I’ve found switching strikers with a pan call can change the tune, saving having to carry extra pan calls. I’ve also learned there are times to call softly, and not too much, a gut feeling sort of thing.

One important thing for hunters to be aware of are ticks which are on the rise statewide. It pays to have pantlegs tucked in or tied down and insect repellant sprayed even on outer garments isn’t a bad idea. One important item carried in my turkey vest is a Thermacell, which does a dandy job keeping mosquitoes and black flies at bay, especially when I’m sitting down and calling. I’ve already discovered all the bugs are out and about in the woods.

Yep, folks, spring has certainly “sprung”, with trees leafing out and blossoms blooming which add a unique scent to the spring turkey hunting atmosphere.

Tom Lounsbury