Tag Team Turkeys

The author and his father used many of the tactics discussed to harvest these two birds on opening day a couple seasons back. (Troy Rodakowski)

by Troy Rodakowski

The companionship of hunting with a friend of family member is half the reason we hunt spring turkeys. The other and most important half, however, is that working as a team is probably the best possible way to put some turkeys on the dinner table.

While hunting spring turkeys it is at times very beneficial to set a caller 10-15 yards or more behind a shooter. Why might you ask? That wise old gobbler will often hang up just out of range and if he feels the hen is still a bit further he might just break that magical barrier needed for your shotgun or bow.

Natural obstacles like creeks logs and other barriers can make turkeys “hang up,” and not commit to your set up. (Troy Rodakowski)

Another great benefit to hunting with a partner is the ability to sound like multiple turkeys when both hunters are calling. Getting gobblers fired up is a key to success in the spring and if you can sound like multiple turkeys a long beard is more likely to come in and join your party. Additionally, I have found it pays to have an extra set of eyes on that bird when you are stalking into closer range to make a set.

One year we had a bird across a canyon that wasn’t willing to come through the bottom to meet us so we took matters into our own hands. My buddy set up high all the while keeping an eye on him through the binoculars as I hiked closer to the bird. I was able to get fairly close to that turkey through hand signals from my partner as to the birds movements and whereabouts. I got setup, did a little calling, and the rest is history.

Birds often times do not like to cross creeks or thick obstacles such as logs or dense brush. Gobblers will pace back and forth along a creek or brush barrier searching for that hen that keeps calling to them. The best approach to this is to have the caller stay in place and have the shooter sneak into position near the brush line or creek channel where the bird is pacing. This has worked several times for me over the years!

Food Sources / Strut & Dust Zones: Find food sources, such as old oak stands with acorns, open fields with seeds and plentiful insects. Creek bottoms with snails and amphibious life are also hot spots. Turkey tracks are easily observed in soft soils during the early spring. Places where birds spend time strutting and dusting zones become prime areas to set up an ambush or catch birds moving. Often, birds will find old burns or slash pile remnants to dust in. Looking for areas where birds have scraped and taken dust baths can help point a hunter to an area where they will likely return.

If you plan on using decoys be sure to use dekes that look as realistic as possible. I like to save fans from some of my jakes to attach to various decoys to give them a more realistic look and I’ll paint faded decoys to give them a little brighter look. I’ll even go so far as to attach a jerk string or cord to one of my standing hens or jakes so I can give it some movement. This works pretty well on birds from a distance and has helped bag some birds for my hunting partners and I over the years. This is one trick where the buddy system really comes in handy!

Even the most wary gobbler can be fooled. You just need to know when and how to make the right moves on an old wise bird. (Troy Rodakowski)

Regardless of your approach using the “buddy” system in the turkey woods this spring can be very beneficial. I sure do appreciate the help a hunting companion and what’s even better is sharing that experience with a good friend or family member.

Troy Rodakowski
Outdoor Line Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle

Hunters Convene at Sportco for Spring Seminars

Close to a hundred avid hunters gathered at Sportco Sporting Goods in Fife, Washington yesterday for a day of spring hunting seminars sponsored by Sportco and the Outdoor Line on 710 ESPN Seattle.

Julie Cyr from Sitka Gear (hey…that rhymes) was on hand all day and even took a ride in Ryan Lampers new EXO Mountain Gear 5500 pack. She’s a spark plug for sure and spends every waking second of her free time hunting and fishing.  

Travis Smith led off the day with an outstanding turkey seminar and followed it up with some personal calling instruction afterwards. Travis is a pro-staffer for Zink calls and Avian X decoys and he’s a wealth of info when it comes to turkey and waterfowl hunting in Washington.

Jason Brooks is a regular guest on the Outdoor Line and has a column in Northwest Sportsman Magazine. He’s an encyclopedia of mule deer hunting intel and gave an info-packed seminar on hunting mule deer in Washington state. He also brought in his new Kimber Mountain Ascent rifle chambered in .280 Ackley Improved with the new Vortex Razor HD Lightweight Hunter scope. The whole package weighs in at just 6 pounds. Wow!

Ryan Lampers, a.k.a. Sthealthy Hunter, and his hunting partner Joe Pyburn shared their experiences hunting mule deer and elk in the Washington backcountry. These guys showcased their philosophy, gear, and the training that’s necessary to take trophy game here in Washington. They are living proof that it can be done!

Lampers and Pyburn talking about their extended stays in the backcountry and the preparation it takes to tag out in Washington on a trophy animal every year.

There were great giveaways from Vortex optics, Avian X calls, Shotlock, and Phelps Game Calls. Here’s Brian with his new set of Vortex 10 x 42 binoculars that he won at the raffle. I can’t thank Vortex enough for all their help with this seminar. They are fantastic to work with and manufacturer exceptional products!

Jason Phelps from Phelps Game Calls wrapped it all up with an exceptional seminar on elk calling. Here’s a brief snippet of just one of the many sounds that Jason demonstrated to bring in that trophy bull elk next fall.

Phelps raffled off some of his elk calls at the end of his seminar. We were excited to see this young man so pumped about hunting and there were several other kids in the crowd, as well. Big thanks to the proud parents that brought their kids to the event yesterday!

Carl will be putting this Phelps bugle tube to work next fall.

…and another Phelps bugle tube heading for the elk woods next fall.

This gentleman can now lock up his home-defense pistol in this Shot Lock that he won at the raffle.

This lucky hunter brought home a brand new Avian X turkey decoy that he won at the raffle. Big thanks to Avian X for the great dekes and swag they sent for the seminars. The detail on these turkey decoys is incredible!

Jason Brook’s new Kimber Mountain Ascent and Vortex Razor HD Lightweight Hunter combo was on display after his seminar. You wouldn’t believe how light this setup is.

I even took a little time to get measured up for a bow at Sportco’s bow shop. Looks like I’ll need a bow set up for a 31 inch draw length.

Once again, a huge thanks to everyone that attended the hunting seminars at Sportco yesterday and we should have news of some more fun hunting events coming soon. Best of luck to you all on the turkey opener on April 15th and in the woods next fall!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

EXO Mountain Gear Backcountry Hunting Packs - Boise, Idaho

5 Turkey Musts For This Coming Season

Make sure to have the scales tipped in your favor come this April and you’ll surely find yourself packing more birds out of the field. (Troy Rodakowski)

By Troy Rodakowski

In general, extreme weather patterns are not beneficial for wild turkeys.  In particular, winters with deep snow at lower elevations can impact overwinter survival when turkeys can’t dig down for their favorite foods. “We have actually seen them stay in the roost for days at a time when snow is too deep to feed,” says Mikal Moore NWTF Biologist for the Pacific Northwest. The other big driver of turkey population’s dynamics is wet springs, which can inhibit hatching success.  For those poults that do hatch, protein-rich insects will be plentiful in wet years, a critical component of bone, muscle, and feather growth in young wild turkeys,” adds Moore.

The yin and yang of a severe winter in the Pacific Northwest may keep some from hunting turkeys while others will find success. My advice is that there’s never a better time than the present to pursue these handsome birds.

A spring gobbler searches through the grass for other turkeys while listening carefully for hens and keeping an eye out for danger. (Troy Rodakowsk)

Over the years I have made plenty of mistakes and learned some valuable lessons when hunting turkeys. Here are a few tips of what not to do on opening day to help you be a more successful turkey hunter.

1.) Don’t expect to pull into a place that you have seen turkeys and find them in the same location during season. This has happened to me a few times and is a lot like going to a job interview without your resume. Locating a prospective spot, not taking the time to scout it out and still hoping for positive results just doesn’t work. Unfortunately, most of us have been in this position at least once, had a lack of time to spend in the woods prior to season and hurried out on opening day only to find disappointment. The lesson here is get out before season, get out often, scout and you will be rewarded with more birds for the freezer.

2.) If you hear a gobble don’t get excited and over call. Hunters need to remember that it is natural for a hen to go seek out a tom. We as hunters are trying to convince these birds the opposite of what comes naturally to them. When first encountering a bird I like to gently test him out with just some light yelps and purring. If he doesn’t respond then hit him with a couple cutts and cackles to see if he will shock gobble.

I like to mimic what a hen is saying. If she yelps at you yelp right back with the same tone and cadence. If she cackles and cutts make sure to do it right back at her, make her mad, you are there to steal that gobbler from her.

3.) After a long morning, find a tree, take a short nap, get a bite to eat, drink some water and relax. I have harvested countless birds in the afternoon and just prior to sunset. Many hunters get frustrated and call it a day after hiking a few miles without hearing any gobbles or even seeing a bird. Remember, most of the breeding occurs in the morning within the first few hours after fly down. Gobblers urge to breed and their potency is higher during the morning hours and they will usually, try to locate a receptive hen immediately after fly down. Afternoon hunts are great because many of the hens will return to their established nesting sites to lay and incubate eggs. This leaves Mr. Tom lonely and in search for any hens that are still wandering about and feeding.

Gobblers are smart. Getting one to make a mistake isn’t always easy. (Troy Rodakowski)

4.) Be prepared to cover lots of ground. Nesting hens usually stay within a radius of 1 mile spending the day feeding, laying and sitting on eggs. Gobblers on the other hand can cover ground often times wandering up to 2 miles from their roosting site looking for receptive hens. Hearing a gobble over a ridge doesn’t mean you will find that bird in the original location that he sounded off from. I remember one year I contacted a bird and ended up killing him 3 miles from where I had first heard him. Wear good base layer clothing and plan on sweating a little.

5.) When hunting from a blind make sure to know what stage of the breeding cycle the birds are in. Don’t “over –do” your decoy spread and make sure not to over call. Larger breeding groups of turkeys and birds at fly down are very vocal but solo gobblers are not always keen to radical calling techniques. Infrequent calling and silence can be exactly what a bird is looking for as it stirs their curiosity and seems more natural especially later in the day when birds are a somewhat less vocal.

Troy Rodakowski is an award winning outdoor writer based out of Western Oregon.

The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle