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

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

 

World Champion Elk Callers Crowned in Vegas

RENO, Nev.-Elk callers from nine states and one Canadian province have earned Top 3 honors in the RMEF/Leupold World Elk Calling Championships for 2011.

Competition was held as part of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation's annual Elk Camp & Hunting, Fishing and Outdoor Expo, which ended March 6 in Reno, Nev. The event helps raise awareness of elk, habitat and the conservation initiatives of RMEF.

Results:

Professional Division
1. Corey Jacobsen, Boise, Ida.
2. Joel Turner, Eatonville, Wash.
3. Audrey McQueen, Eagar, Ariz.

Men's Division
1. Dirk Durham, Moscow, Ida.
2. Gary Nemetchek, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
3. Dustin Howard, Friday Harbor, Wash.

Women's Division
1. Misty Jacobsen, Priest River, Ida.
2. Amy Morris, Payson, Utah
3. Jessie Coy, Cody, Wyo.

Natural Voice Division
1. Michael Hatten, Elko, Nev.
2. Remi Warren, Reno, Nev.
3. Sheila Veerkamp, Victor, Mont.

Youth Division
1. Greg Hubbell Jr., Belmont, Calif.
2. Brayden Langley, McMinnville, Ore.
3. Russell Nemetchek, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Pee Wee Division
1. Colton Crawford, McMinnville, Ore.
2. William Card, Fallon, Nev.
3. Tucker Rash, Fallon, Nev.

In the competition, amateur-level callers have 30 seconds to mimic cow elk sounds, followed by bull sounds. Professionals are required to make specific calls such as barks, whistles and screaming bugles. Most callers blow across a latex reed placed inside the mouth. In the natural voice division, however, no reeds are allowed. A variety of plastic tubes are used like megaphones, giving the sounds realistic resonance. Judges score each competitor anonymously.

Winners received prizes and cash ranging from $500 to $2,500.

Prize sponsors included Leupold, Block Fusion, Cabela's, Horn Hunter Packs, Hoyt, Kershaw Knives, Montana Decoy, Montana Silversmiths, New Archery Products (NAP), Remington, Schnee's and Traditions Performance Firearms.

Leupold, America's Optics Authority™, has been a title sponsor of the competition for three years, as well as a longtime supporter of RMEF's work to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife and their habitat.

About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Snowy peaks, dark timber basins and grassy meadows. RMEF is leading an elk country initiative that has conserved or enhanced habitat on over 5.9 million acres-a land area equivalent to a swath three miles wide and stretching along the entire Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico. RMEF also works to open, secure and improve public access for hunting, fishing and other recreation. Get involved atwww.rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.
Contact:
Steve Wagner, Blue Heron Communications, 800-654-3766 or steve@blueheroncomm.com

Setting up the J-Hook Decoy Spread

You'd think a bird with a brain the size of a tomato seed would find it's way into the decoys no matter how they are arranged, but as we all know that's seldom the case. Ol' "bird brain" isn't as gullible as you'd think. Here's some tips from frequent Outdoor Line guest Robert Strong, owner of Ruckus Outfitters and state duck calling champion, on how to set up your next decoy spread for a successful hunt.  

The "J" spread that's been around for decades is Strong's go-to setup early in the season. "If the wind is blowing right to left I'll pack the right side of the dekes pretty tight and set up my kill zone right in front of the blind at about 25 yards. I'll put a long string of decoys at around 40 yards to form the long leg of my "J" and that tends to funnel them towards the blind. Once they hit the tight group of dekes they'll generally throw down the landing gear and try to settle in front of the blind," he says about his decoy arrangement.

Hen mallards are usually the ones doing the majority of the talking and Strong will place two or three hen mallard decoys right in front of the blind so that his calling seems more natural. He also likes to direct his calling down towards the decoys instead of up towards the sky as much as possible. "When I do this it sounds like the decoys are talking and not the blind," says Strong.

The most important part of tricking ducks into the decoys is to impart some motion. He used to employ the Winduk religiously, but really likes a new decoy called the Knotty Duck that allows hunters to start and stop the flapping wings by pulling on a string. Once the action is stopped the mechanical wings automatically fall back into place with the dark side of the wing blade facing up.

Strong also likes to have a jerk string on at least one decoy in the spread to make things look even more natural. He'll designate the jerk string to the second hunter in the blind and he'll concentrate on calling and manipulating the Knotty Duck to bring'em around and into the landing zone.

As the season carries on and ducks have been hunted over for a few months Strong will usually go with the "less is more" philosophy. "The more dekes you have later in the season the more reason you have for them to find something wrong and flare away. The birds get wary of four to six dozen deke spreads after looking at them all winter and will usually respond better to a really small spread of only four to eight decoys.     

Get some duck calling tips from Robert Strong in this Outdoor Line podcast:

 

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com