April 21, 2013

Gobble up some advice from turkey experts

By Dan Ladd

---- — New York’s youth turkey hunting weekend is in play through noon today. The regular spring turkey season opens May 1. To get you primed, this week we’ve got some free advice.

At the New York State Outdoor Writers Association’s (NYSOWA) 2013 Spring Safari, held down in Cortland, three very experienced turkey hunters shared their wisdom in a symposium atmosphere.

Among them was Bill Hollister of Columbia County, a former state wildlife biologist who may have killed one of the first turkeys in the state after re-introduction, and has taken many since. Joining Bill were Wayne Masters, another former state wildlife employee who is currently involved with the popular “Scoutlook” app and, Mike Joyner, a past president of the state chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation and author of two books, including one on turkey hunting.

Here’s what they had to say about turkey hunting’s common points:


Bill: “I used to roost birds the night before, I very seldom do that now. I like to go in early in the morning (45 minutes before legal shooting time) and I’ll get to a high point and I’ll just listen. I think a lot of hunters make the mistake of calling too early. Early in the season I try to get within 125 to 150 yards. Late season I try to get in 75 yards because of the foliage. If there are hens in the area and roosted nearby, that hen is likely to intercept the tom and wander off with him. If I can get a reaction to an owl hoot then I get in and set up, maybe give a tree call, and then I just wait until the bird flies down. I’ll simulate the fly down and I’ll do a fly-down cackle. You can use your cap or clap your hand against your leg.”

Mike: “I like to roost. I like to have every clue that I can have. Even if you don’t get them off the roost, what you learn that first half-hour gives you a clue on what to do around 8 or 9 a.m. Knowing what trees they’re in is a big advantage.”

Wayne: “I like roosting; I like to know where they are. One thing I learned is that I want to be the first hen to call. I’m talking myself, other hens and other hunters. For some crazy reason these toms, your chance for success is better if you are the first one he hears. Somehow he remembers it. So how do you know when to be the first to call? You could say that when you see the first light in the sky? But, a lot of birds start singing in the dark and usually it’s a thrush. When you hear that first thrush, it’s time to make that first soft tree call. If he answers, I may call again, just so he thinks ‘over there.’ Then I shut up. I don’t care if he gobbles 100 times. I don’t do a thing until they fly down.”


Mike: “If you are by yourself and it’s hard to move, go silent. If you can, mimic the hen scratching for food. A lot of hunters think that solving all turkey problems is by calling, calling and calling or changing up the calls. If you just sit there and call and he’s hung up, he hasn’t heard you walk or ruffle their feathers: all the things that hens do. Sometimes a little scratching works, or you can shut down completely. That’s if you are hunting by yourself.”

Bill: “If you are all by yourself and that bird hangs up and you go quiet, sometimes that bird moves up. That’s when you move in and call again.”

Wayne: “Hung up? Shut up. Stop calling.”


Mike: “Most of the setups don’t require a decoy. I find that a lot of times that hens don’t like a decoy.”

Bill: “I don’t use decoys a lot during the early part of the season. I prefer just to call. I’m mostly setting up in the woods but if there is a field close by, I might put out a jake and a hen decoy.”


Bill: “Do some scouting, locate some birds. The most important thing is to have good places to hunt. Call sparingly, get as educated as you can (learn to call), learn the natural habits of birds.”

Mike: “Trust what you know, in terms of scouting. Minimal calling: only call as much as you need to. It’s not a sports show. Pattern your gun and know what your weapon does.”

Wayne: “Understand that setup is far more important than how you call. Learn everything you can about it.”

Dan Ladd is the author of “Deer Hunting in the Adirondacks,” outdoors editor for the Glens Falls Chronicle, columnist for Outdoors Magazine and contributor to New York Outdoor News. Contact him at