When Should Turkey Hunters Be More Aggressive?

By Josh HoneycuttApril 12, 2021

Every turkey hunter is a little bit different, especially tactically speaking. Some are devout passive hunters. Others are more aggressive. Regardless, no matter where you stand, there are certain times when a hunt just calls for a little more pep in the step. Here are 10 of those times.

When Should Turkey Hunters Be More Aggressive?
Knowing when to get aggressive can make all the difference in bagging your bird this spring.

When Hens Are Leading the Tom(s) Away

There are few things more infuriating than a promiscuous hen. All you want is to send a load of No. 5s at her feathered boyfriend, and she just wants to have a good time. What’s even more problematic? Multiple hens dragging that tom down Lovers Lane. It’s a good day for him, but a terrible time for you.

The chances of calling that turkey away from those hens are almost nil. Don’t believe me? Think you’re a good enough caller to make it happen? Okay, let’s set the stage. You’re a single guy lounging on the beach with three fine ladies, and each of them keeps displaying googly eyes at you. Your phone rings, and another woman wants you to meet her across town, but she might or might not be what you expect. Do you get up and leave three for one? Not a chance.

The Play: Gobblers might have pea-sized brains, but they aren’t that stupid. So, instead of trying to call that dude away, circle around and get between where the flock is located and where it’s going.

Turkey Calling Tactics With The Turkey Man: Eddie Salter
Hens are to blame for more gobblers walking away than most any other factor.

When the Property Line Gets Too Close for Comfort

Those who hunt small properties are all too familiar with property lines. You tail a bird all day long, just to eventually watch it cross to a neighboring tract of land. Chances are good it’s happened more than once.

The Play: Don’t wait for that to happen again, especially if a specific gobbler has a habit (pattern) of doing this. It pays to be where turkeys already want to go. Next time, instead of tailing that bird throughout the hunt, circle wide and set up between it and the line. (Just use an app, such as HuntStand, to help ensure you stay on your side of the property boundary.) Then, resume calling, or simply wait for the bird to walk into range.

When a Predator Is Spotted in the Area

Bobcats, coyotes and other toothy critters are good at ending hunts, at least temporarily. They might not get your bird, but can surely cause them to shut up or run off. So, if you see a predator pass through, and the turkey hasn’t caught on just yet, it’s only a matter of time before it does.

The Play: If the turkey is out of sight, get up and run off the predator. Do your best to run it away from the turkey, and not toward it. If this isn’t possible, you have two options. First, quit calling in hopes the bird will stop gobbling and the lurking invader won’t go toward it. Or, second, kick the hunt into overdrive and try to get the bird on the ground before it catches wind of the unwanted third wheel.

small tasks - coyote looking
Sometimes beating the predators can be just as tough as beating the birds.

When the Gobblers Are Hot to Trot

You have to love it when a bird has a case of the loud lips. If a gobbler is hot, who are you to stop telling it what it wants to hear?

The Play: Regardless of whether it’s the yelp, cackle, cluck or cutt that turns its crank, keep sending it. If it gobbles, immediately follow up with another volley of sweet talk. Keep the conversation going. Don’t let it go cold.

This does come with a caveat, though. If the gobbler insists on incessant gobbling, but won’t give up any ground, quit calling. Oftentimes, this will send the bird into a panic thinking that the hen has left. That alone can sometimes cause it to break and commit.

The second caveat is on public land and shared private ground. Getting a gobbler too hot can attract other hunters, and even predators, as previously mentioned.

When the Big Strutter Hangs Up

It happens every season — a girthy-bearded bird hangs up. Sometimes they hold up along barriers, such as fences, ditches, creeks, etc. Other times, they hit one of their preferred strut zones and scream at you to close the gap. Regardless, it’s bittersweet torture to see it standing there in all its glory, and nothing to do about it except take mental pictures to reflect on.

The Play: For those hunting on private lands where they are CERTAIN no other hunters are nearby, it might not hurt to put out a full-strut decoy. Just wait for the bird to work out of sight. Then, stake a strutter deke with a hen decoy. Wait to see if that jars the ol’ boy out of his strut zone. Of course, never use this tactic on public lands, shared private property, near property lines, in thick cover, or in any other high-risk setting or situation.

strutting longbeard
What do you do when he hangs up and holds his ground? Get aggressive!

When the Wind Starts Whipping

When there isn’t much wind, it’s hard to move without getting spotted by game. This is especially true for wild turkeys, which have incredible eyesight. Fortunately, when the wind picks up, it gets a little easier to use the run-and-gun tactic.

The Play: Get mobile, and get loud with your calling. Start cruising. Take a few steps and then stop. Go slowly, and scan the landscape for signs of birds. Use optics to look for birds. Call every 50 yards or so, but do so loudly, as it’ll be harder to cut through the wind. Use a box call when possible for extra volume.

When the Turkeys Wad Up

Sometimes, if birds aren’t feeling it, they shut up and wad up. This is pretty common when temperatures drop down, or when experiencing undesirable weather, such as rain or snow. There really isn’t an opportunity here to call or decoy birds in.

The Play: The flock will probably be moving pretty slow. Still, glass it long enough to get a general movement direction. Then, do your best to slip around to get into position on those birds. Use the terrain to your advantage to maneuver into place.

When the Passive Approach Isn’t Working

It’s been a long day, week, or even season. You’ve been the passive hunter and taken the reserved route. That’s fine, and is even advisable in most cases. But there comes a time when a hunter has to let off the brakes and tack out the odometer.

The Play: Whatever you’ve been trying up until this point, do the opposite. Been setting up 150 yards from the roost? Close in to 75 yards the next time. Been keeping the calling confined to subtle vocalizations? Cut that thing loose. Not using decoys in fear of spooking birds? Put every decoy in your shed out there. The common theme — shake things up, get things done.

When Should Turkey Hunters Be More Aggressive?
A time comes when the passive approach is no longer the best option.

When You Get Really Bored

Turkey hunting is supposed to be fun. If you’re getting bored by running the passive plays, get more aggressive. Sure, you’ll spook a turkey or two. You might even blow a hunt. But at least you’re putting yourself in the game. Up until now, you haven’t even been in it.

The Play: Try whatever play you’ve been wanting to run, but haven’t yet. Maybe you’ve never deployed the run-and-gun play. Try it. Perhaps you’ve only hunted mornings, and would like to try an afternoon hunt (where legal). Give it a go. Just have fun with it.

When It’s the Bottom of the 9th

Turkey season feels even shorter than it actually is. Because of this, there always seems to be more than enough tags to fill, especially for those who hunt numerous states. You can take it down to the wire and still have one or two in your pocket.

The Play: It’s the last day of your turkey season. Think back to all that you’ve learned this year, and in seasons past. Think about how turkeys used the property. Scan your brain for tactical approaches that can take advantage of such movements. Compile all of that into a great, last-minute, aggressive game plan.

Knowing when to walk and when to run is part of the process of becoming a deadly turkey hunter. Keep the items mentioned above in mind as  you transition from a passive to aggressive approach this season. 

Josh Honeycutt
Josh Honeycutt is an avid deer hunter. He's hunted whitetails from South Carolina to South Dakota but spends most of his time hunting in Kentucky. Honeycutt has written and created other forms of media for more than 60 media companies in the outdoor industry, including: North American Whitetail, Whitetail Journal, Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Deer & Deer Hunting, Rack Magazine, Inside Archery, Game & Fish, Fur-Fish-Game, and others. He's also very active in digital content, specializing in writing, editing, photography, videography, podcasting, and more. You can see how his deer season unfolds each year on Midwest Whitetail and Chasing November.
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