May 02, 2023
By Clint Casper
Most successful turkey hunters have preferred tactics and times of day they rely on to get their gobblers year after year. Some prefer to focus on killing a bird right off of the roost at the crack of dawn. Others like to wait until mid-morning, when there is less competition from other hunters and toms are less likely to be locked up with hens. And then you have the evening hunters who rely on observational data to form patterns, revealing where gobblers should be as they make their way back to the roost.
To be sure, all of these strategies can be effective on a given day, but have you ever considered how many more tags you could have filled over the years if your bag of turkey tricks included plans for any scenario at any time of day? Over the years, I have been fortunate to hunt turkeys all over America in many different habitats. This has forced me to think outside the box and to adapt. Last year, I took three bow birds in three different states in three different scenarios. This was only possible because of my knowledge gained over the years, through trials and tribulations, bowhunting turkeys in virtually every possible situation.
Kansas — Off the Roost
My best friend Ryan Bertsch and I travel each spring to hunt public-land longbeards in Kansas and Nebraska. Ryan and I have put boots on the ground on a ton of different public parcels, and I call tell you no two are the same! Last year, we decided to hunt an area Ryan discovered toward the end of his 2021 hunt. It was a small property but had a ton of great roosting trees and a big, oak-covered creek bottom perfect for off-the-roost action!
The first evening we arrived, we went and listened for birds and quickly realized they were roosting very close to where they had been the previous spring. With no ag fields on the property, we knew we’d have to kill a tom right off of the roost, before he followed his hens to the grain fields on adjacent private properties. My plan was to get into the oak bottom well before daylight and set up about 200 yards from the roost trees, placing myself between the turkeys and their preferred feeding area.
In my opinion, henned-up longbeards right off the roost are some of the hardest birds to bowhunt! The hens make or break the game, and in my experience you’ll have the most consistent success by cutting off the flock and calling sparingly. My experience says that too much calling to hens early in the day results in those hens changing directions and taking your tom elsewhere, away from the “competition!”
Well before sunrise, I found myself sneaking up the creek bottom. In the light from my headlamp I could see a ton of scratching on the ground, which confirmed my belief that this area was being worked by the flock as it made its way to and from the ag fields. I found a cluster of small oaks that would be perfect for kneeling behind and staying hidden. My hope was to shoot a longbeard as he fed past, quartering away, which provides a perfect angle into the vitals. As luck would have it, my plan was about to work perfectly!
Right before sunrise, I heard the first, thundering, gobble, followed by many more from several directions. With plenty of toms and jakes in the area, I knew this morning would provide a ton of action! As the hens started chiming in, I knew flydown would be soon and the game would be on. A few minutes later, I heard the first bird fly down and land about 80 yards to my left. It was a hen, and she immediately started feeding and yelping. Quickly, I moved into a better position, and soon after the rest of the roosted birds flew down and were headed my way. Within a matter of minutes, the whole flock was feeding and walking right past me! With three longbeards present, I planned to shoot the first one that presented an opportunity, and soon two of them were headed my way. As they gobbled and strutted past at 22 yards, I put an arrow through the boiler room of one and watched the gobbler expire in seconds.
On this hunt, I never called a single time, nor did I make a second move. I simply used the knowledge from the night before and put myself in a position to let the flock make the mistake — and that’s exactly what happened! Making the Kansas experience even more memorable, Ryan and I slipped right back in the next day, and at 10 a.m. Ryan called a lone tom into his setup and killed him at 30 yards.
Nebraska — Afternoon Ambush
With two Kansas birds down in two days, it was time to head to Nebraska. Our plan was to scout some new-to-us public lands and cover as much country as we could with our calls and our eyes. By this I mean we would glass fields and pastures looking for turkeys and call blindly into tracts of timber in hopes of firing up a mature tom.
We got into several flocks over the first couple days, but low numbers of toms and high numbers of hens made these flocks extremely hard to hunt. So, we opted to keep searching. On the third day, we stumbled onto a small group of toms all alone in an old pasture on public land. It was already 8 a.m. and we figured these birds had either roosted alone or already separated from the hens they were with at sunrise. This was a perfect scenario, because without any real hens as competition, we had these gobblers all to ourselves! Our plan was to get out in front of them and either call them in or cut them off.
With Ryan being up to bat first, I opted to sit back and glass, or call if needed. Ryan was going to swing way around the group and try to cut them off. Unfortunately, these birds never slowed down and Ryan was never able to get ahead of them. We tried calling them in, but no matter what we threw at them, they would only gobble and never commit to coming. The next day, it was my turn and we had a different strategy in mind.
Based on what we knew from the day before, we were hoping to catch these birds right off the roost and have a decent shot at getting close. But as it often goes, these birds flew off the roost and headed in the exact opposite direction from what we expected. Once we heard them fly down and start working away, we decided not to chase them like we did the previous day. Instead, we opted to let them do their thing all day and hopefully surprise them that afternoon as they worked back toward the roost.
As the afternoon sun hung high in the sky, I made my way down into the cottonwood bottom and got into position along the edge of where these birds had roosted the previous night. Sign was everywhere, and this gave me a ton of confidence. Around 4:30 p.m., I heard a distant gobble coming from the direction the birds had gone in the morning. I nocked an arrow and started ranging objects for reference. Within about 15 minutes, I saw two jakes slowly working down the timbered bottom, scratching for acorns and grubs. I figured the toms would follow, and it wasn’t long before I saw the first of three longbeards headed my way. As if on cue, he went into full strut and put on an amazing show as he worked towards my undetected setup. At 27 yards and in full strut, I sent a SEVR-tipped arrow right through his lungs and watched him tip over!
Ohio — Turf War!
With a successful two-state turkey trip under my belt, I was primed and ready for local longbeard action in my home state of Ohio. The season started slowly, as the gobblers were really henned during the first couple weeks. Day after day, I’d watch 20-30 hens stick with the longbeards for almost the entire day. In Ohio, you can’t hunt afternoons until the last two weeks of the season, so employing my Nebraska strategy was off limits. Given that, I needed to figure out another way to combat the problem of so many hens.
One morning, I took my oldest son Easton out with me and ran into some hens with two jakes and a tom. The hens were being very chatty, so I decided to mimic them, in hopes my calling would make them territorial and create a scenario where they came in looking for the “intruder.” This plan couldn’t have worked any better, as Easton shot his first turkey ever when a lone jake followed the boss hen right into our laps!
After Easton’s success, I decided I would try the same strategy the next day on a different farm. The next morning I was set up well before sunrise, with birds gobbling all around. But, no surprise, there were also a bunch of hens yelping and clucking among the longbeards. I knew right away this would be a perfect scenario to try to call a boss hen, in hopes she would lead a longbeard my way. Slowly, I started mimicking the hens clucking and yelping and soon they started calling back to me very aggressively. The toms were gobbling at both the real hens and my calls. So, I knew they loved this attention and would be fired up once they hit the ground. Soon after sunrise, the first hen flew down and immediately stormed my way. Rapidly clucking and sounding off, I mimicked her sounds as she ran towards my location ready to fight.
Eager to see what all the fuss was about, three more hens, two longbeards and two jakes soon followed. Carefully, I drew my Mathews V3X as the first longbeard walked past at 17 yards. Like the two previous shots, I sent a razor-sharp broadhead through his side and watched him flop. I had only been in the timber for 30 minutes past sunrise.
Consistent turkey-hunting success really boils down to being well-rounded in your abilities and adaptable on the fly. The best turkey hunters I know can kill birds using many techniques and that’s something I strive to emulate. I’m certainly not always successful, but I’m always up for the challenge!