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Use the Buddy System to Harvest Spring Gobblers

By Gerald Almy

Instead of trying to compete with your hunting friends to see who can bag the first or heaviest gobbler, try this approach: team up with them. Often two hunters working with a plan can outwit a Virginia tom easier than a single hunter going it alone.

Here are several strategies for working together with a partner or two to harvest a spring turkey.

Caller and Hunter Stay Together

When I was a young outdoor writer and fairly new to turkey hunting, I was fortunate to tag along with some true experts such as Rob Keck, Jim Clay, Will Primos, Eddie Salter, and Kelly Cooper. It was only natural that these pros would do the calling. Several of them were multi-time World Champions and owned their own call companies.

One of the first teamwork tactics we used then was for the expert to sit on one side of a large-girthed tree and me at a 90-degree angle or even on the total opposite side. Often toms will come in from the side or circle around. With this method, two hunters can be ready, and the turkey can be taken by the one who gets the best chance in any direction for virtually 360-degree coverage.

This close-together two-man method is the best tactic for young hunters when you want to coach them on what to do as the bird is bearing down. The implementation of a special Youth and Apprentice Turkey Hunting Weekend in Virginia makes this an especially appealing tactic. The two-day season is designed to allow an adult to accompany a young hunter and give them an early crack at spring gobblers before they become educated and call-shy. This ups the odds for success and encourages young people to become lifelong turkey hunters.

The adult on Youth and Apprentice Weekend cannot carry a gun and hunt in this situation, so all his or her efforts are directed towards calling, coaching, and helping the young hunter fill their tag with whispered advice. Other than this special two-day season, though, both hunters on each side of the tree they are set up against can have a chance, depending on which way the turkey comes in from.

Caller and Hunter Separated, Only One Shooter

Another plan calls for the shooter to sit 20-50 yards farther out toward the gobbling bird. The hunter in front should have some experience and know when to take the shot, and when it’s safe to move his gun along with making other key decisions in the final moments as the bird comes in.

Because of that you shouldn’t put a hunter on his first or second turkey hunt out in front and expect them to know exactly how to behave to successfully bag an incoming bird. As all experienced hunters know, spring gobbler hunting has a steep learning curve—judging distance, knowing when to move, when to raise the gun, when to take the shot, etc. Don’t put that weight on the shoulders of a beginner.

Caller and Forward Hunter, Both Shooters

An alternative to this approach is to have the person doing the calling 20-50 yards behind the front hunter also carry a shotgun. If the bird circles around wide, and it’s clear the lead hunter won’t get a chance, the caller can shoot the tom off to the side, safely away from the lead hunter’s location.

It’s important that both hunters stay in their positions with this approach, for safety’s sake, and know where their clear shooting lanes are. A good safety step is to place an orange ribbon around the tree the lead hunter sets up at, so the caller will remember his exact location. Both hunters should carry a range finder and check the distance of several objects that the turkey might come in near so they’ll know when the gobbler is in range.

In most cases, the hunter in front should not call. But if a tom is slightly hidden by brush or starts to stray off course out of range the judicious use of a cluck or purr from him is often enough to get the bird to step into the clear for a shot.

An image of a male turkey

Working together can bring a tom out into the open. Photo by Gerald Almy

Surround a Tom

Still a different situation where two or more hunters can effectively work together is when they locate a roosted tom that is known to fly down to two or even three totally different areas on different mornings—from scouting or experience on previous hunts. If a solo hunter sets up in one of the bird’s favorite morning spots, it seems the tom almost always sails to one of the other favored areas.

Jim Clay, founder of Perfection Calls, and I used this tactic to work a gobbler that had stumped local hunters for several years. He took a position along a creek where the tom sometimes went for water. Clay had me set up near a close-by wheat field where the turkey would fly down to strut on other days.

Even though Clay is a far superior caller, I was the lucky one that day. The tom came in quickly to my simple, quiet hen talk. The bird that had stumped locals for years sported a 12 ½-inch beard and had long spurs. Teamwork had led to the successful hunt.

Be aware of exactly where your partner is set up, so you will know what areas you can shoot towards and which directions you can’t shoot towards when using this method. In general, though, the two hunters will be out of shotgun range of each other in far different directions when using this strategy.

Mimic a Flock of Hens

Still another approach for using several hunters is to set up 30 or so yards apart and have both hunters call to imitate a flock of hens. The hunters can also use two calls at once to imitate a loud group of birds and really excite nearby toms. This raucous symphony of hen sounds is more than most gobblers can resist. Whoever gets the first good shot opportunity takes the bird. Both hunters should see each other in this setup, removing any safety concerns.

An image of a male turkey and the two hunters that shot it

Working together can result in increased success! Photo by Gerald Almy

This is also a good tactic to use on fields where you might not know exactly where the birds will emerge. Position hunters 100-150 yards apart and know each other’s locations before starting to call. A few hen imitations and one or two jake decoys can be a big help in this case, positioned between the callers but out in the field, or with a few decoys in front of each person

Stationary Hunter, Moving Caller

This teamwork tactic is one champion caller Kelly Cooper showed me. He calls it “float calling.” With this strategy, one hunter sits as close as possible to the located bird while another person behind him does the calling.

What makes this strategy unique is the rear hunter doesn’t stay stationary. He moves back and forth like a real hen would. He can sometimes actually “steer” the bird to the hunter waiting in ambush by moving in different directions and redirecting the tom right into the waiting hunter’s lap if it was veering off out of the shooter’s range.

If the target bird starts to wander off, the caller should scold it with sharp cutting to get it back on course. Sometimes even walking away from the bird and then calling will make it move towards the hunter waiting in ambush. The moving hunter should only call when he stops, not when he’s actually walking, for safety reasons.

Only use this method when you know no other hunters are around. The caller can wear some blaze orange for additional safety, since the bird should not be seeing him at all—just hearing the calls.

Cooper used this “float calling” tactic to steer a big tom right into a clear spot in front of me on a public land hunt recently. The trophy bird sported a thick 11-inch beard and was just shy of 20 pounds.

Loners or purists may balk at sharing the spring woods with a companion or two. To some it’s a solo sport and calling a bird in by oneself is the ultimate way to hunt. But at times two hunters—or even three—can fool toms that would be impossible to take on your own.

And besides, few would deny that it’s great to have a companion along to share the joy of success!

  • April 2, 2022