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M&J Outdoor Communications » Tag-Team Turkeys


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Tag-Team Turkeys

Quick! What do the World Wrestling Federation and turkey hunting have in common?

The answer is - Absolutely nothing; that is, unless you consider that occasionally, both venues pit a pair of individuals against a common, well, foe. True, turkey hunters very seldom go afield dressed in skin-tight black leather shorts with orange flames emblazoned on both hips - Thank goodness for small favors! And also true, few folks with handles like “The Undertaker,” “Cain,” and “Mister Perfect” can be found gently coaxing soft yelps out of a hand-me-down box call.

Still, there does exist that common denominator. That ‘four fists are better than two’ way of thinking. A technique that wrestling fans know as the tag-team, and a very successful strategy on which today’s turkey hunter might want to give some serious thought.
Teams: The good, and the bad

First off, allow me to make something perfectly clear. Ganging up on spring gobblers by no means guarantees success. A pessimistic statement? No, more realistic than pessimistic. This is because, and perhaps understandably so, for each benefit that can come from doubling-up on this year’s spring longbeard, there is also a corresponding pitfall. These negatives are but potential, mind you; however, they certainly do exist.

For instance, and on the positive side, adding a teammate immediately increases your hearing and sight capabilities two-fold. In other words, the team, once set up, now can cover a 300-degree field of vision as opposed to 150. They, too, are theoretically twice as likely to hear and accurately pinpoint a gobbler’s location as is the solitary hunter. Pre-season scouting becomes more efficient and effective with the addition of a teammate as the second member allows for multiple birds to be roosted or additional properties to be reconnoitered. Then there’s the ability to way-lay reluctant birds, those frustrating toms that simply refuse to cross that invisible 75-yard barrier. Too, there’s flock-style calling, increased volume, the ’silent partner’ technique, and on and on.

But lest the picture grow too rosy, let me volley all this positive energy back onto the not-so-positive side of the net. True, two-hunter teams enjoy heightened senses such as sight and hearing; however, these same duos have also increased the likelihood, again two-fold, of creating inopportune and unintentional movement and noise. Finding set-up sites suitable for a two-person team can prove more difficult than locating a tree for one. And then there’s the potential for miscommunication, either verbal or otherwise, with a classic example being the hunter who mistook his partner’s mumbled - “There he is” - for the much less exciting - “Gotta whiz.” Having consumed several mugs of coffee himself, he was relieved to hear of this opportunity to relieve himself and rose to his feet, only to see a rather large gobbler just dropping out of strut some 40 yards away. Needless to say, both were surprised; however, only one ran away. And it wasn’t the coffee drinker, though instantly he thought that might be a very good idea.

Okay, so there’s both good and bad associated with tag-team turkey hunting. The question is - Is there any way to decrease the likelihood of the ‘bad’ while increasing the potential for the ‘good?’ Certainly there is, and in fact, it’s quite elemental - Be a team first. And then practice being a team. Since her first turkey hunt in 1993, my wife and partner, Julie, has been my most frequent spring teammate. And since that first Washington state hunt, and while I’m admittedly not into the numbers game but throw out these figures merely as an example of the success we’ve enjoyed since joining forces, we’ve tagged some 32 gobblers (Spring and Fall seasons), 19 of which were harvested with us seated side by side. I call and she shoots. Or she calls and I shoot. Either way, it really doesn’t matter; what does matter is that we do it as a team. Over the past eight seasons, we’ve developed our own signals, spoken and otherwise. For instance, if in the middle of a calling sequence, she gets up, taps me on the shoulder, and motions for me to follow, I do it. Chances are, she’s seen something or has come to some tactical conclusion that she believes will increase our odds of success. In most cases, there simply isn’t time for me to ask, “But why?” Does it work every time? Certainly not; however, if such tag-team tactics result in a successful harvest only 25 percent of the time, well, I’ll take those odds.

Teamwork and the creation of a one-thought hunting unit isn’t something that happens overnight. Like a good wine, a well-oiled turkey team takes time to age to perfection. But does that mean that two hunters must be joined at the hip for 10-plus years before they can ever hope to successful tag-team a spring gobbler? It might help, logistically speaking, but I don’t believe it’s necessary, thanks to something that I’ll call compensation by proximity, or CP. Sure, it sounds involved, yet all CP means is this - The less familiar you are with your teammate, the closer you sit. Again, back to Julie and me. After eight years, we can be reasonably sure what we’re both going to do, together and as individuals, every time we set up on a gobbling bird. Because of this familiarity, a knowledge that, yes, we’ve learned through time and experience, we feel comfortable sitting beyond earshot of one another. Julie’s oldest son, Adrian, on the other hand, with only three spring seasons under his belt, sits so that I can softly communicate verbally as the set-up unfolds. I do this for two reasons - one, the proximity allows me a bit more control - and immediate verbal control - over the situation. And two, my presence, he says, gives him an added boost of confidence, particularly in those instances to which he as a relative newcomer to the sport hasn’t yet been exposed such as how and when to flow or move with a gobbler. Or when to silently rise, kick the dirt roughly, curse, and go home. I’m good at that.

That all said, the question of how to ‘practice being a team’ arises. Certainly, the more time a team spends in the field, regardless of the species being pursued, the better prepared that team is to work as a single cohesive unit. In fact, and while I almost hate to say it fearing a reprisal for taking the proverbial easy way out, experience in this case is without question the very best of instructors. Truth is, there’s really no way to ‘practice,’ perse, being one-half of a turkey hunting team other than putting in field time. In time - and there’s that word again - two individuals will get a feel, that “I just know” kind of thing, for what they as a team can and should do in any given situation. Until that time, however, it’s really not a bad idea for one member of the team to take what I’ll call a leadership role. When Julie and I began turkey hunting in ‘94, my years of field time earned me the quarterback position when it came to decisions such as where to set up, how to call, and if or when to move. Today, however, with a single-season Grand Slam and the Washington state Mini-Slam (Eastern, Rio Grande, and Merriams) under her hunting belt, Julie sits in as much a leadership role on our team as do I; still, she’s had to earn that position and I’ve had learn to trust in her field decisions. That’s teamwork. Attainable for you? Certainly - with time.

Team locating

Tag-teaming spring gobblers begins in exactly the same manner as does hunting the grand birds mano-a-mano. And that’s with locating one first. Traditionally, the soloist uses some type of locator call, be it an owl hooter, coyote howler, crow call, or what have you, and then hopes to cease his own ruckus in order to hear that of the successfully ’shocked’ tom. It’s an effective method of getting a gobbler to reveal his presence, no question; however, how many times has a faint distant gobble gone unheard simply because the sound of your locator call has overridden the low-volume response? Or what about my favorite, directional confusion? That’s the case in which pinpointing the location of a response becomes difficult or impossible due to any number of variables such as foliage, terrain, wind, or topography. Enter - the tag-team.

On a recent hunt in the Missouri Ozarks, Brad Harris, Lohman Game Calls’ turkey hunting guru, explained tag-team locating this way. “I like a little distance between me and my hunting partner when we’re locating. Maybe 20 yards or so,” says Harris. “There’s no sense in standing on one another. And if it’s windy, I’ll have someone stand downwind, maybe even 50 yards or so. There’ll be lots of times, when it’s windy, when that guy standing downwind will hear a bird that I never would have heard,” he continued. Elemental? Perhaps, but it all boils down to upping the odds in your favor, for as we all know, the best cards are actually in that longbeard’s hand.

And what about this thing, directional confusion? Basically, it’s a matter of four ears allowing for more precise triangulation than might two. In other words, it’s easier and more accurate in many cases to get a ‘fix’ on a gobbling bird’s location when there’s at least three receivers - translation: ears - as opposed to only two. Do these four ears receive and process the directional information quickly and accurately each and every time? Of course not, but then again, what would spring turkey hunting be without those well-known phrases: “Did you hear that?” and “Where’d that come from?”

Tag-team tactics

It should come as no surprise that turkey tactics for two are as numerous and as varied as they are those for the soloist; in fact, there’s no way, given but a mere 2,000 words, to address them all. However, there are a handful of tag-team techniques which, regardless of moniker, form what I’ll call a foundation for success whenever the topic turns to doubling-up in the spring. Among these are.

Double Calling - Double calling is little more than duet played with - surprise - turkey calls. The intent here is to sound like an entire flock of birds. Or better yet, several hens, a couple of jakes, and one big old mean gobbler, or in other words, everything that overzealous two-year-old with the 11-inch beard needs to hear in order to get his dander up to the point of his throwing caution to the wind and coming a’running. Double calling can work well on reluctant or hung-up birds, gobblers with hens (NOTE: Emphasis on the hen talk here), or dominant birds. It’s also a great tactic in the fall as cacophonies of turkey sounds are quite common during this time of year.

The Front-and-back - The old front-and-back is used most often with hung-up toms, those birds that waltz and strut just out of shooting range yet refuse to come even one step closer. Here, one team member - the shooter - stays put while the second - the caller - moves off, depending on the terrain, some 50 to 100 yards away from the bird’s last known location. The idea here, through a decrease in call volume and with some creative directional calling, is to give the impression of an uninterested hen who’s walking away from a potential date. Ideally, the now-rejected gobbler will come to investigate the reason behind the rejection and will, it’s hoped, walk directly into the lap of the non-calling shooter. Due to the quiet nature of the shooter, I’ll often refer to this strategy as “the silent partner.” The difficulty with this tactic rests on the moving caller, who has to time and carry out his or her relocation without being seen.

The End Run - Another one for those hung-up toms; however, this bird likes to yo-yo, coming and going, coming and going, but never wandering within effective shotgun range. Here, the caller stays put while the shooter moves. The key to this technique is for the shooter to relocate to a set-up position within the gobbler’s comfort zone. The edge of this zone has already been established by the bird himself; that is, his just-out-of-range strutting area. Think of his movements as if the ground were the face of a clock. The gobbler moves from 12 o’clock to six o’clock . Then back to 12. Then back to six. All you need to do is wait until he’s at 12, and then move, putting your backside directly on the number six. Now wait. Again, timing is of the utmost importance.

Blinds - Earlier I mentioned the difficulties which can come with trying to find proper seating for a two-hunter team at set-up time. Invariably, someone’s always out of position, extremely uncomfortable, not well-hidden, or a combination of all three, and this makes for a poor - translation: fidgety - situation. Here’s where a blind, semi-permanent or impromptu, really shines. What blinds do, aside from the obvious, is they offer just a bit in the way of margin for error. An inexperienced hunter, for instance, or a wiggler, of which there are many, can, behind the cover offered by a blind and with their teammate’s instruction, stay in position as long as necessary despite , and here’s the key, their unending rendition of The Seven Basic Gymnastic Movements. Blinds for two need not be elaborate; in fact, a simple, very portable stake-style blind can easily be fashioned from half a dozen sections of fiberglass rod - the long whippy flag staffs often seen on bicycles work well - a piece of camouflage netting or burlap, and a dozen Zip-Ties. A snip or two of natural vegetation to break up the two-dimensional look of the fabric, and you’re in business.

Today’s turkey hunter is often portrayed as a solitary individual. A lone wolf, so to speak. Still, there’s so, so much to be said for experimenting, just a bit, with a little of the ‘pack mentality’ when it comes to putting the squeeze on that big spring longbeard. So the next time you get ready to step into the field, slap your favorite hunting partner a hearty ‘high-five’ and get them right into the ring with you because there are few things as exciting and as challenging as tag-teaming old tom.