Phillip Vanderpool: Scoring After the Rain on Toms

Editor's Note: Phillip Vanderpool from Harrison, Arkansas, a member of Hunter's Specialties' Pro Staff, is an accomplished bowhunter, having taken three Boone and Crockett bucks, as well as several Pope and Young whitetails and numerous turkeys.
John Phillips of Birmingham, Alabama, Joe Byers of Maryland, and I hunted for Rio Grande turkeys with Todd Rogers in Sayre, Oklahoma, this spring. Even though we'd found a place holding a lot of turkeys, there were only two longbeards but numbers of jakes there. I've learned that a region with plenty of jakes and only two longbeards means you need to find another place to hunt.

Rogers took us to a small area of the ranch that hadn't been hunted yet where he knew there were five longbeards. We had a drizzling rain and a heavy fog on the morning we hunted. Because of the fog, the wind, the mist and the rain, I knew we'd get in close to where these turkeys were roosting. I called with an owl call and heard a turkey gobble once. After the turkey gobbled, an owl hooted from a distance, flew in close to where the turkeys were roosting and began calling. We heard all five turkeys gobble back to the hooting owl. Because we knew where the turkeys were holding, we could move in close and set up on the edge of a field below where the turkeys were roosting.

We set up about 125 yards away from the gobblers. I started with really soft tree calls, and the turkeys gobbled back. I used the Hunter's Specialties Voo Deuce Ceramic Call and the new Hunter's Specialties' diaphragm calls made from Infinity Latex. As I started giving those really soft hen tree calls, I had hen turkeys answering back. That's when I started using the mouth call and the slate call at the same time. So, I got the hens really fired-up, and they started calling a lot. I decided that the only way to get the gobblers to come to us was to get the hens to come to us, dragging the gobblers with them.

I called a lot because we were in the middle of breeding season, and the hens had the gobblers close by. I knew that if I couldn't get the hens to come to us, I probably couldn't separate the gobblers from the hens. When the turkeys flew down, the gobbler and his hens came around and walked into a field behind us. The hens were still calling, and the gobbler was still following. The turkeys appeared to be moving away from us, but we held our ground, waited for them and kept on using more than one call to give the impression that a lonesome flock of hens was sitting on the edge of the field. I hoped there was a subdominant gobbler not traveling with the flock that would be able to hear the dominant gobbler and the hens and think another flock of hens wasn't following the dominant gobbler.

A mistake many hunters make is they chase a flock of turkeys and forget there's often more than one gobbler in the area. So, if the flock is moving with the dominant gobbler, and more hens are calling, then the subordinate gobblers may go to the other hens. I believe that if there's one subordinate gobbler that won't move with the flock, and he hears this other group of hens on the edge of the little field, he'll come searching for the hens.

And, that's exactly what happened. This turkey appeared in the fog in front of us. I saw him do a half strut and then start coming straight toward us. I knew then that this was a subordinate gobbler that had slipped away from the main flock and was coming to what he believed was a flock of hens without a gobbler with them. As the tom slipped through the mist and down the edge of the tall grass, I could tell by his spurs that he was 4- or 5-years old. Then the turkey turned sideways, and Phillips took the shot with his Benelli Super Black Eagle, downing the bird quickly and efficiently.

Because the other flock of turkeys was behind us, they heard the shot and began to gobble. As soon as Phillips shot his turkey, I started cutting and calling to possibly get the hens with the other gobbler fired-up, which I did. The flock of turkeys came by Byers, but the weather was so foggy he couldn't see clear enough to find the gobbler and take the shot.

After Phillips shot his turkey, he hesitated for a minute while he heard the turkeys gobble. But he ran across the fog, picked up his turkey and came back to where he was sitting. Luckily, Phillips didn't spook the other flock of turkeys. Byers had been watching the turkeys with his Sightron SIII 10x42 series binoculars. He crawled-up to where we were and said the gobbler was in full strut at the center of the field. I could see the hens and the gobblers with my binoculars and realized they were moving toward the tree line away from us. Too, I saw that we had enough brush cover to circle the field and possibly intercept the gobbler. So, Byers and I made a big circle, stayed in the low spot and got into the tree line directly in front of the hens and the gobbler, but where they couldn't see us. I made a call, the turkey gobbled, and the hens yelped.

Because the turkeys dropped down into a low field we hadn't seen before, I put Byers in front of me and started calling. The turkeys were coming to our left, and Byers knew he wouldn't be able to get the shot. However, he knew the turkeys couldn't see him behind the tree. Byers stood up and moved to where he could see the turkeys when they started coming toward him. When the dominant hen got close to Byers, she either saw him or didn't like the situation and putted a couple of times. I gave a soft cluck and purr on my diaphragm call, and the rest of the hens came toward Byers and went under the fence that blocked off the other pasture. There were also a few jakes in that flock that came under the fence, bringing the gobbler with them. The turkeys were no more than 15 feet from Byers when he squeezed the trigger. But for some reason, the gun didn't fire. Byers thought he had a bad shell, so he jacked it out and put in a new shell, but by the time he was ready to take another shot, the turkeys were leaving.

Every time I hunt, I learn a little bit more than the last time I hunted. Rainy, nasty days always will give you an excuse to stay in camp and not hunt. However, I've hunted so many bad days that I've learned that if you don't stay in camp and do go out and hunt, you can get your job done. The advantage we had that morning was getting a turkey to gobble before first light. That way, we knew exactly where the turkeys were holding. Because of the fog and the misty rain, we were able to move in quickly and quietly to really get in close to the turkeys that were henned-up.

To take a gobbler roosting with hens, get really close to him before you start calling. We were also patient enough to continue to stay on our stand, even after we thought the entire flock had left us. When you have gobblers with hens, call a lot, and sound like a real flock of hens, if you want any chance of getting a gobbler to come to you. Many hunters are afraid to call a lot to turkeys. However, when hens are calling often, you need to call a lot, too.

Everybody wants to call gobblers, but when the gobblers are with hens, you have to call those hens to you. Using two-different tactics, we were able to get two longbeards to come in to us. The first gobbler Phillips took was a subordinate gobbler that snuck into a flock of hens. With Phillips' turkey, we set out Hazel Creek decoys, which are real turkeys that have been freeze-dried and mounted. They're the most-realistic decoys because they were once real turkeys.

Too, Rio Grande turkeys set up roost sites to which they're usually loyal. The cottonwoods they roost in are generally few and far between. Due to the weather - the fog, the mist, the rain and the wind - we could get in close to those roosting turkeys. Even if you don't call when the turkeys fly from the roost, you'll have a 50-50 chance that they'll fly your way. But with the two turkeys we saw, I'm surprised the calling brought in the subordinate gobbler Phillips took and the one Byers had a chance at shooting in the same morning. To call in both gobblers, I listened to the hens and called just like the hens called to me. When I identified the dominant hen, I called more to her and interrupted her calling every time she'd call to me. Hen turkeys are like ladies. They don't like to be interrupted, while they're talking. If you constantly interrupt them with your calling, they'll get angry and come looking for you. When they start coming toward you, they'll pull the rest of the flock and the gobblers with them.

When you're dealing with the dominant hen like we were when calling Byers' turkey, the best way to get the hen to come to you is to talk more than she does as well as interrupt her. I called many times with the Hunter's Specialties Voo Deuce Ceramic Turkey Call. Too, I used Hunter's Specialties "The Master" - mahogany rod with carbon tip. The water and the rain didn't affect that carbon tip like it would a wood tip. Rio Grande turkeys have a little-bit higher pitch than eastern turkeys, and the Voo Deuce Ceramic Call allows me to call somewhat louder. So, using these calls, I made a high-pitched, loud call to override the dominant hen. Between videoing and hunting with a bow and a gun, I probably hunt 180 days a year. I love to turkey hunt, because I like to try and make turkeys come to me. I prefer to be aggressive with the animals and make them do something because of my calling. The calling makes turkey hunting the sport I love so much.

To hunt Rio Grande turkeys in Oklahoma, contact Todd Rogers at Route 4, Box 185-A, Sayre, Oklahoma 73662, or call (580) 799-1920, or email trogers@itlnet.net. Rogers offers a great Rio Grande turkey hunt, delicious food and excellent accommodations.