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Clay Hudnall | 2.24.2020

Locating Opening Day Toms with Clay Hudnall

  • Environment: Subalpine

In our pursuit to design and build the world’s most technical hunting apparel, we’ve surrounded ourselves with some of the world’s most skilled hunters – hunters like turkey fanatic Clay Hudnall. As the season approaches, use the following list of tips and tactics to get close this spring.
Pre-season scouting for turkey.
Photo: Dawson Rasmusson

Pre-Season Scouting

Prior to opening day, I like to get out to scout and see if any of the farms I'm hunting hold birds with repeatable habits. I look at this stage of preparation as doing my homework so I am equipped with useful knowledge for the hunt. This approach takes me multiple days over the course of a couple of weeks. I'll start by having a general idea of where birds are roosting. Then the next visit I try to get a little closer. The goal is to eventually get in tight enough to see if the birds have a roost tree that they frequent. Once I establish where birds are roosting, I glass them while on the fringes of their travel routes to get a solid understanding of their behavior after they hit the ground. During this step, I ask myself questions like:

  • Do they go the same direction or take the same path each morning?

  • Do they head to a strut zone?

  • What type of terrain are they heading towards after they roost?

If I find a bird that carries out a consistent pattern each day, I can dissect my tactics before the hunt and decide how I’d like to set up on him once opening day arrives. Ideally, I will find a way to set up in thicker timber. In this environment, the bird will be hunting for you with his limited visibility instead of hanging up at too far a distance. For this reason, I always choose to hunt one bird that I can pattern over five birds that I cannot. I also like this approach, because it allows me to build my excitement and anticipation while going into the woods to actively improve the likelihood of my success.

Locating toms with a canada goose call.Photo: Dustin Lutt

Locator Tactic: Canada Goose

A locator call that I have found success using is a Canadian goose call. We have a solid amount of local geese in our area and I frequently hear gobblers respond to geese naturally. This made using a goose call a no-brainer for me. With the loud, sharp crack it creates, the sound can carry much farther and penetrate the thick timber more effectively than an owl or crow call. I've found it to be most effective the evening before my hunt or before daylight if I'm not 100% certain on where a bird is roosted. If I can get a bird to respond, this allows me to either have a good idea of where I need to be in the morning or cut the distance from the truck to where he is before it gets too light.
Scouting for toms.

Last Resort Locator

Another unconventional tool I use to locate turkeys is an air horn. Usually, I use this approach when I'm hunting an area I'm not familiar with or a farm I haven't been to in a while. I do this because when I haven’t had time to scout birds, this sound will undoubtedly trigger a shock gobble, even if the bird is a long way off. For me, this is the last resort for roosting birds, but I've had it work many times. The secret to pinpointing the response is to have a second person by your side. If you do get a response, it will be a true shock gobble and in my experience, you'll only get a response from a bird once, so it’s important that you have a second set of ears.
Full draw on a tom.Photo: Brad Christian

Call Downhill

When possible, I use locator calls from the highest point possible. This allows me to hear better in all directions and at longer distances. Also, this ensures that I am casting a wide net with my sounds and will more accurately gauge the location of gobbles.

Additionally, I like to start my days from the high ground because toms will more readily walk uphill than downhill. Turkeys’ knees bend in the opposite direction of yours, so it’s much easier for them to travel uphill. In my experience, I’ve had far more toms gobble and never close the distance when they are at a higher elevation than me. But if I get on his level or higher, it’s more likely that I’ll call him in.

As midday approaches and a tom won’t respond to a diaphragm or slate call, I switch to a more aggressive yelp with a box call. The volume and sounds are so different from this call, that I've found it to be successful in striking a bird that may not react or be able to hear me from a couple of ridges over with other calls.

Spring is nearly here and I can’t wait to start my process of locating and patterning toms. I hope you found these tips informative and they help you in the woods during the coming months!