Ten O’clock Toms- What to do after your pre dawn set up strikes out

By Chris Larsen

Our first setup of the day struck out. The birds we roosted the night before put on quite a show but just wouldn’t move within range. That didn’t matter now. As I hunkered down on the side of a ridge, five red-headed gobblers ran down the opposite ridge as if they were on a string. They were on a direct course for a rendezvous with my hen decoy at the bottom of the draw. As I scanned the hillside for the biggest bird, I mounted my gun and prepared for a shot. Out of the corner of my eye, another tom appeared from the opposite side of the valley. This bird was in full strut with his tail feathers fully fanned. I placed the crosshairs just below his head and dropped the hammer on him. A superb hunt came to an end at around 10:30 in the morning.

This hunt was atypical of most turkey hunts. The vast majority of gobblers are shot within an hour of the opening bell within a hundred yards or so of their roost tree. Roosting a bird the night before a hunt may be the most effective way to bag a turkey. But as the saying goes, “roosted ain’t roasted”. Sure, many of those roosted birds fall to the blast of a shotgun or the release of an arrow. But often times our calls and decoys can’t coax a bird within range and hunters are left scratching their heads and wondering, “what happened?”

What happened could require a long explanation. Perhaps the bird was spooked as you approached his roost through the dark woods. Maybe he decided to bypass your foam hen for the real thing. The gobbler could have seen you while you were fumbling for your gun. Or he just decided to take a different route to wherever that turkey goes during the day. The good news is, all is not lost. Don’t pack up. Pack in.

Here in Wisconsin, deer season traditionally closes the weekend after Thanksgiving. Any self-respecting deer hunter with an unfilled tag is hunting on Thanksgiving day. This is THE day to stay in your stand all day. As everyone heads back home for a turkey dinner, they bump the deer around and anyone staying put reaps the benefits of deer on the move. What does this have to do with spring turkey hunting? As other turkey hunters call it a day, they too will bump birds. These birds are looking for a new, safe feeding spot or possibly a girlfriend. If you’re still hunting, you’ll have an opportunity.

The phrase “henned up” is often used to describe early morning gobblers who won’t commit. Use this to your advantage. After an hour of feeding hens head for their nest. This leaves gobblers lonely, competitive, and susceptible to calling. This time period is, in my opinion, the best time to get the call out. Even if you don’t see or hear birds in your area, call every ten minutes. Use a series of cuts and yelps to sound like an inviting hen. I never heard my ten o’clock toms until they were within 80 yards of my decoys. My hunting partner was in a distant field and saw the five toms run across an agricultural field before disappearing into the hardwoods on the ridge I was hunting. He saw them come out of the woods an honest 500 yards from my location. The bird I shot zoomed right past his location to me. These gobblers came along way without making a peep. Probing calls paid off for me and they can for you too.

Hunting late morning can be enjoyable and productive. If your morning roost hunt falls through, keep at it. If you’ve been hunting for a few days in a row, sometimes it’s nice to sleep in. Going into the woods with a refreshed mind and body can only help. While roosting birds is a great way to fill a tag, it’s not the only way. Have fun out there.