John's Journal...


Toms That Vanish

Click to enlargeEDITOR'S NOTE: Have you ever scouted for turkeys before the season on public lands and heard plenty of toms talking to the timber, but then when you've returned to those same woods two weeks after turkey season opens, you don't hear a sound? This week we'll look at the best ways to hunt high-pressured, public-land gobblers, especially the ones that become silent.

Although you can search for those gobblers as much as you want, you may not find any sign of them during hunting season. However, probably the next year, you'll hear and see plenty of turkeys in those same woods. What happens to those gobblers? Do all those toms go home in the backs of hunters' pick-up trucks? Or, do these birds leave the property? How can you locate these disappearing birds on public lands, and how can you hunt them? We contacted Mitchell Marks of Cherokee, Alabama, a wildlife biologist at Freedom Hill's Wildlife Management Area in Click to enlargeColbert County, Alabama. Marks, an avid turkey hunter and a longtime hunting-club member, has discovered that after the first few days of turkey season on public lands, many gobblers become call-shy and even seem to vanish.

"A few years ago, I spotted a large flock of about 40
turkeys on our hunting club," Marks explains. "Because our
club kept accurate records, we knew exactly how many gobblers
our hunters had taken during the last season. We also
realized that our members hadn't harvested the majority of
the gobblers in the flock. Still, after about the second
week of hunting season, we didn't even hear a turkey gobble
in the area where we'd seen the big flock." To solve the mystery of the vanishing gobblers, Marks went on a mission. He decided to walk every piece of ground on his hunting lands until he located theClick to enlarge turkeys. Marks didn't believe the turkeys had left the property and felt they had to be there somewhere. "I started walking the entire region and noticed that when I went into the thick-cover places that I'd never hunted before, I spooked gobblers out of that cover," Marks reports. "After I spooked two or three gobblers, I finally realized that the gobblers were holding in this cover, which didn't make sense to me at first. But the more I thought about it, the more I understood that these turkeys had found sanctuary in the thick cover because they knew that no turkey hunter in his right mind would go in there to hunt them."

As Marks studied the turkeys' behavior in more depth, he
reached an astounding conclusion that explained why turkeys
would hold in heavy cover during hunting season. For many
years, hunters believed that turkeys avoided thick cover
because of their susceptibility to bobcats, coyotes, foxes
and free-roaming dogs in that cover -- more so than in the
open woods. However, Marks learned that when turkeys saw and
encountered more two-legged predators in the open woods than
Click to enlarge four-legged predators in the cover, the birds quickly
realized that the thick cover provided more safety for them
than the open woods did. After Marks' discovery, he tested
his theory on the public-hunting areas he managed.

"When I walked the property lines and checked the licenses of turkey hunters, I walked through those thickets where no one was hunting, instead of taking the easiest routes from point to point," notes Marks. "Consistently I spooked gobblers out of those thick-cover spots late in the season. From these experiences, I learned that the gobblers didn't vanish or leave their home ranges - even when hunting pressure intensified. They simply moved into heavy cover where most hunters wouldn't hunt."


Check back each day this week for more about HUNTING HIGH-PRESSURED PUBLIC-LAND GOBBLERS

Day 1 - Toms That Vanish
Day 2 - Proof of a Theory
Day 3 - Techniques for Hunting Silent Gobblers
Day 4 - Late-Season Hunting
Day 5 - A Warning to the Silent Gobbler Turkey Hunter


Entry 290, Day 1