Turkey Reaping: Getting Close to Henned up Toms

By Ryan Miloshewski

Turkey hunting has a way of making you think and do things you wouldn’t normally do. I am an aggressive person at heart, so that makes sitting and waiting for a gobbler to come within earshot of my calls somewhat of a challenge at times. This past weekend I was fortunate enough to hunt with a good friend, Caleb Phillippi, on his farm in Pomona, Kansas. The “Nelson Farm,” as it is called, boasts an abundance of turkeys, and toms are not the exception. I knew going in we would have some good action over the two day span. But, to my surprise, on the first morning of the hunt we heard one gobble, and I’m not even sure it was a definite gobble. Maybe I was longing to hear my first gobble of the spring. Nevertheless, the 70 degree, sunny morning that didn’t produce any gobbles had me perplexed, but not discouraged.

A hen came through early on and then a jake silently came into our decoys, beating them with his wing after curiously looking them over. Having never shot a turkey in the spring, Caleb dropped the bird at 20 yards. It was a good start to an otherwise uneventful morning. After tagging the jake and walking a little bit on the property, we decided it was time for a slice of breakfast pizza from the local Casey’s General Store. Upon pulling out of the driveway I noticed two toms, one in full strut, with five or six hens in the south field of his property. We quickly parked and decided to try and set up on them. Soon after parking, a neighbor drove past the field and spooked the toms further back into the Nelson Farm. Caleb said he knew where they were going and we suited up quickly and jogged to a clearing approximately 200 yards from the field they were in.

Caleb's First Bird

Caleb Phillippi with his jake taken on April 12th, 2014.

After sitting down I hit a lost hen call and immediately a series of pleading yelps and cuts arose from the timber in front of us. Suddenly a hen was five yards away, calling feverishly. I just knew she was going to lead her boys right into our laps. But, she moved on and nothing else happened for twenty minutes or so. Finally, a gobble came from the same timber the hen came out of. He was within a hundred yards, but he didn’t seem interested in my calling. Caleb, an aggressive hunter like myself, suggested we sneak into the timber and walk down a trail that connects the clearing we were set up in to the south field the turkeys were initially in. He figured they would be in there, and their sparse calls suggested he was correct. We walked only ten yards down the trail and Caleb stopped. “Strutter!” he whispered with shock. I saw him right after too, and we immediately dropped and hid behind some small pin oak trees. I let out some soft purrs and clucks and he continued to go in and out of strut, but he wasn’t closing the distance.

Finally I saw why—five hens loafed around him as he glistened in the sun. The hens moved to the right into a thicket. As we discussed our next move, I mentioned the “Turkey Reapers” videos on YouTube. These hunters use a full strut decoy to get in close, and I mean close, to toms and shoot them. They crawl across open fields towards strutters with the decoy in front of them, concealing their movements, until they get within range and pull the trigger. Now, I am aggressive, but it just didn’t seem like it would work in my hunting situations. But, with the tom strutting and hanging up, I decided to try it. We didn’t have anything to lose, as this was the first day of the hunt and more toms were surely around. I started out slowly and precisely, shuffling on my knees while avoiding any branches and leaves, all the while holding my decoy (a Primos Jake Mobile full strut jake decoy) in front of my face. I would peer through the holes in the tail fan to try and spot the tom. Suddenly, a hen appeared to my right five yards away. She putted a couple times, but I simply shifted the decoy in her direction and she calmed down and moved on with the other hens, not more than fifteen yards away. Right then I knew this could and probably would work.

A tom is an emotional animal in the spring, and I knew having a young jake come in and steal his girls was not something he’d tolerate. I crawled a few more yards forward and then saw him, 70 yards away at the edge of the south field. I twirled the decoy in front of me and his head instantly turned bright red. He suddenly broke into a sprint, coming right at me. There was a large dip in the terrain in front of me so I knew I wouldn’t see him until he was literally right on top of me. I clicked my safety off and thought to myself “Wow this is going to work!” No sooner than that thought went through my adrenaline filled brain, there he was, in full strut 15 yards away. I took a brief moment to soak all of it in—his shining feathers, his colorful head, and overall size. I’ve never been that close, in that open of a setup, to a strutting tom. It was something to behold. I quickly realized what I was there for and tossed the decoy (in hindsight, I tossed it a little to violently, but passions were high), raised my gun, took aim, and fired. He dropped where he stood and I had just completed a hunt I initially thought was improbable.

In 9 years of hunting turkeys and deer, I can say with 100% truth I have never felt the way I did after I harvested that tom. Adrenaline was pulsating through my body, my heart was in my throat, and joy overcame me. I sat there right after I shot and just took a deep breath, in disbelief, really. I laughed, smiled, and immediately jumped up and ran towards Caleb and we gave each other a giant bear hug. The satisfaction and amazement of the hunt was unlike any other. And that right there is why I turkey hunt every year, and will until I am unable. You just don’t know what’s going to happen when you enter the turkey woods in the pre-dawn darkness. I never thought I’d be crawling on my knees, holding a jake decoy in front of my face, pirouetting it like a puppet master, to shoot a big, Kansas tom. But, it happened, and I can’t help but rejoice in the unpredictability of turkey hunting and its beauty.  I somehow knew this was only the beginning of an incredible weekend. And I was right.

Ryan Miloshewski with his Kansas tom taken while using the "reaping" tactic.

Ryan Miloshewski with his Kansas tom taken while using the “reaping” tactic.

On Sunday, April 13, Caleb and I arrived to the farm knowing the weather was going to be less than ideal with high winds, severe thunderstorm watches, and dropping temperatures. But, like all crazy turkey hunters we were not going to miss out on an opportunity to hunt. We sat in a blind we repositioned until 10:30, with only a hen coming in and a few gobbles in the distance. Yet again, while motoring into the local Casey’s, we turned the corner and saw a big tom strutting for three hens in his neighbor’s field. Caleb has permission to hunt the property, so we knew what the plan was. Get ahead of him and “reap him.”

We quickly went back to his driveway and parked and high-tailed it to the fields. We got to the field they were in and saw nothing. A strip of timber separates that field with a winter wheat field on the other side. We figured they were in the winter wheat. We snuck over to it and sure enough there he was, 200 yards down the field edge strutting. We watched him for ten minutes and he seemed to be going back into the timber to the other field, so we went back.

Suddenly, high winds, lightning and thunder covered the skies above. Fat rain drops pelted us, soaking us to the bone. But, we were already there. After the tom didn’t show, we knew he was still in the other field. So Caleb made a move. He took the Jake Mobile and crawled down the field edge and ducked into the timber 100 yards ahead of the turkeys in the adjacent field. A creek bed runs through the timber so he was able to sneak his way to a distance where the tom would see the decoy. Caleb peeked over the creek bed and saw the hens five yards away, with the tom 100 yards out in the field. He picked the decoy up and moved it back and forth to get the tom’s attention, all the while crouched behind it, gun at the ready. He went into full strut and made a beeline for Caleb and the decoy. Going into full strut, he stopped ten yards away. Meanwhile, rain, thunder, and lightning engulfed the area and winds were whipping. I was sitting back 300 yards away in the woods, pleading to hear a shot soon so we could get back to the truck and out of this weather.

So, with the tom ten yards away, Caleb tossed the decoy and pulled the trigger. I heard the shot and rejoiced and ran to where I thought he would be. Both of us soaked and out of breath, Caleb’s first tom, and number two of the weekend, was down as a victim of the reapin’ tactic.

Once was luck, two times was not. This turkey reaping tactic works. It surely is something we never imagined being legitimate, but I can tell you if you want to get in close to henned up gobblers, and the conditions are right, try this tactic out. You won’t be disappointed.  Based on our experiences, I believe this tactic can be used in the following conditions with a reasonable chance of success: early season, toms are unresponsive to calling, high winds, rain, big, open fields, and there is enough cover to get within 200 yards before crawling.

 

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