NWTF Cookbook
Turkey on the Roost
Photo by John Higley

This tom is about to fly down from his roost. Where will he go when he lands?

Off the roost

The sunlight is fading quickly when a gobble rings out from a distant stand of pines. It is exactly the sound you’re listening for and means at least one tom turkey should wake up in the morning where you left him tonight. When the tom gobbles again, you smile. It is familiar terrain and you know where you’ll set up in the dark, long before the bats stop flying.

It’s chilly when you park in a wide spot along the farm road, gather your stuff and begin a quarter-mile hike across a newly plowed field with help from the weak beam of a small flashlight. When you feel you can go no farther without risking being seen, you find a place to set up next to a large oak tree and make yourself at home, shivering slightly as you settle in. You are tempted to dig out an owl call and try to make the tom gobble, but you know where he is, so you wait in silence. Instead, you fumble for a diaphragm call and a box call, both of which you’ll use in a little while.

Now you can see your boots and the treetops etched against the sky. It won’t be long, you think, and at that moment the tom sounds off for the first time. You jump as if shocked by a low voltage wire, and realize you’ve been cat napping. But now you’re wide-awake. The tom is in a tall tree in the woods less than 100 yards away and completely unaware of your presence.

It’s just you and him, you think, but you’ve been in similar situations many times before, and you know from experience things don’t always go according to plan. Mentally crossing your fingers, you produce a few subtle mouth call yelps and a cluck or two so the turkey will know you’re there. Not surprisingly, he gobbles back instantly. “Okay big boy, the next move is yours,” you mutter.

The tom gobbles again, and this time you know his feet are on the ground. You yelp with your box call and the feathered Romeo cuts you off with two gobbles that shake you to the core. He’s coming. Quietly you slide a shell into the chamber of your shotgun and rest it on your knees.

Three hour-long minutes go by and you can cut the silence with a knife. You don’t know exactly where the tom is, or if he’s still coming, so you yelp again with the box and put it down. The tom, unseen but close, lets loose again. A slight movement behind a screen of brush catches your eye, and the tom spurts into view scarcely 30 yards away. His head is whitish, red and blue, his feathers flared as he struts. You cluck with your mouth call, causing the tom to stand still and stare in your direction. He never hears the shot or your sigh of relief.

Gobbler from a distance
Photo by John Higley

If a tom refuses to come in right off the roost, don’t give up on him. He may have a change in attitude later in the morning.


Congratulations, you have just completed a textbook, off-the-roost turkey hunt. All your scouting and attention to detail paid off just like it was supposed to, and for the moment you’re on top of the world. But you know it isn’t always so predictable, as there are a variety of things that lead to, or away from, a successful ending to an early morning hunt.

It helps to locate one or more toms the evening before your hunt and to decide right then where you should set up before first light. True, you also can use an owl hooter or some other shock call to locate toms in the dark of early morning, but that is never a sure thing.

Even if you do get a line on a tom, and know approximately where he is, there often is no way of knowing if he’s alone. A tom roosting with, or close to, hens presents special problems. Such a tom may still come to you right off the roost, but usually, even if he taunts you by gobbling at your every call, he will depart with the real hens.

For whatever reason, your fetching impostor may lure the boss tom. And, even if he isn’t the boss, there’s always a chance a quiet subordinate tom that hasn’t quite accepted his lower rung position in the pecking order will sneak in unexpectedly and pay you a visit.

More likely, your best chance will be to back off for a while and commence hunting later in the morning. By that time some of the hens may leave the still-lusty toms behind to attend to their nests, leaving said toms open to your suggestions in a big way. That’s not exactly an off-the-roost scenario, but when you’re toting a late morning tom out of the woods on your shoulder, you won’t care. — John Higley