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Gathering a wealth of expert knowledge for turkey hunters


While attending a New York State Outdoor Writers’ gathering in Cortland this past weekend, I had the opportunity to listen to a panel of experts discuss wild turkey hunting. Those experts were Bill Hollister, Wayne Masters, and Mike Joyner, and the three have more than 100 years of turkey hunting experience among them.

Bill Hollister of Valatie has won numerous awards for his articles and photographs on wild turkeys. Wayne Masters of Tully operates The Deer Lick Guide Service that offers both spring and fall turkey hunts. Mike Joyner of McGraw has written two books on turkey hunting and served as New York State President of National Wild Turkey Federation.

Today’s column looks at what the experts had to say about six topics related to hunting spring turkeys.

Inexperienced Hunters

As to what three things he would tell an inexperienced hunter, Hollister responded, “Go with an experienced hunter; learn the natural habits of birds and do some scouting to pattern birds; and call sparingly.”

Joyner said, “Trust what you know from scouting, and don’t get impatient in the woods and change your tactics. Only call as much as you need to. Be sure to pattern your gun because I’ve seen too many people miss birds because the guys didn’t know their guns.”

Masters answered, “The set-up is more important than calling; be sure to get above or at the same level as the birds. Learn everything you can about the turkey and its behaviors. Don’t make mistakes because the birds will pick up instantly on your errors.”

Hunting Public Lands

When asked whether or not public land was worth hunting, Hollister said, “There is a lack of public land in my area so I generally hunt private land.”

Masters commented, “It is a total myth that public lands are over-hunted any more than private lands are.”

Joyner replied, “Many hunters are lazy and only work the easy areas. This actually pushes the game back into certain areas which makes for better hunting for those who are willing to put in the effort.”

Effect of Spring Weather

As to how this spring’s strange weather has affected wild turkeys, Masters replied, “I don’t really think the weather has changed anything except that we have a higher leaf-out.”

Hollister said, “I agree. The toms seem to be with the hens, and that is typical of the early season.”

Joyner commented, “Because of the warm weather, we may be slightly ahead of schedule.”

Dealing with Henned-up Birds

Regarding the issue of dealing with “henned-up” birds, Joyner said that he liked to put a feature between himself and the birds. “By having a slight rise out in front of me, the birds are in range when they come over that rise, and they don’t have the opportunity to see that something is wrong. You have to be careful with decoys because decoys can educate birds.”

Masters replied, “I’ll leave those birds alone for two weeks and go hunt somewhere else. Regarding the use of decoys, I hate them.”

Hollister noted that he didn’t use decoys in the early season because he preferred to try to call in the birds. He added, “Sometimes I’ll challenge the hens to get the group to come in.”

Dealing with Hung-up Toms

When asked about how he deals with birds that hang up, Joyner answered, “I go silent with my calling, and I do some scratching or make other natural sounds that birds make. If I have a partner, the shooter becomes the point man while the caller retreats.”

Hollister said, “If the bird moves away, I move in cautiously, but remember that patience and persistence kill more birds than does calling.”

Masters said that he lived by the slogan, “If the bird is hung up, I shut up.”

Ideal Morning Hunt

Questioned as to what an ideal morning hunt was like, Hollister answered, “I seldom roost birds in the evening. I just like to get to a high point when it’s still dark and listen. Then I set up higher than the gobbling bird. I might try a fly-down cackle, but I’ll use my hat to make a flapping wing sound. I’ll do a little calling.”

Joyner replied, “I roost birds the night before even though getting responses is less productive than it used to be. I don’t call when birds are on the roost, and I just do whatever calling is necessary to bring the birds in.”

Masters said, “I like to roost birds, too. In the morning I’ll make soft tree yelps or tree clucks while it’s still dark because I believe the tom goes to the first hen he hears, and I want to be that first hen.”


Monday: Lisbon Sportsmen’s Club Hosts Trap and Skeet Shooting at Pray Road Property at 5:30 P.M.

Thursday: Lisbon Sportsmen’s Club Meets at Public Library at 6:30 P.M.

May 21: Public Comment Period on Five-Year Deer Management Plan Closes.

May 21: Lisbon Sportsmen’s Club Hosts Trap and Skeet Shooting at Pray Road Property at 5:30 P.M.

May 22: SLC Fish Advisory Board Meets at Canton Boces at 7 p.m.

May 26: Cape Vincent Chamber Hosts Spring Fishing Derby (654-2481).

May 31: Spring Turkey Season Closes.

June 2-3: Hendrickson Hatch Fly Fishing Tournament on Salmon River in Malone (

June 23-24: Free Fishing Days in New York State.

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