Sneaky longbeards can appear like ghosts at bayonet range, coming in silently, out of your line of sight. When such a tom has you pinned, don’t get flustered and busted. Resist the urge to swing your gun fast on him because he’ll be airborne or hot footing it out of there before you can deliver. And, your shot pattern at close range is tiny. Instead, try these tactics.
Expect the sneak
Once you begin calling, listen for every little sound. You might hear the footsteps of a silent tom sneaking in, or a soft call. Assume any rustle in the leaves is a stealth-mode tom approaching. The sooner you see him, the more options you’ll have as the hunt plays out. If a tom that has been gobbling to your calls goes silent, don’t assume he has lost interest. Be more vigilant, because crafty old longbeards go silent to sneak in.
Sooner or later a gobbling tom will come to your call from a direction you weren’t expecting. While he is still well out of sight, scoot around the tree to get him in your field of fire and prevent him from getting behind you. But, make sure there are no obstacles for him on this side or he might change direction at the last minute and you’ll be out of position again.
If you have your gun up and only need to move the muzzle two feet or less, do it in slow motion. I mean, so slowly a snail with a limp could pass it. This takes nerves of steel and muscles like rope, but if the tom becomes more alert or gives an alarm putt, you have a second or two to move the bead smoothly to its neck and touch off the shot before the tom scrams.
Another way to beat these change-up toms if they approach on your off side is to learn how to shoot from either shoulder. If you can do so, you have a 240˚ field of fire. Practise before the season so you’ll have another option to keep a tom from getting in so tight you can smell the grasshoppers on his breath.
When to hold still
If it looks like the tom might walk behind a tree or is likely to fan his tail, wait until he commits and his head is out sight, then move your gun to the spot where you expect to see his head re-emerge.
If you’re badly positioned for a shot, let the tom walk out of sight. Then, when he can’t see you, shift your position, mount your gun, and call him back. If he left without being spooked, he may return. Call sparingly. If he doesn’t come back, at least you haven’t spooked him with a wild shot or educated him with your calls.
Use a mouth call
Give one soft cluck when the tom is facing away from you. This may trigger him to fan his tail without letting him lock onto you as the source of the call. Only try this once. Repeated calling will get him looking right at you and he’ll figure out something’s not right.
Originally published in the April 2020 edition of Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine.