Scott Hammond, 31, has been calling and hunting wild turkeys since he was 8. He's bagged about 75 gobblers so far, and tagged out — shot the maximum 5 birds allotted per hunter per year — each of the past 11 years.
Impressive stuff, considering most Lowcountry hunters would be proud to score just one mature bird each year.
Turkey hunting season cranks up March 15 on private lands in the Lowcountry (April 1 on public land), and Hammond plans to be out there at first light. Having just wrapped up pre-season scouting and blind prep on his hunting properties, Hammond took a few minutes last week to share some tips.
When does he hunt?
Hammond wants to be in the woods, ready to go, 30 minutes before daylight, whether he's in a blind or standing on a road listening for gobbles.
“You don't want to be traveling through your property as day is breaking, because those birds are already awake and looking around. You're liable to bump them off the roost,” he said.
“If you bump them off the roost, you're in a bad position to start with. You completely changed everything.”
If Hammond doesn't bag a gobbler early, he'll often hunt all day.
“Leaving the woods by 9 a.m. is a major mistake. I've killed as many birds at 10 or 11 o'clock in the morning and 3 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon as I have any other time of day,” he said.
“The action's not quite as fast and furious and not quite as exciting, but . . . once it gets past 9 or 10 in the morning, most other hunters have left the woods, the hens are sitting on their nests, and that gobbler's lonely. He's much more apt to come to calling.”
What gear does he use?
Hammond wears full camo, of course, including face mask and gloves, and prefers the Mossy Oak Obsession pattern because it's got a lot of light green, so it's good for spring.
He wears no-frills, drab-green Lacrosse Grange rubber boots when hunting turkeys.
Hammond doesn't use pop-up turkey blinds, relying instead on natural blinds built in advance or on the fly with palmetto fronds and other vegetation. That's why “the most important tool in my turkey vest is a $6 pair of garden pruners,” he said.
He wears a turkey vest with a seat cushion attached and carries a compact pair of binoculars and a collection of “shock” calls and turkey calls.
Hammond hunts with glass and slate friction calls, a Lynch's box call, and a half-dozen varieties of mouth diaphragm calls.
He uses a box call on windy days or to reach out to a gobbler hundreds of yards away, and slate and mouth calls for soft, subtle purrs and yelps when he's working a nearby gobbler.
“About 80 percent of all my calling is done on a mouth diaphragm.”
Hammond has outfitted his Browning Gold Hunter 12-gauge with a neoprene sling, 4x-power Leupold scope and an extra-full turkey choke tube.
“The tighter the choke tube, the easier it is to miss at close range,” Hammond warned. “You get a turkey inside 15 yards with the tube I've got, and you're basically shooting a slug.”
He's switching to new loads this year, the HEVI-Shot Magnum Blend.
These new, higher-tech loads deliver a mix of 5, 6 and 7-shot pellets in tight, deadly groups downrange.
The downside? “They're $35 for a box of five shells.”
What are his tactics?
Turkeys prefer to roost in mature timber, especially over water. If Hammond doesn't already know where birds are roosting, he'll run-and-gun after it gets light to locate a gobbler.
Though many hunters use turkey calls to trigger gobbles in the early morning, Hammond relies mostly on “shock calls” to locate a bird.
“I rarely actually use a turkey call. I'm owl-hooting with my voice, or once the crows get cranked up I'm using a crow call.”
Hammond avoids using turkey calls as locators because gobblers will sometimes come running in before he even gets a chance to set up. It's far better, he said, to locate a bird without him becoming too interested in you at the start.
If Hammond's been shock-calling in an area and hasn't heard a response in 10-15 minutes, he'll move on.
Once he does entice a gobble off in the distance, Hammond moves quickly and quietly toward the bird, stopping to set up 100 to 175 yards away.
Then he starts calling.
“If I've got a bird still roosted in his tree and he's gobbling, the first series of calls I'm going to give him would be a fly-down cackle. Then I'm going to follow that up with a lot of clucks, then go into my yelping series.”
If the gobbler flies down and begins moving toward him, Hammond often shuts down his calling.
“Once a bird's inside 100 yards and he's answered me one, two, three times, I ain't saying another word for at least 15 minutes. He knows where I am. If he's committed and wants to come, he'll come.”
Overcalling can backfire on a hunter, Hammond warns.
“You've got to remember that the hen is designed to go to the gobbler, the gobbler's not designed to go to the hen. So shutting up is sometimes a good thing.
“If it was 30 minutes since you last called, that gobbler's wandering around wondering, 'Where did she go?' He's covering a little more territory and might end up coming right in front of your barrel.”
What if the turkey stops gobbling and disappears in the brush?
“I won't move a muscle for a bare minimum of 45 minutes,” Hammond said. Often, the turkey will creep in on a hunter, fan out and start strutting without ever making another sound.
If the gobbler appears within 40 or so yards, he shoots.
If, on the other hand, Hammond hasn't started working a bird by 9 or 10 in the morning, he'll switch to “set-up mode” and hunker down in a natural blind.
“I'm going to spend two hours there, making a series of calls every 10 or 15 minutes. After two hours, I'm going to move to another area.”
Above all, Hammond said, hunters must be willing to put in the time. After the early-morning rush of finding roosted birds, hunters should slow it down and work a promising area for two or three hours.
“Patience will kill you more birds than any other skill.”
Want to know more?
For more of Hammond's tips, check out the Charleston Hunting & Fishing blog at postandcourier.com.
You also can catch Hammond's seminar at Haddrell's Point Tackle and Supply's West Ashley store at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Hammond will be taking questions and demonstrating turkey calling techniques.