King of the Roost
Ah yes…the roost hunt. Although we hunt the roost almost every day at the Nine8Nine, only about 10 percent of our successful hunts happen during a roost hunt. It can be the most difficult hunt of the day. Going up against variables like competing hens and the complexity of getting in without detection (especially when you hunt with 4-5 guys like we do) can be tough. But, the two things you really have in your favor is the cover of darkness and knowledge of their roost location.
I like scouting the area to get an idea of the layout before I even hunt the roost. Knowing the exact trees to set up against is huge for confidence. I like to clear out any sticks, low hanging branches or ground leaves where we’ll be setting up. Finding a tree large enough to break up your outline is also key. Small diameter trees can move and bounce too much, giving you away before you get a chance to pull the trigger. Locating the X for the decoys is also imperative. I even go so far as to sit against the tree and imagine how the birds might work the next morning, Every little bit helps.
I really love the process of putting birds to bed. A gobble on the roost at dusk gives me a TON of confidence, but roost gobbles at night are far from a guarantee. For example, this year we’ve had lower than average spring temps, many mornings and evenings in the 20’s. I believe this plays a big role in their vocality on the limb after sunset. It’s often not until the second day of a roost hunt that I really dial it all in. The best time to prepare a roost hunt is after a failed one. If I don’t get right on the birds in the morning, I usually have a good idea what they did. I honestly use the roost hunt as much for scouting as anything. While hunting a new piece of ground and gathering intel, the second or third day hunting a roost is usually the most fruitful.
99% of our turkey hunts we film, so getting in tight on a roost doesn’t always provide for the greatest footage. If the gobbler flies down too early, we have to give him the pass simply because of poor camera light. For that reason alone, I like to set up about 75 yards from the roost tree. We often have multiple hunters and cameramen, so this also gives us a little insulation if any of the Nine8Niners get a little clumsy. Often gobblers and hens fly down and don’t move right away. They strut, gobble, yelp and wake up a bit before making any big moves. Every minute gained is crucial before sunrise in the spring turkey woods when filming.
I also like to be in the general direction they are traveling after they hit the ground. Turkeys are routine-driven animals. They will do the same thing every day if they aren’t bumped off their daily patterns, so knowing where they tend to go after fly down dictates what side of the roost I will set up on.
What’s Your Frequency Kenneth?
Calling can also be a bit tricky. It’s easy to get lured into hearing those thunderous gobbles on the limb, but be careful not to get too frisky. Soft tree yelps in the morning is all I’ll ever do until the birds pitch down out of the trees. At that point I’ll slowly get more aggressive, depending on the scenario. If a gobbler needs convincing, I might throw in a fly-down cackle paired with the hat on the thigh trick, simulating flapping wings. But, be very cautious of the movement needed for this tactic. Making sure you’ve got good cover is a must or they’ll pick you out.
Decoy arrangements can be a tossup. A majority of the time I’ll run a full strut gobbler with two hens. I’ll set an upright hen about two yards in front of the strutter and a feeder about 7 yards in front of them. Putting the feeder far enough ahead gives gobblers the ability and confidence to work the set. On occasion gobblers have hung up with the single hen/full strut decoy. I always face the decoys in the direction I patterned the turkey movement post flydown, and no more than 10 yards away from me. Boss hens with attitudes have a tendency to pull gobblers away from any competing hens, out of gun range, so I like them close.
Occasionally subordinate gobblers will get decoy shy, especially when running a full strut gobbler. At the Nine8Nine we like to roll the dice with a full stutter in the spread. I believe as a group we kill more mature birds this way, so I’ll accept a timid two year-old every now and again. When a boss gobbler follows the hens in one direction, it leaves subordinate gobblers alone. This scenario can create some fireworks fast, especially when using a full strut gobbler decoy. One subordinate by himself might be gun-shy, but with a wing man or two, confidence grows fast. These are often two year-old birds, so if you’re not picky you can fill a tag pretty quick.
The roost hunt can be magical for sure, but it’s not the end all be all. Hens begin to sit on their nests in late April and early May in Michigan, so that change alone creates a lot of lonely longbeard scenarios that I absolutely love. That 10-2 window is absolute magic for the Nine8Nine. In fact, today as I write this we went 0-3 on roost hunts and 2-2 on hunts at 11am and noon. So when a roost hunt doesn’t work out as planned, relax…go grab breakfast and get back after it in a few hours.