By Bob Humphrey
Knowing how to read a turkey’s mood through its body language is important for any turkey hunter but especially to a bowhunter. You have to let the bird get much closer, then wait for an opportunity to draw without being detected. Fortunately, you often have a lot more time to observe them up close and learn. There’s no substitute for experience, and in time it will become second nature, like reading human body language. In the mean time, here are few tips that will help.
Dancing Fool — A tom in full strut is very confident, with only one thing on his mind, and likely has no idea you are even in the world. Be patient. Rookies will often panic when a strutter makes sudden, jerky movements, but as long as he’s in strut you’ve got time to compose yourself and wait for the perfect shot angle.
Heads Up — Turkeys typically have their head up most of the time anyway, but when one suddenly thrusts its head up higher, with a straight neck, it’s a sign they sense something’s wrong. The bird might have detected you or an approaching predator, or it might simply be reacting to another bird or some distant sound. Shoot if you’ve got a shot, or wait to see what happens next.
Face Paint — Head color can be a very good indicator of a turkey’s mood. A strutting tom’s head and neck will display the characteristic red, white and blue, and the more excited he is the more intense the colors. If the colors fade to mostly red, it’s a sign of either fear or submission. If there are other males around, you might want to hold off. But if he’s the only one, it’s time to consider shooting. Conversely, a bright red head on a non-strutting tom is a sign of confidence or aggression. You can still be patient, particularly if there are other birds around. If that head suddenly goes pale, the jig is up and it’s time to shoot.
Flick of the Wrist — Also pay attention to a turkey’s wings. It’s often very subtle, but a quick flick of the wing tips is a good indication the bird senses something wrong and is getting ready to leave. You’ll often see this associated with the heads-up posture. A more overt sign is when turkeys actually open and possibly even flap their wings. They’re making sure all is in good working order should they need to take flight. If you don’t shoot now, it might be too late.
Walk Away — The next thing they’re likely to do is start walking away, which means you either shoot now or not at all. I won’t say they never come back, but it’s less common than snow in Alabama.