About three days after opening morning of spring gobbler season, the big boys often go into lockjaw mode. Oh, they may gobble furiously at dawn - that's because their hormone-driven instincts compel them to mouth off, mainly so their own hens will come running.
One thing hunters don't pay enough attention to is that a gobbler that has been running with the same harem of hens for weeks now knows the sound of their voices. When he hears a strange hen calling from the distance he is interested indeed, but he will seldom if ever leave his own females to come looking for the strange one he hears from afar.
So he gobbles an answer, and when you answer his gobble he thunders back again and you get all excited. When he doesn't come to you and you can hear him fading into the distance you know he has found his own hens and is going with them. This is when too many hunters give up in disappointment, wondering what they did wrong. If he answered your calls at all, he will very likely return to the area in two or three hours looking for that hen he heard earlier. He's usually an patsy for your calls then - if you waited.
To make a savvy, call-shy gobbler pay attention you simply need to do something different. Anything! Anything that sabotage-prone preseason scouters did not do.
Here are some suggestions:
Find a new and different sound and sequence.
Tote along a wingbone, snuff can, boat paddle box or whatever seldom-used call you have to produce yelps in pitches he may not have heard. Try a single reed diaphragm call to make ultra-shrill yelps or a four-reed diaphragm for ultra-raspy. Make them in a location from which he never heard a call in the preseason.
This is an especially effective tactic mid-morning when many hens have left the gobbler and he is listening for a hen - any hen - he can entice with his love talk.
Avoid ever setting-up on a gobbler between a well-used road or trail and his roost. He's learned long ago that counterfeit calls and human activity seems to emanate from roads and trails.
Pattern a couple of gobblers.
Learning a gobbler's daily habits will pay big dividends. If you stick with a gobbler three or four days, note which direction he goes, following after hens. The next morning, let the loud crowd stand on the road bombarding him with their best calls. But, if you know the direction he'll head at flydown, you can set up to be in the way you knows he is going to go. You may have to offer him some soft clucks/purrs to get him to edge within shotgun range, but he'll likely listen to them.
Try simply waiting him out.
This will try your patience, but it is mightily successful. Waiting it out quietly during late morning hours, after most hunters have left the woods in a spot where you heard gobblers mouthing off in the morning is deadly. They are not far away as a rule. The trick is to not do much calling. My own practice is to waft out a few yelps and clucks about once every half hour, no more often than that. Sound like a reluctant hen who is also wary of the yelping coming from all directions.
What has been happening the last three or four years is that the gobblers will happily hear your offerings and even answer them a few times. Then he shuts up and sneaks toward your position, quietly, cautiously, nervously and it will take a lot of time. You'll think nothing is happening and then suddenly, there he'll be - right in your field of view. You must be ready when that happens.
To be effective at this waiting game, sitting in comfort in a blind will help you to wait, decoys set, before they get there. That's why I have become such a fan of the one-man chair blind. They fold down and set up in 30 seconds and since they are lightweight they can be toted for a reasonable distance. They mask any small movements you might make.
Add sound effects to your calling routine.
One late-season dawn, I heard a gobbler down over the mountain. He ignored my calls. Tired of this standoff, I began to walk away and when I did, he gobbled ferociously. I set up again and called some more. Nothing. When I began walking away the second time he gobbled again.
I got the message. He'd heard my footsteps in the leaves and thought I was a hen walking away. I sat down again and did nothing except scratch the leaves occasionally. In 15 minutes, he topped the ridge and was in my game bag.
Scratching the leaves is an old hunter's trick. Try adding the wing-flapping sound to the flydown cackle in the mornings to add realism. Try the fly-up flapping to the evening roosting scenario. If you "flap-up" at night then "flap-down" in the morning, it will go a long way toward convincing a chary gobbler that you really are a hen.
I once watched as famous hunter Will Primos once wing-flapped at exactly the right moment to convince a gobbler he was a hen that had flown across a small creek. It worked!
Change your decoys.
Just as gobblers get call-shy, they also get decoy-shy. Next time you set-up in a field you've already hunted three times, stake out two or three different decoys than you used before. That may be all it takes to change your "luck."
In short, to spark the interest of gobblers that have been ignoring you, change your tactics, set-up spots, calls and/or decoys. Do something different!