When the season’s winding down and you still have a tag to fill, it might be time to go for broke
Late-season gobblers are a mystery sometimes. Is it over? Are they done? Fortunately, the answer is always no. Breeding may wane, but turkeys talk to each other every day of the year.
As the sun rises earlier each day, inching toward late spring, you lose more and more sleep. Sure, the gobbling lulls can be punishing, and sometimes it’s enough to make you hit the snooze button or scratch the urge to fish. It might even fool you into thinking your favorite turkey spot has been shot out. The good news is, that’s probably unlikely.
Wherever you chase late-season gobblers, birds might just respond differently to you than they did a month ago. Those loud-mouthed toms were killed by somebody else, and the survivors might not be so vocal. So, as the remaining days in the season disappear, try these three go-for-broke tactics.
Keep It Moving
There’s no doubt about it: Patience kills turkeys. Then again, as the season winds down, less time to hunt means you need to strike up holdover gobblers fast, possibly in multiple proven locations. This approach is perfect for the run-and-gun hunter. As the old saying goes, “You’re looking for a hot bird – one that wants to play.” Not all of them will want to play, of course. Your goal is to find the one that does.
Owl hoot. Coyote howl. Crow caw. All these traditional vocalizations can pull shock gobbles from toms. Just make sure to be selective. Save the hoots and howls for pre-dawn and daybreak. Caw during daylight hours, especially mid-morning and through the afternoon hours.
And when it comes to locating roosted birds, remember that all owl hoots are not created equal. Start with a softer great horned owl hoot, as birds might be close. If you get no response, switch to the louder barred owl hoot so you can reach out for birds at farther ranges.
While cruising the woods and fields, you can also use lost yelping and cutting to raise and call in once-silent gobblers, especially during the day. Put together a string of 20-minute setup sessions as you do. Cover all available ground in sections. Take your time, but stay on the move until you strike a bird.
Calling Tips: Carry a variety of turkey yelpers. One call might just make birds fire up that day when another won’t. Imitate multiple turkeys getting together: after fly-down, during the day and before fly-up time. Experiment with aggressive calling from your setup position – it can be what you need to make tight-mouthed gobblers sound off and work into range. And always be on the lookout for a shadow-slipping tom or gang of jakes investigating your calls.
When late-season turkeys play tough, go back to basics: get a fix on where they sleep. Some states close spring shooting hours at midday. Evening roosting might not be enough, so gather more intel.
Hang around. If you’re on a tom, pay attention to him and the flock he’s with. Watch and listen to what they do and where the group is heading as you scout during the day. Check for fresh droppings piled up under roost locations – and especially for heavy scratchings beneath likely tree limbs. Later, sit, watch and listen for turkeys flying up.
When you return the next day, slip in ultra early – an hour or more before fly-down time, if necessary. Keep movements to a minimum. Slip within view of roosts in the dark and stake those fakes. Sit quietly before calling to birds as the light comes on. If you tree-call to turkeys as they wake up – soft clucks and yelps – do it with a hands-free diaphragm. If you forego decoys, be sure to conceal yourself behind terrain. Roosted turkeys have a good vantage point, and if they hear you calling but don’t see birds, this can put you at a disadvantage. Wait for turkeys to pitch down in the woods or fields, and hopefully a tom will wing toward you.
Calling Tips: If you feel like your late-season spring turkeys have been heavily pressured (and chances are they have been), back off a bit. Limit your locator calling and instead listen quietly for soft yelping, wings ticking branches during fly down, leaf scratching, gobbler yawps and clucking and drumming. This is where woodsmanship meets patience.
The Late, Late Show
Turkey behavior can change a lot as spring transitions to early summer. You started turkey hunting weeks ago, and in that time, hens have disappeared and are likely nesting. The days are growing warmer. Gobblers are starting to travel together again.
Still, some dominant toms are driven to find hens. These are often younger hens, which tend to quit breeding sooner but nest later. Other gobblers may return to bachelor groups, or will soon, and stay in this pattern through summer and autumn. So your waning spring hunt might be more productive if you mix in some fall turkey-calling tactics.
Soft gobbler yelps can interest late-season males just as they do in autumn. This call is deeper with a slower cadence – yawp-yawp-yawp – than faster, higher-pitched hen yelps. Try a few gobbler yelps, and listen for a reply. If you get a response, mimic it. If the bird seems to be coming, be patient. If not, he hangs up, keep an eye on him if you can see him. If you can’t see him, keep tabs with more occasional soft calling. Stay alert. A late-season turkey has seen it all.
Calling Tips: If you really want to fill your last tag, and don't mind taking a young gobbler, try this. Set up in an area where you've seen and/or passed on jakes earlier that season. Make a series of lost yelps: eight to as many as 20 even, raspy notes. Then wait. Call like this every now and then. And with any luck, there'll be some good grilling in your near future ...
Can It Be Done?
Yes. It’s tough, but you can absolutely kill a late-season turkey. At the tail end of New Hampshire’s season one year, I slipped into the turkey woods at mid-morning, just after a rain shower. There, in a distant plowed cornfield, I saw a longbeard, head red as a brick and standing tall in the dark dirt. I set up, gobbler yelped and waited. In the near greened-up woods, the same bird yelped back not long after, swung wide in a fishhook, and slipped on in to my setup. I savored the view a second or two, pinched the safety off as he passed behind a broad oak and pulled the trigger. That Memorial Day turkey had three beards.