Strut Report: Midwest Turkeys Finicky, Northeast Hunters Having Some Luck

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Turkey hunters everywhere are reporting lower turkey numbers, and midwestern turkeys are being unpredictable with sporadic gobbling activity.

Editor Will Brantley recently anchored this nice Nebraska Sandhills tom. He reported seeing fewer turkeys than the area was previously known for, and toms were tight-lipped after fly-down. Image by Will Brantley

Many seasoned turkey hunters from the Northeast clear out to the Great Plains are reporting lower turkey numbers than 5-10 years ago, and this observation is echoing louder across the turkey hunting community as the season progresses. If you’re still out hunting, consider being selective in your harvest. That is, consider passing up jakes and bearded hens and hold out for a mature gobbler. Also, if you have multiple tags, don’t overharvest on a property.

That aside, let’s discuss the current northern U.S. turkey happenings. Editor Will Brantley is out in the Nebraska Sandhills this week. “Turkey numbers seem down, but my buddy and I doubled on nice gobblers,” Brantley told me in a text message. “There’s a lot of breeding still happening. Most gobblers we’re seeing are strutting with multiple hens. We’re hearing decent gobbling at daylight, but the toms are quieting down quickly after hitting the ground. They’re moving to the hills after flying down to chase bugs. They’re covering ground fast.”

As for my Wisconsin depredation hunt last week, I worked a gobbler three mornings in a row. The first morning, he gobbled hot on the limb and on the ground, but he wouldn’t come to my calling. He eventually worked toward a picked cornfield where he joined two jakes and strutted. I tried every call in the book. He wouldn’t budge.

The second morning, he gobbled minimally. He’d roosted with a hen. Once he ditched her around midmorning, he fired up, and I called him right in. But, when he got to 80 yards and saw my decoys, he cooled down. He strutted and gobbled some, then a swamp swallowed him up as I scratched my head in dismay.

The third morning, he gobbled hard on the roost and on the ground again. I called his hen right past me, but he hung up 200 yards away and eventually faded away. He was incredibly finicky.

So, I still have the depredation tag in my pocket. Meanwhile, I’ll be hunting on my Wisconsin time-period D tags this week in a completely different area. I’ll be starting out with my bow and using my usual hen-and-jake decoy spread. Historically, it has produced the best results for me.

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I’m not the only one who hunted finicky Easterns in the last week. David Blanton was in Iowa and Missouri. “I hunted with a friend and landowner in Iowa,” Blanton said. “I was filming him. The turkeys were so weird. These aren’t pressured birds, either. No one hunted them before we did. We’d see toms together that showed no interest in our calls or [with] live hens feeding in the field with them. They gobbled some on the limb, but very little on the ground.

“My friend did kill a turkey,” Blanton explained. “He came in 25-30 minutes after our last calling sequence. He never gobbled, so we didn’t expect to see him. He popped out on the field edge and walked to the jake decoy. He wasn’t strutting or aggressive at all. He circled the decoy, and my friend took him as he started leaving. The gobbler didn’t put on a show at all.”

The weird turkey behavior followed Blanton to Missouri. “I was filming a friend who has very little turkey-hunting experience on prime real estate,” Blanton said. “The birds were uninterested in our calling and decoys when they flew off the roost. We moved to a food plot and called a little bit every 15 minutes. We heard no gobbling. I was shocked when I looked up from playing Solitaire on my phone and saw two strutters in the plot. They strutted all the way across the food plot coming to the decoys. The footage was beautiful. Unfortunately, my friend clicked the shotgun’s safety loudly, and the turkeys stopped, then spun around and walked away.”

Up in New York, Hans Walwert recently scored on a big gobbler that came on the run to his calling and decoys from about 500 yards away. “My decoy suddenly moved in the wind, and he got wary,” Walwert said. “I took him as he started leaving. Most toms seem to be singled out and have only one or two hens. A few friends have tagged birds, but they’ve been reporting a lack of turkeys and gobbling action.”

It’s tough to predict how toms will act this week. I’ve generally had my fastest hunts both early and late in the season, and it’s been common to have mixed results throughout the middle. I’ll keep doing what’s worked for me in the past, and I’d suggest doing what’s historically worked in your neck of the woods. Stubborn toms are frustrating, but don’t let a bird with a pea-sized brain get under your skin.

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