There’s still plenty of time to take a long-bearded tom. Surveys show that by the third week of spring gobbler season many hunters hang up their shotguns and bows until fall. By adapting your strategies to the unique challenges of late spring hunting, though, the final week or two of the season can be a dynamite time to take a sharp-spurred tom.
Gobblers remain in the mating mode through late April and all of May. But gradually, almost all hens are bred and lose interest in consorting with toms, preferring to feed or tend to their clutch of eggs. That situation makes things challenging, but can actually work in your favor because toms are desperate to find one last hen to breed. There are other positive factors in late season as well…
Few Hunters & Stable Weather
Late season sees fewer hunters in the woods and that means less competition for birds and freedom to work virtually any gobbler you hear calling without worrying about interference. Another plus: the later in the spring it gets, the more stable the weather becomes. This usually results in more consistent gobbling.
Make Sure You Can See the Birds
While it is a good time to hunt, late season does present its own special challenges. For starters, foliage becomes increasingly thick as spring unfolds. This can make it hard to see birds coming in until they are close. Choose more open areas when possible to call from, so you don’t entice a tom in only to find it’s hidden by vegetation.
You've Got to Make Sure Toms Hear You
Turkey calls won’t carry as far in a leafed-out forest, either-yours or the turkey’s. Try to get on a ridge or bench that opens up to a large area where you can listen for toms at first light. Also plan on covering more ground during the day to compensate for the shorter distance your calls will travel.
Tip: Once you locate a bird, move in closer than you would during the early season to make sure the turkey hears you.
Camouflage clothing you wear should match the newly leafed-out habitat for the area you hunt. Make sure you wear shirts and pants that blend in with the local vegetation and the stage of the foliage.
Adapt to Call-Shy Turkey
Besides denser vegetation, another challenge of late season is dealing with call-shy birds. Turkeys in most areas have been called to virtually every day and become extremely wary. A number of tactics can be used to cope with this problem.
For starters, get on birds as quickly as possible. Late season toms aren’t going to gobble all morning. They’ll usually sound off a couple of times and then may shut down. Get to the gobbler and set up as fast as you can.
Call Gobblers Sparingly
One approach that often works well in late season is to call extremely lightly and infrequently. Most hunters tend to call turkeys too loud and too often. Since that’s what the bird has heard all spring, fool him with soft, subtle talk—purrs, a few clucks, and maybe two or three quiet yelps. It may take a while for the turkey to work its way in to this soft calling. Be patient.
Tip: At times it may pay to pare down your calling to the bare bones and just try clucks to call in a wary old gobbler that has survived several hunting seasons.
Vary Your Turkey Call Tactics
Experiment with different types of calls. If most of the hunters in your area use diaphragm or mouth calls, switch to a slate, glass, box, push-pin, or wing bone call. Something they haven’t heard much of may be just the ticket for call-shy birds.
Tip: Try raking the leaves like a hen scratching for food to add realism to your calls.
|The author lured in this Virginia bird by using calls different from those most locals employed during the early season.|
Get Aggressive in Your Calling
Another tactic that sometimes works is going the opposite route—become aggressive in your calling. Try using two calls at once. Call long and hard. Use extended strings of raucous yelps and some high-strung, air-piercing cutting.
Tip: Turkey legend Rob Keck sometimes uses three calls at the same time to lure in difficult late season birds. Be sure to experiment with this “overload” technique at home before trying it in the woods, though. It takes a bit of practice, and you don’t want to scare off more birds than you attract!
Pinpoint Gobblers with a Locator Call
Always carry a few turkey locator calls in late season as well. If the birds aren’t responding to turkey calls, try crow, owl, pileated woodpecker, coyote, and other locator-type calls to get them to at least sound off once or twice. That will allow you to pinpoint where they are.
Tip: After you locate a tom with these specialized calls, move in close and try soft hen yelps, clucks, and purring. Watch carefully. These clammed-up
If a late season bird responds to your calls but just won’t come in, try changing position. Move higher, or circle around to where the gobbler appeared from. Since he was just there, he won’t suspect danger from that area and will likely come in willingly.
Stake Out a Hen Decoy
Using decoys is often extremely helpful on late season hunts, especially for calling birds into fields and clearings in forests. Bring at least one or two hen decoys, or a hen-and-jake setup if you might be hunting areas with open habitat where birds can see the decoys. Check out this top seller the RedHead Foam Turkey Decoy 3-Pack at basspro.com.
Tip: Decoys are particularly useful during mid-morning hunting sessions and on rainy days when turkeys often gravitate to fields and forest clearings.
|Setting up along a route turkeys like to take, such as to a particular field in this case, is a good way to waylay a late season tom.|
Ambush a Bird
A final late season tactic to keep in your bag of tricks is patterning the turkeys and hunting them like deer. By the sound of their calls, the sign they leave, or simply by watching from a distance, determine where the toms are heading at various times of the morning.
Do they go to a creek for a drink, walk out a particular ridge, or head for a favorite strutting area? If you can pinpoint such typical patterns and set up where they usually go, you can often tag a tom without even calling, or by simply clucking a few times.
No, this method isn’t quite as thrilling as luring in a gobbler solely with your calling skills. But if things get tough and the season is winding to a close, it’s worth a shot.
Unless you’re a calling “purist” a bird taken stand hunting along a turkey’s travel route is better than no bird at all. And both gobblers, I can assure you, taste the same when pulled from the oven golden brown, dripping with juices and butter and served with mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and dressing!
Good luck, and always keep safety foremost in mind.