Hunting Turkeys After The Hens Have Been Bred

We found my friend Chuck's Brittany, Wyatt, pointing staunchly into a laurel thicket twice as high as his head.

“Maybe it's a grouse,” I said.

We hadn't planted any training birds in that area, and were just letting Wyatt and another dog stretch their legs.

Chuck stomped around in the laurels, with no result, yet still his dog pointed, quivering. Chuck expanded his search, and soon started to back out of the thicket.

“You're not going to believe this,” he said. “It's a turkey.”

The hen turkey was sitting on a clutch of eggs. Despite the proximity of two dogs and two humans, she hadn't twitched a feather. And we'd had a hard time finding her.

No wonder hen turkeys are so successful at giving tom turkeys the slip, when they want to head to the nest.

If you want to be successful at hunting turkeys during the peak of their breeding season, you have to make changes in your strategy.

You can break that breeding season into two distinct phases: egg laying and nest sitting.

At all other times, turkeys follow the same pattern: roost, fly down, head to food, loaf, fly up. During the breeding season, the hens add an additional activity: lay an egg.

Like the one we found, a turkey nest is located in an area of thick cover, such as draws or even ditches, typically not far from feeding areas. During the egg laying period, the hens will fly down and feed, and then leave the gobbler to lay an egg. After laying the egg the hens will feed their way toward a roost area.

“Once they start laying, they'll lay one egg every day for 12 to 14 days,” said Pennsylvania hunter Earl Thomas, who has killed more than 200 gobblers. “It's actually the best time to hunt and my favorite time to hunt, with prime time to take a gobbler around 9 or 10 a.m.

“I've watched the hens do it. There will be a bunch of them and one will see an opportunity to peel off, usually it's the last one in the group. He may try to follow, but the hens seem to be able to sneak away without notice.

“Once they're sitting on a nest, they don't leave. When the hens are laying or nesting, you want to concentrate your hunting in the strutting zones.”

Thomas said one way to do that is to scout, and find out where a gobbler is in the early morning when it gobbles. That's the area the bird often returns to when the hens have slipped away from him. The gobbler goes there to call the hens to him.

We're familiar with the frustration. The birds gobble on the roost, and then that's it.

That's because as soon as they fly down, they are going to feed and breed.

But Thomas said if that's what you're noticing, concentrate on strut zones. If it's hot, about 70 degrees, the chosen strut zone might be in a small opening in the woods instead of in an open field, he said.

Like a rutting buck, gobblers will travel roads and connecting ridges when looking for opportunities to breed.

“Patience is your biggest ally,” Thomas said. “The peak time to hunt during egg laying and nesting is mid to late morning.”