38 Tips For 38 Days of Iowa Turkey Hunting!

By Noel Gandy

The doldrums of winter are behind us, friends! Warm, sunny days are ahead and with that comes a favorite pastime of many: Spring Turkey Hunting! Iowa offers a unique style of turkey hunting date options that incorporate four different seasons plus a youth season. A hunter can choose a variety of different hunting date options to best utilize his free time in the field.

Thirty-eight days encompass the entirety of the Iowa Spring turkey season and there are a variety of changes that take place between the opening date of the youth season and the ending date of the fourth quarter. The most noticeable change, usually, is the weather. The earlier parts of April can often bring some chilly weather while the mid to later part of May begins harboring greening grass, budding trees, and blooming flowers.
The following are some tips and reminders for the novice and seasoned turkey hunter as you take to the field this spring in hopes of bagging a tom:

Youth Season (April 10-12)
April 10- Take a kid hunting!
The spring turkey season can be instrumental in getting a child involved in the outdoors and specifically, hunting. Turkey hunting can often times be a bit more fast paced and interactive than deer hunting so many children enjoy being able to move around a bit. Couple that with the fact that they could potentially use a turkey call and hear a response from a big tom makes taking a child hunting a no brainer. The Iowa youth season allows for youngsters to take to the woods (accompanied by an adult) before the general public which gives them first crack at bagging a bird.

April 11- Try a Pop-Up Blind
Utilizing a pop-up ground blind can be a huge factor towards success during turkey season: especially when children are involved. Unlike deer, turkeys tend to be a bit more unfazed by hastily established blinds. Having this manmade cover allows for even more movement and activity by a youngster. It also allows for some added warmth/wind break if the weather is less than desirable in the early season.

April 12- Practice with YOUR Weapon
Maybe you don’t have the option to take a child hunting. Take these days before season to pattern your shotgun or check the sights on your bow. Knowing your limitations when it comes to your equipment ensures quick, ethical kills in the moment of truth.

1st Season (April 13-16)
April 13- Take Advantage of Public Land
Sure, it might seem like a rat race to hunt public on opening day. However, those private land birds you’ve had your eye on should still be there in a few days. While the season is still young and the birds haven’t heard every call in the books you should take advantage of the many public hunting opportunities Iowa has to offer. Be safe and stay respectful of others and you should be fine!

April 14- Safety is the Safest Thing
Speaking of being safe: no turkey is worth causing harm to yourself or to others. Because of the aggressive nature of many turkey hunters it is important to always identify your target before firing your weapon. If you believe that calling you hear might be a hunter instead of a hen then it could be wise to maintain a healthy distance.

April 15- Decoy Spread
(Tom, Jakes, Hens)
Again, turkey hunting can be exhilarating because of the interaction that many hunters have with birds. Utilizing a decoy spread can be fruitful for drawing in a tom or a flock during this early season. A combination of a tom, and/or jake, and hens can be just the thing needed to make a dominant bird break away and come defend his territory.

April 16- Hunt the Flock
Early to Mid-April can be very iffy depending on the weather. If the weather is still toward the cool side then the birds will likely maintain their flock until a few warmer days. If so, hunt the flock. Utilize hen calls to aggravate boss hens into coming to defend HER territory and she might just drag a tom or three in with her.

2nd Season (April 17-21)
April 17- Get Out Early
Getting to the field early helps on two different accounts: 1.) if you’re hunting public it helps you establish a territory before a ton of hunters hit it and 2.) birds will begin gobbling earlier in the morning as breeding ramps up! Often, a tom will gobble very early on his own and a hunter can slip in silently to a calling position without alerting the turkeys or other animals that could be between the two.

April 18- Talk to Them!
If you ask ten turkey hunters you will get ten opinions on how much/often to call to a tom. In my opinion, it is wise to call semi-aggressively to toms as soon as the flocks begin to break up and harems are being made. This, still early part of the season, is not a bad time to fire up a tom with soft yelps but maintain a steady stream of calling as long as he is approaching.

April 19- Take it to the Afternoon
By the time you are one third of the way through the season you can likely expect that turkeys have been harassed during the morning at some point. This is a fine time to begin experimenting with afternoon turkey hunting if you have not already been engaged in doing so. As breeding picks up the toms will be at a fever pitch and will often be looking for love all the day long.

April 20- Buddies are Best
If solo hunting is your thing, that’s great! However, turkey season offers a cool opportunity to hunt with a partner easily. Bounce ideas off of one another and develop a plan of attack together. Tandem calling works well! Celebrate a hunt together and have someone there that can collaborate on the story once you make it back around the camp fire.

April 21- Back to Public
Many will only hunt public land. Many will only hunt private land. However, if you do choose to utilize public land then this date would not be bad due to the fact that it falls during the middle of the week. By now, you could have scouted the turkeys and the hunters. You’ll have an idea of which trucks have been sitting at which gates. I’m not suggesting honing in on someone’s spot (even though it is public, right?). However, I’m saying that midweek hunting on public land can be less pressured and can give you a bit more flexibility to move around and try new areas.

3rd Season (April 22-28)
April 22- Get Mobile
Hens don’t stand still all day and call and neither should you. If you’re not having any luck striking up a lonesome gobbler then burn up some boot leather and get mobile. Take time to walk slowly around your hunting area and call periodically. Chances are pretty good that you can get a response out of a bird that you didn’t know was there!

April 23- Nature is Natural
By now many turkeys have heard many turkey calls. When locating a turkey, try using a natural sounding call that is not a turkey call. An owl hoot and a crow’s call are likely the most useful locator calls in our bag. However, don’t neglect the sound of a coyote howling late in the evening to stir up a tom. Pay close attention if a train whistle roars in the distance as a gobbler could respond then as well.

April 24- Rain is a Good Thing
Just like deer, turkeys will be more active before and after weather systems. However, turkeys will often times take to open crop fields during the middle of rain rather than to timber. This is a matter of security for them. It can be an opportunity to take advantage of exposed turkeys, though, giving the hunter a chance to make a set-up in the timber without spooking a wary bird. Open fields harbor opportunities, too, to try to reap a bird.

April 25- Don’t Get Bugged
As temps rise so will mosquitos, ticks, chiggers, etc. Remember to pack along some bug spray or a synthetic bug repellant like a ThermaCell for a more comfortable sit in the woods.

April 26- Try a Chair
Five years ago I had never used a Gobbler Lounger type chair for turkey hunting because I thought they would add too much bulk and were not truly necessary. Now, after having used one, I cannot imagine turkey hunting any other way. Outside of a gun and my turkey vest I cannot imagine a more necessary item for the turkey woods. Not only do they provide comfort while sitting but I’ve found that I can sit still for way longer periods of time while utilizing a turkey specific hunting chair.

April 27- Warmer Temps Mean Cooler Gobbling
When the temperature hits 70 degrees you can expect to hear less gobbling action. Turkeys still gobble, mind you, however, the temperature shift means that the breeding is beginning to shift a bit. What this means to the hunter is that patience will be a virtue because toms will still respond to calling, just maybe not a vocal response.

April 28- Flash a Fan
While the breeding period is beginning to shift the toms will be in competition for the rights to breed the remaining hens. If a tom is in your line of sight, it could be wise to flash just the tail fan of a male turkey at him giving the appearance that a gobbler is in full strut near where the calling is taking place. This could be just the push he needs to bring him into shotgun range.

4th Season (April 29-May 17)
April 29- Utilize a Small Blind
While a pop-up blind is wonderful as far as comfort and hiding people go, they are often impractical due to their size. During this last portion of the season, especially if utilizing archery equipment, consider a small portable blind that will stow away in your turkey vest. These are readily available at retailers often times for reasonable prices. This will give you some added cover while not limiting your mobility.

April 30- Don’t Overcall
Remember that you are in the last portion of the season and it is likely that many birds have heard every call in the book at this point. Most of the breeding has likely taken place and hens are not nearly as vocal. The key to calling is to sound natural so tone down some of those aggressive calls that likely paid dividends in the earlier part of the season.

May 1- Change Decoy Strategy (Jakes and Hens)
Just as bucks get run down from the rut a turkey will begin growing weary from a long breeding season. It is likely that the tom decoy will not draw the interest that it once did because gobblers are less likely to be concerned about showing dominance at this point and more likely concerned about finding a hen to breed or simply feeding. However, utilizing a jake decoy over a hen might make a tom, especially a dominant bird, feel that he can challenge the youngster and win without much of a fight. This is a good time to utilize that particular spread.

May 2- Change Up Your Calls
Don’t misunderstand the idea of changing your calls with changing your calling strategy. The strategy is the same: simple, natural sounds that will draw in a lonesome tom. Changing the actual call could be beneficial. If you’ve used the same box call every morning for the past four days to no avail then it is likely not going to start working on day five. Give them a taste of something different and it could do the trick.

May 3- Document
For the past ten years or so I have taken on the burden of toting a video camera on many of my turkey hunts. While it can be a bit troublesome, I have found it so satisfying to go back and watch successful hunts over and over again with my friends and family. Also, hearing yourself call on camera often times sounds way different than how you hear it in your head so we can become better at the craft by hearing and repairing mistakes.

May 4- Restock the Essentials
By this time we are probably growing a bit weary from early mornings, long days, and late evenings in the turkey field. With weariness comes carelessness and with carelessness we can become unaware of dwindling supplies. Restock your turkey vest for these last few days of the season with essentials like bug spray, snacks, toilet paper, zip ties, etc. You’ll thank me later!

May 5- Stretch Your Legs
Don’t be afraid to make the jump into other states and try out their turkey season if you’ve filled all of your Iowa tags or if you’re just flat out frustrated with these hard headed Easterns. Iowa is unique in that it touches six states and is super close to a couple more. Check out the rules and regulation for each state before you go but have some fun!

May 6- Bust Up Your Set Up
Remember when we suggested hunting with a buddy to enhance the turkey hunting experience? Have a caller set up behind the shooter. Fifteen to twenty yards, and some cases even further, behind the shooter might draw a hung-up tom in just the extra distance needed for the shooter to get the shot.

May 7- Last Decoy Strategy (Just the Ladies)
Again, as the season has dwindled the birds become less aggressive with one another. Adding a lone hen decoy to a hunting setup can work wonders. Sure, hearing a call is one thing but for some toms seeing is believing.

May 8- Go for Midday
If you haven’t already, make plans to stick around for a midday hunt. Hens will begin nesting during the mid-morning by this point and toms will begin looking for love elsewhere or will begin feeding to restore their health from the breeding season. Set up, call, and wait for a while to see if a tom comes in. Remember, he could be silent by this point.

May 9- Evening Roost Hunts
You’ve tried a different setup on a tom three different mornings from three different angles but just can’t close the deal. The crazy thing is, though, he’s been in the same general area every morning. Here’s the plan: abandon the morning ritual and go to the roost tree midafternoon and wait him out! If a turkey is on a pattern of roosting in the same general area then make a plan to kill him on his way back to that roosting area. Usually, a few soft yelps just before the fly-up will have you in the game.

May 10- Nests are Best
If you locate a hen nesting area then do two things: 1.) back out and leave them alone and 2.) Set up near their perimeter midmorning for a hunt. You definitely do not want to disturb a nest and I don’t even like to disturb a nesting hen. However, just as bucks check doe bedding areas out during the rut, a tom will check out a hen nesting area during the turkey season. He’ll go check on his harem and then begin working his way out in search for a lone hen. Setting up along the perimeter and giving soft yelps might trick him into thinking you are the lone hen.

May 11- Knock on Doors
The art of gaining hunting permission from landowners is becoming lost. However, it is not impossible. One of the best ways to kill a turkey is to hunt where there is a turkey. Simple, right? If you see a lone tom strutting in a field near your hunting area don’t hesitate to ask for permission from the landowner to pursue the turkey. The worst thing he can say is, “no!”

May 12- Going Green
As Mother Nature begins to do her thing and the world around you becomes more green remember that the addition of leaves, tall grass, and flowers can also makes gobbling birds farther than they actually are. Don’t let natural acoustics cause you to set up in a poor spot when you could have gotten a little closer. Use the terrain and the foliage to your advantage to get close to a gobbling tom.

May 13- Hunt the Shade
Turkeys, like humans, don’t like to be uncomfortable if they can help it. As the temperature rises, don’t expect to see turkeys in the wide open. Look for feeding, nesting, or napping turkeys in the shade as they attempt to keep their body temp down.

May 14- Reap the Reward
If you spot a lone tom then the chances are better to put a stalk on him than if he had a flock with him. Many folks have chosen to “reap” turkeys. This constitutes crawling behind a full strut tom decoy and working directly toward the bird. This can be fruitful and can even cause a desperate tom to charge his challenger. However, it can also be dangerous and should be done with hyper-awareness of your surroundings.

May 15- Don’t Give Up the Gobble
Just because a bird does not gobble does not mean that he is not in the area. If you hear a bird gobble that morning on the roost then you are at least in the ball park. Turkeys will not venture miles and miles often times like big bucks during the rut. If you hang in that core area then the chances are that you’ll run into him during the course of the day or the evening.

May 16- Get Aggressive
It could be time that you begin pushing the limits just a bit. Don’t hesitate to set up a bit closer, walk a little farther, or stay a little longer in the woods if you have not filled your tag yet. Only a couple days left or it’s going to be a Butterball for this Thanksgiving.

May 17- Go Hunting
October 1 is a long way away until deer season and April is even farther if turkeys are your only thing. Take advantage of the last day of the Iowa turkey season and hit the field. Take time to reflect on a successful (or less than desirable) year in the turkey woods and start making plans to get back after them next year.

Turkey hunting can be some of the most exciting days in the field for the Iowa Sportsman. Take advantage of the liberal season that Iowa offers and see if you can fill your tags on an old boss tom!