Four Strategies for Late Season Turkeys
Does it feel like days and days have passed as you’ve hunted tirelessly to fill that last season tag? The hours, miles, and tactics that you’ve tried haven’t produced a successful hunt and you feel like you’re running out of ideas. Hang in there! It’s not over yet. The clock might be ticking down, but the bell has not rung yet. So gather yourself up once more and rethink what you might need to do in order to be looking down your barrel at a strutting tom turkey!
Late season can be one of the most frustrating seasons for a hunter. Fourth season is the longest season that our great state offers, but it doesn’t mean that the hunts during that time are a chip shot. What you do in the previous three seasons to coax a turkey in may not work in the last. You have to be a hunter that is willing to change things up, try something new, and be willing to learn.
With that said, let’s take some time to cover a few truths and tactics that might help you have some success during May. Maybe these are things that you’ve done before. Maybe they are new. Regardless, read through them with the hope that it might “spark” and idea that you can use this spring.
Pattern the flock
By this time in the season turkey flocks, hens, and toms have a pretty consistent routine. In the mornings most of the birds will go out and feed. Cut corn fields, bean fields, hay ground, and open spaces provide a great source of food. Grazing over what’s left of last falls crop and even the bugs that are out will accomplish a turkey’s morning task, fill the belly!
After breakfast, most of the mature hens will return to their nests to sit on their clutch of eggs. There may be anywhere from nine to thirteen eggs in a nest and the hens will be vigilant to sit on those eggs until they hatch. If the hens are taking their time on their nests that means the toms and jakes are on the roam.
Jakes and toms will spend the rest of the day still grazing and feeding, but also looking for lone hen who might still be interested in breeding. However, the drive to breed is dwindling so calling may not be the “sure thing” to bring him in. You need to know where he’s visiting.
Four years ago, I fell into the same situation. I was hunting a friend’s farm and he had told me that the toms and jakes, through the day, had been crisscrossing his hay field. After getting out early and spending the first few hours in a blind without hearing a call I looked out across the hayfield, sure enough, a tom was coming across at about 100 yards out. Twenty minutes later, he came back. Over the next few hours, he must have crossed back and forth half a dozen times.
So, I took a chance. I knew what my friend had seen over the past weeks and I knew what I had seen that morning. I scanned the layout of the hayfield and noticed a deadfall near the point where this turkey would enter the timber in his back-and-forth game. I waited until he had passed and high tailed it to that deadfall. 20 minutes later, he was coming back. The tom was heading right towards the deadfall, while keeping his eye on the blind where I HAD been sitting. When he came within 45 yards, my shot ended his late-morning routine.
Find New Territory
Over the previous weeks of Iowa’s first three turkey seasons (four if you include the youth season), Iowa’s turkeys have been educated as to what is going on. Some of them, due to the pressure that they experience, will seek a safer place to live out the spring and summer.
If you have the privilege or luck to hunt a large track of land and you are not seeing them where you have seen them before, I would suggest that you put on your walking shoes and “go the distance. Some of Iowa’s public land consists of some very large parcels of property. The average hunter that visits these areas are reluctant to venture deep into these areas. If you want to find the birds that have wised up during the season, give this a try.
Grab your gear and head deeper into the timber. Along the way, look for sign that turkey have been making these areas their homes. Scat, scratching, and maybe a feather or two could give you the information you need to find reason to hunt this new area. While you’re walking, stop and call occasionally. The calls might just trigger that lone gobbler to sound off in response and come in to investigate. You have to be ready!
Be Ready to Move
When I was young, my father and grandfather attempted to hunt every spring. Only a few times over the years did they have luck. Grandpa’s tactic…find a place, sit, and call. Moving was NEVER something that he suggested. Frankly, it is not a bad tactic, but when it comes to late season hunting, I think you have to be ready to consider other options.
As I mentioned earlier in this article, turkeys, by now, have wised up. If they have experienced some hunters through the previous Iowa seasons, they will get pretty good at knowing what is real and what is fake. They will know where calls are coming from and if it is truly a call of interest to them. So don’t be surprised if they don’t rush into your late season calling. The “dumb” birds have been killed by now. You are dealing with the wiser ones of the bunch now.
If you venture into the woods and you happened to strike a call from a lone gobbler, take a bit of time and continue to call. Don’t call too much! At this point in the season, less is more. If, after a while, he has not moved any closer to you calls you have one of two choices and both have some value. First, you could try moving in closer to the bird that is responding. If you use the lay of the topography properly you might be able to get a shot at him.
The other suggestion, move away! That’s right, you heard me! Move further away from him! It might be just the tactic to make him question, “What’s going on?” and cause him to investigate. The hope is that it will sound like a hen that has lost her interest. A tom might try to do what he can to get her to come to him. And thus, come to you!
Take the Shot
When it comes to making the shot during the later season, there’s a couple of things that I need to bring up here.
First of all, be mindful of what you are shooting. What I mean by that is consider the caliber of the gun you are choosing as well as the size of bullet that you put in it. Here’s why.
By late season, again, birds are educated. They may be interested in your call or setup but might have EXTREME hesitation in approaching it. I’ve had quite a few birds in the past come to field edges, see my decoys, and strut at a distance. It’s not that they see me. It’s not that they held up by hens. Simply put, they are wise enough to “think” about things before they commit.
Now, sometimes, after “investigating”, they will come closer. But it will be very slowly. Sometimes, they might come half way and wait for “you” to come the rest of the distance. Obviously, you need to have the firepower to cover that distance which is probably much further than you’d normally take a shot at. Consider switching to a larger caliber gun with 3 ½ inch shells. Make sure you have a good choke tube that will help you with your pattern at that distance. Practice shooting 50-60 yards. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did!
The second thing to consider, don’t be ashamed to shoot a jake. If you’re like me, I’m always trying to find a mature tom with a good length in spurs. I know, it’s not how everybody is, but that’s how I am. Especially in the early seasons.
When it comes to the late season hunts, especially when time is slowly slipping away, my standards will change. I’d rather fill a tag with something than have it empty! So consider taking what comes. Both a tom and a jake will make a tasty meal. Don’t be afraid to pull the trigger on either!
When it’s all said and done, you want to have the confidence that you tried everything that you could to fill your tag. Even if you come up empty handed, you’ll be fulfilled. However, with some strategy and careful pursuit there’s no reason why you couldn’t put a turkey on the table come Thanksgiving! Good luck!