Hunting the “Fourth Quarter”
By Ryan Graden
It’s not over! I know your confidence might be failing, but you still have time. Just like football, the clock is ticking away and you might have 99 yards to go, but the ball is in your hands and there are still some “advantages” you need to realize! So don’t give up and do what you can to charge towards your finish. Time is ticking but you can still have success.
Fourth season turkey hunting is one of those “bitter-sweet” seasons for many different reasons. Personally, I make it a point to always purchase an Iowa Fourth Season tag. Over the years I have keyed into the advantages that it provides in hunting. It has taken me a bit to realize these advantages, but once I did, I could use them to MY advantage and tag a second gobbler before the season ended for the year.
Time! Do you realize all the time the Fourth Season gives you for hunting? Typically the Fourth Turkey Season in Iowa provides hunters with an eighteen day window to hunt. That’s a great amount of time compared to First Season (four days), Second Season (five days), and Third Season (seven days). With all those days, this is the season for hunters who don’t have the mid-week opportunity to take days off and trudge around in the timber like others might have.
It also provides you with an advantage in the weather. Although it might be hot by this time of the year, if you have a three-day rain, in any of those earlier seasons, your tag has just become “money down the drain”. With a stretch of eighteen Fourth Season days, you can pick and choose what days you want to hunt. It also allows you to take the weather that Mother Nature might throw at you and still have time for a great hunt.
The cover! You see, a turkey’s eyesight is one of their greatest advantages. I remember when I was young and hunting with my Dad and Grandfather, I would tag along as they would go out in the timber and do their best to tag a big gobbler. We weren’t always successful, but it was always a lesson in being still. These two mentors had it drilled into my mind that a turkey’s eye was the most dangerous part of the hunt. So, with that said, I knew that the right kind of cover and camo would be an advantage to me.
By the time Fourth Season rolls around, usually the leaves are pretty full, the undergrowth is established, and there are more greens, shadows, and sun spots to camouflage your silhouette in a much better way. When you hunt the early seasons, spring is beginning to show, but unless you have a blind, you will still stick out quite a bit against your backdrop. Now, I know there are some excellent camouflage patterns out there, but still, there is nothing like more cover!
Tags! That’s right. In Iowa, as an Iowa Resident, you can purchase up to TWO tags for the Fourth Season dates. The Iowa Regulations for resident hunters state that you have three choices for Turkey Season Tags. First, purchase a bow tag and hunt over all four season dates. Second, purchase one tag for either First, Second, or Third Season. Third, Purchase a second tag for fourth season or purchase both your allowed tags for fourth season.
One of my mentors, for years, has always purchased both of his allowed turkey tags for Fourth Season. In fact, most of the men in his family do the same. They all meet in Northeast Iowa with two tags in tow to hunt for a week or more during the Fourth Season. Usually, they fill them all!
If you have the time, the abundance of birds, and would like the chance to go fill two tags during your hunt, you might want to consider this! It’s a dream of many guys to shoot a “double” someday and if you seriously wanted a chance to do this, Fourth Season would be the time to do it!
The breeding stage. This is one of the greatest advantages to Fourth Season hunting. Typically, during these dates, the hens have done most of the breeding that they are going to do and they are sitting tight on a nest somewhere mothering their clutch of eggs.
The toms, however, are still on the move looking for more hens to breed. You see, when spring time rolls around, they have one thing on their mind and they will not stop until nature tells them to. Which means, for us, if we can make those hen calls sound appealing, we will see some strutting toms!
I don’t mind getting up early in the morning if I know that I’ve roosted some turkeys because there’s a good chance that if I’m in the right place the next morning, I might get a shot. That’s the motivation that I need to suffer through that early alarm to get out to the timber. But when there is not that advantage in place, I have to rely on “finding” the flock before I can even engage in a hunt.
During the Fourth Season dates, like I stated earlier, most of the hens are bred and are tending to eggs. They will often feed with the flock in the morning, then return to their nest and remain there for hours on end. Now, while they are feeding, the toms and jakes still have a chance to strut and try to convince these ladies that they need more lovin’. However, soon the ladies will retreat back to their nests and these males are left with an empty field and empty hearts!
But that can work to your advantage! Usually it’s mid morning when all this happens. I would say, somewhere between 9 a.m. and noon. What that means for you is that you don’t have to wake up early! And for your calling, they are desperate for some attention. If you’re in the right area, you could have more than one tom or jake show up!
The Fourth Quarter
Over the last four years I have found my “Fourth Quarter” spot on a farm down in Osceola, Iowa. A good friend of mind has been kind enough to let me hunt his alfalfa fields and they typically hold quite a few birds. All in all, there’s a little over 200 acres, most of it alfalfa, with small cuts of wooded draws within the field.
To the south of the field there is a large pasture in which my friend has a cattle herd of about 50 head or so. And within that pasture there are quite a few patches of cedars that have grown along the hillside that offer some great cover for foraging birds throughout the day.
My friend’s son has always been my eyes as he is on the property each day doing chores, checking fence, checking cattle, and tending to all things that need attention. Usually, I let him know that I’m planning on coming a few weeks out and his son will begin to watch the bird movement and tell me what he’s seeing when I arrive. In a sense, he becomes my trail camera!
Well, over the last few years, during the fourth season, I’ve had great success. All the birds that I have harvested have been in bachelor groups that are wandering without hens. Usually a group of 4-5 jakes will come running in to check out my hen decoy setup. But knowing that there are quite a few mature toms in the area, I usually pass on these young, love crazy birds and sure enough, not long after that, a tom will come cutting through the alfalfa field ready to strut for anything he sees.
Four years ago, during my first trip there, I drove to Osceola in the morning and didn’t arrive at the farm until 9 a.m. I took my time walking into the alfalfa field making some calls along the way. I found a high point toward the north end that allowed me to see down into the draws as well as much of the rest of the field and pasture. I set up a blind, placed my decoys out, and by 10 a.m. began to call every 10-15 minutes hoping to get an answer.
Shortly before noon, after dozing off and waking up again, I happened to look out the window of my blind and to my amazement, there was an additional turkey heading towards my setup. I hadn’t done any calling and he hadn’t either. He was just out looking for the ladies!
I readied my shotgun and patiently watched and he strutted into the three hen decoys that I had set out in front of my Primos Ground Max blind. Soon, he was at thirty yards and seemed to hang up in his dance as if he was saying, “Come on ladies, and follow me!” When I knew by his actions he wasn’t coming any closer; I lined up my bead and BOOM! The dance was over!
He ended up being, what I would guess, a three-year-old bird. He had an 11 inch beard and spurs that were about 1 ½ inches long. A great “Fourth Quarter” bird to bring home to the dinner table!
The Pep Talk
So don’t give up! And don’t be afraid to hunt that Fourth Season. Remember that it’s still a great time to hunt and there are a lot of advantages to it. Make sure, like always, to be prepared with some shooting practice, call practice, and scheduling enough time to be out on the chase.
I assure you, it is a wonderful season to hunt. Who knows, you might find favor in it just like my mentor and become a “Fourth Quarter” hunter every year. Good luck!