The “Goods” & “Bads” of Late Turkey Hunting

By Ryan Graden

As you are reading this article, you may or may not know that the 4th Iowa Turkey hunting season is just around the corner! Time is ticking away and the end of Iowa’s turkey seasons is coming near, but it’s not over yet! No way! Iowa’s last turkey season can be one of the hottest times to hunt those Giant Iowa Easterns before the hunting seasons are over.

Personally, I have two favorite seasons that I like to hunt turkeys. I usually start my turkey hunting with the first season which begins in the middle of April. The anticipation of getting back out in the timber just drives me bonkers. Ask my wife! When the turkey hunting shows start showing up on the Outdoor Channel, my comments will often times be, “I can’t wait to get out there this spring!” or “Did you hear that gobble?” or “Ooooooo…that’s a big tom!”. Trust me, my blood gets a boiling when the first season approaches and the tag in my pocket tells me that it is my turn!

My second favorite choice (and the only 2nd choice if you are an Iowa resident) is the fourth season hunt that begins in early May and continues almost to the end of May. This time of year has been just as productive for me as the first season dates. There have been quite a few times over the years that I have had a “two turkey” season because of a late season harvest.

There are some “goods” and “bads” of the fourth season that I believe all turkey hunters need to be aware of. If you are pondering whether it might be a possibility for you to do this year, consider these facts in hopes that they might help you in your decision. Let us begin with the “Goods” of hunting the fourth Iowa turkey Season.

The Goods: More Time
This is a HUGE benefit of the late turkey season that Iowa has every year. You have almost an entire three weeks to chase after a turkey. (May 3rd – May 21st) That’s right! Three weeks!

As hunters, I am sure that we have all had the thought, “I wish I just had more time to hunt.” Well, with this you do. Compared to the other Iowa turkey seasons, this more than doubles the days that you can hunt for those Easterns. Who wouldn’t want that? Some guys/gals only have the ability to use the weekend to hunt. With this season, you gain a total of THREE weekends to be in the woods.

By this time also, the daylight hours are getting a bit later and the days are growing even longer. Iowa has a “30 minutes before sunup to sunset” regulation to hunt turkeys during the spring turkey season. However, as the days in May click away, those hours to hunts start to add up. Take advantage of this small miracle and use it!

Fairer Weather
Watch, now that I have made this bold statement, we will probably have the worst late spring ever! Well, I will say it anyway. Typically, the fourth Iowa turkey season will give you some of the most pleasant hunting weather a turkey hunter could ask for.

The earlier couple of turkey seasons are usually accompanied with cold temperatures, rain, and the occasional snow flurries. Sometimes being out in the timber at those times in April are downright miserable.

By the late season, the rains have passed through, the trees are beginning to grow their leaves, and the greenery is soaking up the warm temperatures that are being sent from the sun. You will not always deal with the fluctuating temperatures and you can bet that when you have time to go hunt it will be good weather to do it.

Nested Hens
This is probably your biggest advantage of hunting the late season. Knowing that most of the hens are settling in on their nests, it leaves those love-sick tom turkeys on the hunt! That’s right, the ladies are not in the mood anymore, but these guys are still looking for hens and that’s where you come in!

Typically, during the first three seasons, hens are spending their morning hours feeding, breeding, preparing their nests, and beginning to lay their eggs. Therefore, if they hens are about, it is often times hard to tear a tom away from her presence and into yours. By the late season, that all changes.

These hens will spend more time on their nests warming their clutch of eggs and doing their best to protect them from predators. With them spending all that time on their nests, jakes and toms are feeling a little neglected! A quiet and soft series of clucks will sometimes, if you’re in the right spot, get the immediate attention of multiple gobblers. They will come running if they are still on the hunt for a female to breed. Fourth season will sometimes give you a “choice” of toms as more than one will come into your calls. Again, it depends on where you are hunting, but there is always a better chance for this during late season.

Benefit of a 2nd Tag
For a true, diehard, turkey hunter sometimes the season can be over way too quick. If you are not traveling to other states to chase long beards, your season may be only a few days long. And if you happen to have luck and harvest a turkey quickly, you’re season is even less days than that!

Thankfully, the Iowa DNR has done a wonderful job at managing Iowa’s turkey population. This has led to Iowa Residents being allowed a 2nd tag during the fourth turkey season that is statewide. And, as I mentioned before, a LONGER season to hunt.

Better Cover
Now this could be both a “positive” and a “negative” to late season turkey hunting. By the beginning of May, usually the timber looks a little more “green” and there is much more cover to use for hiding yourself or making your camouflage pattern more effective.

With the leaves and cover also comes shadows! Don’t underestimate the advantage of a good shadow. It is almost as good as sitting in a blind when you are wearing the proper camo. Even though turkey carry the ability of excellent eyesight, shadows tend to hinder that a bit.

In the late season, when you have a good tom engaged, take a quick second to find some good cover and possibly the right shadow to help you in your concealment.

The Bads: Cover
As I said previously, cover in the late season is plentiful, but as much as it can be a benefit it can also be a hinderance. I will never forget one of my first years hunting turkeys after I was in college. I was hunting the late season because I needed weekend time to hunt. The multiple weeks and days allowed me to get out in the woods to chase the turkeys that I had located weeks earlier.

This particular morning I ended up getting to the woods about mid-morning and right away had a tom answering my call. I was excited as I set up on the top edge of a flat and waited to see this tom in all of his glory. As I had hoped, he made his way up the ridge.

I continued to call and knew that he was getting closer and closer by the minute. I had my “spot” picked out as to where I thought he would appear. I knew that he couldn’t have been more than 15 yards away when I heard what a turkey hunter would dread hearing. An alarm cluck! That’s right! That sucker had side stepped the path that I thought he was going to take, and followed a thicket of gooseberry bushes to come up along side me. I saw a quick flash of his white head to my back left as he left sprinting down the slope of the ravine.

Cover got the best of me that day.

Birds are Aware
Depending on where you hunt, by the late season there is a possibility that the birds have received quite a bit of pressure through the first three seasons. Pressure from hunters, predators, farmers, and more will lead a bird to be on “high alert” of his surroundings making it harder for you to hunt him.

Now, if you were to compare the number of people who deer hunt to the number of people who turkey hunt, you will see way more hunters pursuing deer than turkey. However, that still can be a problem when it comes to public property. Public land can still be overrun by hunters over a period of five or six weeks of the turkey hunting season.

There isn’t really a remedy to the problem of pressured birds. You’re only choices as a hunter are a few of the following options. First, get to know some private landowners. Offer to do some chores in exchange for hunting permission. You just might earn a spot of land that will be set aside just for you! A second option, explore little spots! There are quite a few public parcels of land across our great state. Most hunters will key in on the larger areas and ignore the small ones. I personally have a little “honey-hole” of public land for turkey hunting that I have taken quite a few birds off of over the years. It’s small and I’m sure it gets passed over for that reason, but it’s produced a few big birds for me!

More Competition
With the fourth season hunting in Iowa comes more competition. You might see more hunters grabbing up late season tags for the very reasons that I mentioned above as the “good reasons” to hunt the late season. However, that leads you to a situation of competition for the birds that are still roaming rural Iowa in hopes of finding more hens to breed.

You have to be careful for two obvious reasons. First, you do not want to be hunting areas that have been overhunted with too many hunters. You will not have too good of luck. Second, for your safety. Too many hunters in one area creates a dangerous situation. Especially when this season of hunting does not require you to wear orange!

I will never forget guiding my father a number of years ago during the late season. I had picked out an area of public land that I had success on in the past. I knew the birds would be there if we could just make it into the timber before anybody else.

Early that morning we came to the parking lot and found no other cars. Great! We entered the timber in the dark and walked almost a ½ mile back into the riverbottom and up a ridge hoping to get to the top where the birds liked to strut. We got into position and immediately I had a tom making his way from the field, through the fence, to strut down the ridgetop towards the end where we were sitting. He was answering every little purr I sent out.

Just as he came into sight at about 20 yards away, BOOM! A shot not five yards from the turkey rang out that sent him flopping! The hunter bolted from his tree, grabbed the turkey, and literally ran down the ravine and away from us! It all happened so quick it was hard to process what had just unfolded before our eyes. Dad “processed” with a few choice words that he yelled out in response to his fear!

Apparently, this hunter was there before us and that was fair. But we never knew! I am not sure why he ran, but I’m glad he did. Dad was not too happy, if you know what I mean. My point is fourth season can be packed with hunters. Be cautious no matter where you are!

Hotter Weather
This may or may not bother you, but hotter weather can have an effect on what you’re chasing.

By May, I think all of us in Iowa are ready to welcome some warmer weather. It is nice to be able to go out and not have to layer up for your hunt. However, sometimes it is not the hunter that needs to worry about himself, it is the turkeys that he’s trying to chase on that hotter day.

Now, you can still have success on a hot day, don’t get me wrong. But you may have to adjust where you hunt these birds in order to see them.

As a large black-feathered bird, when the sun is beating down, turkeys will try to retreat to cooler areas in order to keep their comfort. What that means is you may not see them in the fields or field edges as the sun comes bearing down.

They are more likely to be found in the timber where there is some relief from the sun’s rays that are heating them up.

If you have a chance to hunt a hotter than normal day, make sure you “think like a turkey” and make the adjustments that will give you success.

In closing, I will say this with confidence; try the fourth Iowa Turkey season! Hands down, for me, the “Goods” outweigh the “Bads” when it comes to pursuing giant Iowa Easterns. And remember, a bad day in the woods is still better than a day in the office! Good luck!