Three Simple Late Season Turkey Tips
By Ricky Kinder
Gobblers are silent, don’t respond to decoys or calls, have been breeding and fighting, and have been pressured and shot at by hunters for over a month now. If you thought early season turkey hunting was tough then welcome to late season turkey hunting!
However with all those difficulties mentioned above and a few unmentioned ones late season turkey hunting can still be a success for hunters, and quite often is. Is it more difficult to harvest a tom in May here in Iowa than it is in April? I would absolutely say yes, but it can be done with consistency. The most important thing to remember is that late season is not early season. By that I mean you can’t do what you did in early April and expect the toms to come running to your decoys. Sure it happens sometimes, but more times than not you must adapt and change your tactics. Below are three simple tactics that you might not use during the early seasons but may just be what you need to do in order to seal the deal during the late season.
This is a super aggressive tactic, but I have harvested several birds by getting as close as possible to a roosted bird late in the season…by close I mean up to 40 yards if possible! This tactic will require you to get up earlier and be as quiet and as stealth as possible. Also it is imperative that you roost a bird the night before or you will just be guessing on where to set up the following morning. This set up is all about getting in early and undetected!
Leave the blind and decoys behind. There is no time or need for them with this tactic, all they will do is slow your setup time down and possibly give away your soon to be location when your are setting them up. Instead your goal is to find a nice tree that will provide adequate concealment.
Make it a point to be in the woods and set up an hour before the sun rises. This will allow you to enter the timber with the cover of darkness to mask your approach. While not as important as the cover of darkness you will have to be quiet too. Turkeys will tolerate a bit of noise while on the roost, as they will associate it with other critters. However you still have to be cautious and move slowly when you enter the gobbler’s bedroom.
The night before when you are roosting a bird make sure and take note of a good spot to set up the next morning. Map this spot in your mind and pay attention when walking in to stop once you hit this spot. Again the goal is to get within 50 yards of the bird or closer.
Once you reach your location give yourself a few minutes to gather your bearings and while it is still dark give out a few soft putts or tree yelps just loud enough for the gobbler to hear you. This call will let the gobbler know, if he isn’t already, that it’s time to wake up.
Then about 30 minutes before sunrise give a few more tree yelps with a bit more volume, followed a few minutes later by some casual yelps. Then do nothing more regardless if you get a gobble or not. The gobbler will have heard your calls and if he wants to come that way he will. Remember you have done the hard part by getting this close, don’t ruin it with over calling. If you are feeling adventurous you can be a little daring, but only if you can conceal the movement, by imitating a hen flying down from the roost with a wing feather. A lot of times this is exactly what a tom needs to pull the trigger and fly down your way. Next, be ready because it could happen very quickly after your mock fly down imitation.
Back Off The Calls
Less is more in terms of calling during the late season. By now gobblers will be educated enough to realize that the hen sound they are hearing might have a 12-gauge shotgun on the other end of it. In my opinion the number one thing a hunter should do during late season turkey hunting is to back off the calls and use them sparingly. Turkeys naturally don’t vocalize much during this time anyways and a hunter firing off aggressive yelping sessions will be a direct red flag to a lurking gobbler.
Start out with a few soft casual yelps at your setup no matter what time of day it is. If you don’t get a response, more than likely you won’t. Continue with a few more yelps with a bit more excitement and volume. Then the tough part begins, you need to wait a good 20 minutes before repeating the sequence. Remember constant calling just isn’t natural during this time and we need to strive to be natural with these shy birds.
If you do get a tom to respond just sit tight and don’t increase your aggressiveness. Continue with your docile calls and sit and wait. Once you have visualization of the bird give a few more yelps and call it quits. That should be enough to clue him in on where you are. Whatever you do DON’T get aggressive now, the gobbler likes what you had to say so let him come in. I learned this lesson the hard way several years ago.
I followed the above advice to a tee and then decided to get cute after a tom started gobbling at my calls. I fired up the intensity and rhythm because that is what any novice hunter would do right? However I never did get that tom to come in. Instead I saw him skirting the timber edge in the opposite direction at Mach One. Moral of that story is: “If it isn’t broke don’t fix it”. More times than not during late season it will be the boring calling sequences that kill a bird versus the revved up sexy style of calling that we would like to use.
There are times however that being aggressive might be the way to go. I only get aggressive when I know that is what the tom wants. If a tom is losing interest in my docile calls and hangs up or starts to meander in a different direction as a last resort I often rev up my calls a bit and try and bring him back. I do this for two reasons during the late seasons. First since I am short on days what else do I have to lose? Secondly, I can always go to plan B with this bird and try to sneak around and cut him off.
More times than not polished calling or pinpoint decoy placement does not kill a late season bird. Instead a lot of late season gobblers are killed simply because of patience. A lot of hunters fall victim to the less active late season and become bored and pack it in early…don’t be this hunter. Make every effort you can to sit tight and gut it out.
If you have a turkey blind put it in a place you know turkeys frequent. If you don’t have a blind either make one with the natural surroundings or simply find a place where you can get comfortable for the better part of a day. Let out a few casual calls every so often and let the waiting game begin. If you want to get up and move to another spot that is fine, but as soon as you think you have been in a location long enough wait another 30 minutes, and then another 30 minutes on top of that. Turkeys are notorious for coming in slow and silent during the late season, so you really never know what is behind you. Give them time!
There you have it, three tactics that could help you bag a 4th season bird this year. There is nothing extravagant or ground breaking about these tactics and that is the point I want to finish on. Late season long beard hunting is all about being less extravagant, it is about adapting to the personalities and attitudes of the birds during this time of the year. If you can do that with the tips above or even your own I promise you will be a better late season turkey hunter.
If all else fails just have fun and remember you are one of the lucky ones out in the timber this spring hunting the most cunning bird we Iowans can! Good Luck This Spring!