BY JIM NIEMIEC
Thus far, spring turkey season has been slowed down by some pretty brutal weather, the first peak of the breeding season was pushed back due to extremely wet conditions afield and now turkey hunters are about to face tough hunting conditions and gobblers that are not likely to be too cooperative.
If there is one important helpful hint that could make the difference in hunter success during the closing weeks of the season would be to be patient. Gobblers are going to be right behind hens as they come off roost and likely stay with that flock until the hen(s) move off to a nearby nesting spot. Often that tom will be tied up with hens until mid-morning or later. On guided hunts, traditionally Plan A calls for a guide to call a gobbler into a decoy(s) early in the morning, but more often than not plans B and C will be the order for the rest of the day. Once the opening set-up is blown away by a non-cooperative gobbler the hunt becomes more difficult. While some guides will have a good back-up plan in place, more than likely the hunt will require relocating on the property in hopes of spotting a tom while driving around. If the tom is staying in one spot it’s might be possible to sneak up on that bird using the traditional spot and stalk technique. If that isn’t a doable option and the gobbler is on the move, then getting into an ambush spot can produce a long beard.
Even though a hunter might have roosted a bird the prior evening, it’s not 100 percent that the tom will head to a decoy(s) once on the ground. This hunting writer was a victim of a roosted gobbler that headed in the opposite direction right after fly-down. It was on a hunt with Bitterwater Outfitters, 805-610-4521, even though hens and a couple of jakes headed in our direction, that lone gobbler headed off to a different location and didn’t ever offer up an opportunity for a shot. The hunt was eventually successful, but it took most all morning to position ourselves in a shootable spot.
Many hunters are guilty of over-calling later in the spring season. A gobbler has probably heard many different calls during the early part of the season and now will avoid responding to a slate, box or mouth call. Ron Gayer, master guide with Indian Rock Ranch, 661-809-1613, told WON that a turkey hunter needs to back off calling as the season progresses. Not only could harsh calling push a tom away from a blind, but it will even further educate a bird.
“I would suggest that a few soft yelps in the morning just to let a gobbler know there might be a hen nearby and then just sit tight and wait. Here again patience is extremely important in the success of a hunt. Even though you might hear a gobble way off in the distance, just stick to a very soft yelp and stay off a hard gobble. Often a tom will come a long way when responding to a more subtle call,” says Gayer. (Editor’s note: Now is not the time to make a “putt” call late in the season, as this call could alert a tom of danger, thus having that bird head to another location.)
During the later part of the spring turkey season this hunter’s experience has been to move up to a larger size shot. A gobbler has a lot of feathers on its wings and down its back that can cause smaller shot just to bounce off. Even though some of the new tungsten supper shot is becoming popular, this hunter is not yet convinced that’s size # 7 or #9 TSS shot can be effective on a bird moving away at a distance of more than 30 yards that doesn’t offer up a head/neck shot. Early in the season, this hunter’s choice of the first round of ammo loaded would be either a #6 or #5 load, backed up by #4’s. Later in the season dictates that perhaps the first shot should be a minimum of bismuth #5’s or 3-inch #4’s that can reach out at longer range and also do a pretty good job at penetrating a gobbler’s feathers.
Due to extremely wet conditions afield and available water sources, the dispersal of hens will have been expanded in territory this spring. The spreading out of hens could see birds heading into new areas and as the season progresses gobblers will be following them around. This condition could cause a delay in the second peak of the mating season, thus extending the breeding period. Once a hen begins sitting on her nest she will become less active, thus gobblers will extend their range and often seek out a new strutting area. Once the number of hens are protecting eggs they won’t be moving around all that much, BUT toms will still be aggressive and looking for new hens. This spring could see more gobblers responding to calling and decoys due mainly to weather-related conditions.
There are many thoughts authored by guides, outfitters and hunters about the effectiveness of decoys during the later part of the season. Some guides just put out a single (laying) hen and a jake decoy in hopes of getting the attention of an aggressive gobbler. Then, some prefer to put out just a hen, while others stick to a jake. One decoy to avoid putting out is a mature gobbler, as this decoy could make a younger gobbler shy away if it has been in a number of fights with other mature birds during the first part of the season. One newly introduced decoy that is very effective when sneaking on a tom is the tail-feather fan that provides concealment while at the same time keeping the attention of a gobbler.
With all the rain, standing water and wet grass early this spring access is likely going to be difficult on dirt roads, which means some birds might not ever be hunted until conditions vastly improve. One of the negative results of hunting turkey under wet conditions is that a shot gobbler will roll around on wet grass, damp ground or end up in a puddle. When taking a photo, nothing looks worse than a big wet gobbler.