BY JIM NIEMIEC
PASO ROBLES – Opening weekend of turkey season will see a lot of hunters afield in hopes of harvesting a gobbler. Most all the outfitters and guides have already booked hunters, and traditionally opening weekend offers up excellent hunting opportunities. Guides will have scouted properties and will be setting up blinds where the most spring turkey activity is occurring to help ensure hunter success.
Traditionally, opening week of turkey season sees the harvest of young toms who are easier to call in and to decoy, providing close-in shots. The older and wiser toms will likely stay pretty much with a bunch of hens and jennies until later in the season, when hens will start spending more time around a nesting site and mature gobblers will become more callable intoablindspotorbywayofa “spot and stalk” approach.
Over the past 40 years, this WON hunting writer has successfully hunted turkey all though the spring season. Weather conditions can play a significant role during the spring hunting season. There will be days of heavy rain, fog and even snow at higher elevations and towards the end of the season, daytime temps can range up into the low 90s, thus making for a more difficult hunt.
Those planning on heading out to hunt turkey in San Diego County should find a lot less pressure on birds after opening weekend. Based on scouting reports from veteran turkey hunter Steve Turigliatto of San Diego, there should be a lot of jakes around and the carryover of big gobblers from the last couple of seasons should see some mature long beards harvested throughout the spring season. On public land in the Cleveland National Forest, especially in Northeastern San Diego County, hunters who trek into more distant spots are likely to end up hunting birds that have haven’t seen a decoy or shy away from a mouth, slate or box call. Due to the elevation of this popular hunting region — between 3,250 and up to 5,000 feet — a hunter can expect very cold early morning temperatures that will likely keep hens and toms at roost well past normal fly-down time, so be patient.
In recalling a late-season hunt with Curt Dills on a My Country Club-leased ranch near Mesa Grande a few years back, the hunt went like this: For some biological reason, toms went into a silent mode, which is typical throughout the spring season. Dills’ 4WD took us into some rough country, stopping off at high spots to work his box call in hope of getting a return gobble to no avail. Dills had patterned toms on this ranch since opening week, but likely due to a below-freezing morning temp they were totally uncooperative. Parking the rig, we headed up a canyon draw filled with poison oak and set up under an ancient oak in hopes of catching a few birds moving across the adjoining open hillside.
After two hours, it was time to call off the hunt, as it was still pretty cold and damp. Just as we got back to the rig, a mixed group of hens, jakes and a couple of toms decided it was finally time for fly-down. Those birds few right over the parked vehicle and glided down onto adjacent Outfitters land that was posted. We set up as close to those birds as possi- ble, but the toms were all henned up and followed them off into thick chaparral.
Biologically speaking, there are normally two peaks during the spring turkey season. In warmer climates, the first peak can occur before opening weekend with a second peak taking place during the third or fourth week of the season. These peak periods can result in some pretty difficult turkey hunts.
As the season progresses, turkey become more difficult to call into a decoy set-up. Having heard many different calls and likely encountered many hunters, hunting becomes more difficult as mature toms will not respond to any kind of call but more likely will just move away.
Mid-season hunts along the western slopes of the High Sierra are traditionally more productive than those taken early in the season. Dispersal of hens can often be delayed due to weather and snow at higher elevations, as appears to be the status this spring. According to Ron Gayer, master turkey guide on Indian Rock Ranch (661-809-1613), turkey hunting seems to get better at higher elevations as the season progresses and toms continue to seek out cooperative hens to mate with.
On another post-opener hunt with Larry Thompson on a ranch near Atascadero, the turkeys were still pretty much flocked up and hunting proved difficult. A number of setups didn’t reward us with a shot, and even what appeared would be a productive ambush failed. That flock of mixed birds were just doing their thing, as turkeys will often do.
Just about every veteran turkey hunter or guide has their preferences as to setting out decoys. The most common setup is a sitting hen with a jake or tom decoy, but there are those who prefer just a hen and tom, and some guides are able to entice a gobbler into shotgun range with just putting out a single decoy.
Today, some hunters are opting to sneak up to a gobbler who refuses to move away from hens, or not wanting to leave his strutting location dictating a different late season approach. Just about every decoy manufacturer now offers a hand-held turkey decoy that allows a hunter to crawl behind the decoy and sneak up on a strutting tom. Primos introduced a new hand-held decoy “Chicken on a Stick” that offers viewing though a mesh hole in the body of the decoy. This decoy also has a place to insert a real turkey tail fan. This new technique has proven very successful in getting well within shotgun range and there are even hunts that a tom will coming running right up to a fan decoy looking to do battle for the exclusive rights of a nearby hen.
One important tip this hunting writer would like to pass on for post opener hunts is: BE PATIENT… Don’t stop hunting if you don’t hear or see any toms in the morning. According to most guides — and this can also be supported by this hunter — most gobblers that are harvested after fly-down are killed between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.