Years ago, I carried a big jake into a local sporting goods store on May 15 to have him weighed. As he pulled the scale down to 15¼ pounds, the store owner said, “It’s a good turkey hunter who can get a bird this late, when the leaves are out and the birds have been pressured for two weeks!” It made me feel good, but since then I’ve learned that’s not true.
It is true, however, that lots of hunters give up halfway through a spring gobbler season. I’ve learned that’s no time to quit.
Gobblers fall every day of the month-long season. In fact, the first season I field tested my personal turkey call design (my “Northern Scratchbox,” available at www.EverydayHunter.com), I filled both my Pennsylvania tags well after the mid-point of the season, on May 21 and May 27. And I’ve called them in on Pennsylvania’s very last day. That’s proof enough that my turkey call works, AND that late season can be prime time.
But if you approach the late season the same way you do the opening week, you’ll have tough hunting than in the opening week, when few gobblers have been harassed by hunters, and they’re feeling lusty enough to take risks. I can think of at least four factors make turkey hunting more challenging around the mid-season point. If you’re going to be successful, you’ll want to understand the changes.
- Most turkeys have some recent experience with predators, besides hunters. Coyotes and fishers like turkey dinners too, but unlike you they spend 24/7 in the woods. And they’re more aggressively looking for food to feed their young. Not every gobbler has been attacked by a predator, but you can bet every gobbler has recently avoided a full-time predator. That can result in quieter gobblers—gobblers that are harder to find than vocal gobblers.
- Gobblers aren’t as lustful as they were early in the season. They’ve been sowing their oats among willing hens for more than a month, so they’re less responsive and more cautious than they were in the early season.
- The woodlands have changed so you do need to adapt as the season goes on. The leaves in the trees will muffle sounds, so it will be harder to tell how far away a gobbler is. In the woods, the underbrush might conceal a gobbler’s approach, so a silent bird might show up when you’re not expecting him.
- Other people are in the woods, interrupting the activities of turkeys. Farming practices can make a difference in the daily routine of the turkeys. Oil and gas producers are drilling, checking wells, performing maintenance. Timber producers are marking trees and logging. Hikers and bikers are active, particularly on weekend afternoons. Trout fishermen walk in on gobblers. All this puts turkeys on extra high alert.
What’s your response? Adjust your strategies accordingly. Recognize that certain advantages come with the late season. One plus you’ll enjoy in the second half of the season is that the leafed-out tree canopy might make it easier for you to get close to a roosted gobbler. You may need to call sparingly to that cautious gobbler. Try using a few gobbler yelps because gobblers will be reestablishing their social groups. Monitor times others might be in the woods. There might be certain areas you should avoid, or hunt adjacent to.
Your biggest advantage is that most other hunters will have given up, because they still believe that old myth, “If you don’t kill a gobbler by mid-season, you’re wasting your time trying!” You and I know that’s not true. Late season is great hunting for the guy who doesn’t quit.
When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, writing about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. Contact him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com, and read more of his thoughts about hunting at www.jamestowngazette.com.