Why was this season such a challenge?
If you did well in last month’s spring gobbler season, you’re either a very good turkey hunter or Lady Luck smiled on you. This year was tough for most hunters. I heard gobbling on only four of about 25 days I hunted. Two of those days the birds offered a few gobbles at daylight. Other than two days when I heard them at mid-morning, sunrise was met with silence from gobblers.
What happened? Hard to say for sure, but many people believe this year’s season came too late. They say by the end of the first week the girls were nesting and the boys were in June mode, not showing much interest in the girls.
I hear that complaint every year. Hunters struggle to get gobblers interested in their calls, and gobblers seem to have better things to do than to come running to hen sounds. Most years I also hear the opposite complaint – hunters say gobblers are “henned up,” meaning that gobblers have constant hen companionship in hand so they pay little attention to the hen sound in the bush.
But I didn’t hear that second complaint this year, and my own experience was that gobblers were definitely not hanging out with hens. That leads me to believe hens were bred earlier than usual, and by the time the season rolled around they were incubating nests full of eggs.
My observations confirm that. I saw two hens in the same place every day, so they almost certainly had nests nearby. And on May 27 I got a trail camera photo of another hen with chicks, something I’ve never before seen during spring gobbler season.
If it’s true that turkeys got down to business and finished earlier this year, that’s probably why this season was such a challenge. Mary Jo Casalena, the wild turkey biologist from the Pennsylvania Game Commission thinks that hens nested several weeks ahead of schedule this year, probably due to the warm spring.
Many hunters believe our hunting seasons are always too late. They are, in fact, about last in the nation, with even some more northern states coming in earlier than New York and Pennsylvania. That may be why we rarely see what seems to happen all the time on videos recorded in more southerly states – groups of a half-dozen longbeards gobbling their heads off, charging into a set of decoys, and beating the snot out of them.
Imagine turkey activity as a bell curve. On the up-curve activity is increasing as pecking orders are being established and hens are being bred. That’s when most states have their season. On the down-curve turkey activity is decreasing as hens are nesting and gobblers are recovering from breeding and fighting. Pennsylvania and New York seasons usually begin somewhere on that downswing in turkey activity. This year, we began way down on the bottom end of the curve, when gobblers are transitioning to summer mode. That doesn’t mean gobblers were impossible to get. It only means most were less active this year.
Even though I heard little gobbling, I was fortunate enough to harvest one gobbler. On May 10 I was walking and calling, trying to raise a gobble. At about 8:45 I heard one and quickly set up. Two gobblers came to the fighting purr I made on the custom call I build. One turned himself in at 35 yards.
The closest I came after that was on May 24, when a gobbler showed up at 5:45 AM only 22 feet away, in total silence. I had one of my gloves off. As I put it on, I spooked him.
When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. To read more of Steve Sorensen’s thoughts about hunting, please visit www.jamestowngazette.com.