- Chris Campanelli
Late-Season Turkey Strategies
Photo by NOLA.com
Late-season turkey hunting can be a tricky play for the spring hunter who has yet to fill that coveted tag. The pressure is on to get the job done, but the turkeys never seem to play along. Late-spring gobblers can be downright tough.
To steal a little Yogi Berra-ism, it gets late early in spring turkey season. One week you are starting your season, just a few weeks later you are getting ready to finish it up. It's a short-lived season that simply does not last long enough for those of us who love the spring strut.
Those of you reading from the southern portions of the country have already wrapped up your spring seasons. You guys have the benefit of starting nice and early. Hitting those more aggressive birds in early and mid April. While some states in the Midwest have a generously early spring opener, most of us have to wait until late April.
As a lifelong Ohio turkey hunter, it always feels like we have about one or two weeks of good, aggressive turkey hunting. Once the month of May arrives, it seems to really drop off. I have tasted success several times in the month of May, but it has never been easy.
Temperatures begin to warm, underbrush begins to flourish, and hens begin to tend to nests. All of these late-spring factors force tom turkeys into a less aggressive state. As the late-spring turns to early summer, those gobblers will even begin packing up and rolling together again.
Less aggressive birds who roll in packs become extremely tough to call in for a kill shot. I have even dealt with paired-up turkeys throughout the early portions of this 2018 season. Believe me when I tell you that it's no fun to hunt packed-up, non-aggressive turkeys.
With that being said, you can still kill turkeys in the Midwest, North, and Northeast throughout the month of May. I can think of turkey kills I have been involved in over the years on May 8, 12, and 15. It can definitely be done, so don't give up just yet.
You just have to play your cards right and get a little lucky in the process. Here are three go-to strategies to kill mid and late May turkeys.
I have to credit my buddy and legitimate turkey killer Cody Dalton for this tactic, though I know a ton of turkey hunters live by it as well. Cody was following our spring struggles via social media and asked me if I was doing the "fallback" tactic. Doing a good deal of solo hunting, my answer was no. If you are not familiar, the "fallback" tactic is simply placing a dedicated caller anywhere from 20 to 50 yards behind the person who is going to shoot. It's a killer tactic if you hunt with two or more people.
As toms become more weary and less aggressive by the day, they need that extra push to get into shotgun range. Calling directly from where you hope to shoot can result in birds hanging up as they await that last bit of commitment from a moving hen. This has plagued my early season here in Ohio. Dropping back into the timber or further beyond a clearing could draw that big tom right past your buddy's gun barrel. Some hunters will even stay mobile and walk deeper into the timber as the big longbeard approaches.
It's all about piquing that turkey's curiosity and making him think that the hen is just a little bit further. If you play your cards right, that little extra stroll could put that turkey in the back of your truck.
The Silent Treatment
Going silent has been a go-to tactic for me over the years. I just forget to use it from time to time. Let's face it, nothing is harder than getting quiet when a big gobbler is making noise. He's answering every call you make and getting closer with each gobble. It's a turkey hunter's natural instinct to keep the sweet talk going. It can also be a turkey hunter's demise in the late season, or with non-aggressive birds like I've been dealing with all season here in Ohio.
The premise of this theory or tactic is similar to that of the fallback. A weary old gobbler is looking for that hen to make the final move. If you keep hammering that call, he's going to eventually wait it out to see where the sweet talking lady is at. Remember, in the natural world of the wild turkey, the hen would likely make that final move to approach the tom. This is why so many big turkeys hang up and taunt us hunters as they fail to make that last move to get close.
Nothing irritates a love-sick gobbler more than a hen that talks a big game and then shuts up immediately. If you are hunting alone or with a buddy, going silent can do wonders to get that longbeard close. Make some contact calls to get that turkey fired up. Enough that you can tell he's moving in your direction. Once he's hooked, just shut up. You might be shocked at how many birds will come strolling in close once you get quiet.
Gobbler sounds don't even factor into the equation for most turkey hunters. We stick to hen sounds and maybe a little scratching on the leaves to make it seem like a hen is browsing around. You don't often see turkey hunters gobbling back. When you do, it seems as if the old school hunters are the ones doing it. They may know something.
Keep in mind that gobblers are beginning to roll with their buddies again, and also remember that hens are getting less yappy. A mouthy hen may seem out of line to a late-season gobbler, but a gobble or two may seem more natural. Natural enough to warrant a little investigation by that old tom.
Keen late-season turkey hunters will transition into gobbler yelps and even full-on gobbles with some of the shakers and other mouth-blown calls out there. My first turkey actually committed to a gobble call on a cold May 8th morning, so I know it can work. I have had success using the Flextone Thunder Gobble and a shaker style gobble call by HS Strut. Try mixing in some gobbler yelps or a couple of gobbles with light hen yelps. It could be that Hail Mary that wins the game for you this spring.