Late-season turkey hunting gets a bad rap, and it’s easy to see why. After all, the gobblers of late spring don’t act like their early-season counterparts.
Savvy hunters know that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Actually, many savor the late season because they know it can offer some of spring’s best action.
Early seasons attract considerable attention because spring gobbler populations are at their peak and turkeys haven’t been yelped at for months. Plus, if you live in the North, hens might not yet be receptive to gobblers, and longbeards can be very receptive to calling. As the season winds down, hunters have killed many eager gobblers and bumped countless others. Birds become tight-lipped in many areas, especially those with heavy hunting pressure. Foliage thickens, bugs emerge and fishing gets good. In short, hunting becomes more difficult, and many folks have already scratched their turkey itch. But many gobblers still roam the landscape, and they’re still seeking hens. In fact, as more hens begin to sit on nests, your chances for striking a hot longbeard increase as the season ticks away.
Strategies don’t vary much late in the season. You’re still trying to locate turkeys, set up on them and call them in. I really only make three changes.
First, I scout frequently to locate birds in spots that held none earlier. Many of these might be near good nesting areas or late-emerging food sources. It’s common to see solo gobblers or small pods of birds at this time, as turkeys have pretty much spread throughout their home ranges by the late season. You won’t usually encounter big wads of hens or roosts with 10 gobblers like you did during early spring.
In addition, I use late spring’s dense foliage to slip closer to gobblers — roosted or on the ground. Woods that were barren in mid-April might be lush and green in late May, allowing you to sneak a few critical yards tighter to a longbeard. Just remember that foliage also muffles gobbling somewhat, so turkeys are probably closer than you think.
I also get more mobile and aggressive at midmorning and midday, hoping to strike a lonely gobbler. A tom that hasn’t enjoyed the company of hens for a week might go ballistic at excited yelping and travel a long way to find a girlfriend. I’ll walk and call in hopes of striking a lonely bird. Or, I’ll set up at long ridges or large fields and cold-call in hopes of sparking the attention of a distant gobbler.
Pay special attention to the weather during the late season. Nothing stifles gobbling and turkey activity like warm temperatures. When the mercury tops 70 during sunny days, turkeys often hush up and find cool, moist, shady areas to loaf away the day. Locate these spots for midday cold-calling efforts, or concentrate your efforts on the first and last hours of the day.
Two more late-season caveats: Bring a ThermaCell. You can’t hunt effectively if you’re being pounded by mosquitoes. Also, know what poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac look like.