A Dozen Afternoon Approaches
By Jim Casada
Often overlooked by most hunters, afternoon hunts can be a productive time for those men and women determined to get their gobbler.
Because some states do not allow afternoon hunting, and in those that do the hunting is usually not very gobble-filled, many hunters abandon the woods at this time of day. But in the states where afternoon hunting is permitted — and that is an increasing number — overlooking this supposedly "off" period is a mistake.
Sure, peak gobbling activity begins at daylight and continues for the next couple of hours. There is also some truth to the widely held belief that turkeys spend the heart of the day, particularly in hot weather, lazing in the shade. But keep other considerations firmly in mind. Gobblers are usually alone at this time of day, as hens have gone off to nest, making them more susceptible to calling. And, the drive to breed aside, gobblers are also moving about and feeding throughout the day, which means if you're in the woods, you stand a chance of intercepting one of these toms at any time.
For the patient, persistent hunter, afternoon affords plenty of promise. Here are a dozen tips focusing on post-lunch prowls through the spring woods. If one results in your trudging happily homeward at sunset, turkey in hand, then you will truly appreciate the phrase "afternoon delight."
1. Know the Ground
Let's start with my personal favorite among afternoon tactics; namely, putting knowledge of the land to good advantage. There's nothing like the home field advantage, and in the afternoon that involves visiting several spots you know turkeys like to use and spending an hour or so at each of them. It is sort of a seek-and-find (hopefully) mission, but one in which you have upped the odds through local knowledge.
A good friend of mine, Cuz Strickland, is fond of saying "I ain't waiting at no chufa patch." I fully appreciate such sentiments; yet there can be no denying the fact that setting up at a food plot, whether it involves chufa, clover or some other favored food, can be productive. It's a waiting game, but patient turkey hunters in such situations can reap rich dividends.
3. And More Waiting
Many old-time hunters have enjoyed consistent success for decades by using skilled woodscraft to select a likely setup spot in the woods or at a field's edge, then quietly playing the waiting game. Other than the occasional soft cluck or series of muted yelps, the key to this tactic is patience. It is a good idea to build a blind (this allows more movement) and get as comfortable as possible. Decoys can also be a real ally.
4. Cutt And Run
Aggressive, proactive hunting has become increasingly popular, and it offers a totally different approach for those hunters not keen on simply sitting and waiting. The idea is to cover ground, calling as you go in an attempt to locate a bird. Cutting or using calls that carry well — such as boat paddles, aluminum friction calls or wingbones — can be especially effective.
5. Retracing Your Footsteps
A variation on cutting and running, one ideally suited to situations where you have only a couple hundred acres or less to hunt, involves walking a few hundred yards, setting up and calling for a half hour or so, then moving on a few hundred more yards. Spend the entire afternoon doing this, eventually retracing your footsteps. Often, even when your outward journey seems fruitless, you will encounter a gobbler the second time around.
Turkeys dust regularly to rid themselves of mites and lice or just for relief. If you find a dusting bowl showing obvious signs of use (especially if a few gobbler breast feathers are present), consider spending some time close by. Toss out some soft yelps or clucks every 10 minutes or so.
7. More Sign
When you find a well-used strutting area with plenty of fresh sign, spend some time nearby. There's a very reasonable chance, if you hang around for a couple of hours, that Mr. Tom will show up to strut his stuff.
8. Gobbles are Golden
Hearing a gobble on the roost at daylight is one thing, but when you get a longbeard to "talk turkey" in the afternoon you have a much better chance of doing business. Once you elicit a gobble, whether it is with yelps, a locator call or you just happen to hear one, make every effort to work this tom to your advantage. It's important to note that while fewer gobbles will be heard in the afternoon, of the toms that do gobble, a hunter stands a better chance of calling it in.
9. Make a Break
During the early part of the day, before hens start nesting, following a longbeard and his harem hour after hour can be extremely frustrating. In such situations you might want to try a fall hunting technique--scattering birds to separate big boy from his lady friends. Then wait, just as you would in the fall, for a half hour or so before beginning to call (unless the tom gobbles before then!)
10. Sqatters Rights
Sometimes you reach a level of frustration with a "won't come" gobbler that calls for truly desperate measures. One long shot tactic you might try, although I only recommend it on the last afternoon of a "road trip" hunt or the last day of the season, is to quickly approach a distant gobbler you can see but that won't come. Sometimes, rather than suddenly realizing he has urgent business in the next county, the gobbler squats to hide and offers an opportunity to get close enough for a shot.
11. The Meeting At The Pass
With some knowledge of the daily routines of turkeys, especially when they frequent a roosting area regularly, you may be able to set up near the roosting site and "cut 'em off at the pass" as birds wind their way to the roost. Be careful of this tactic though if you plan to hunt the area again later in the season. Setting up too close to a roosting area and shooting a tom near it can ruin that roosting area for the season as the birds will be leery of returning.
12. On the Roost
Even when you fail to locate a longbeard after an afternoon of hard hunting, all is not lost. Stay with it until fly-up time, ideally being situated at a good looking and listening post such as the one suggested in the previous tip. Be alert for the heavy wing beats of a gobbler going to roost or a "good night gobble" or two. Owl hoots and coyote howls at this time can even elicit a gobble. These can be your ticket for prime positioning come daylight the following morning.
Afternoon is a time for only the most dedicated and patient turkey hunters. Indeed it takes a challenging pursuit and makes it even more so. But it is also a time of day with ample opportunities for the right man or woman looking to fill his or her tag.