Till the Fat Turkey Sings
It sometimes seems that the greater portion of the excitement in turkey hunting is front-loaded. It is often the first hunting after snowbound, dismal months of winter. So the expectation can be nearly corporeal–maybe not to the extent of tremors, but certainly down to the kind of physical enthusiasm that sends a hunter springing from his bunk at the first stroke of the alarm at 3:00 a.m. on opening morning, feeling, as the saying went in a more gracious era, full of beans.
Vim and vigor are not exclusive to hunters at the start of the season, either. The turkeys themselves are, after their own frigid winter, robustly searching out, pursuing, dueling over, and courting responsive mates. They may also be somewhat naïve about the presence and purpose of human hunters in the woods and fields, more easily swayed by a hunter’s calling, moving the odds however more slightly to the hunters’s favors. And there is also the question of the turkey tag itself: In many states it is one (bearded bird) and done. But even though the season may be halted with a single pull of the trigger within hours, or less, of sunup on opening morning, there is still inordinate pressure to make that decision to pull that trigger then, knowing that this might be the most likely, if not the only, opportunity of taking a bird before the season’s clock runs out.
Nonetheless the season goes on. Many states issue multiple tags. Some hunters will roll the dice and let that easier, early-season bird walk, perhaps in the hope of an even longer beard later, or simply because they are reluctant to have the season end, for them, too soon. And then there are the factors a hunter has little or no control over–violent spring weather; blown setups; missed shots (well, that is something a hunter probably does have some control over, or responsibility for); a general stillness, or reduced raucousness, settling over the woods as the hens cease yelping and turn to brooding their clutches and gobblers begin to come together again in the bachelor flocks they will keep to for most of the year, competitive ardor for mates cooling; and the steep learning curve turkeys have traced with the experience they gain through the season.
Late season, spring-turkey hunting turns into the long game, with patience the first and foremost aid in bagging a gobbler. When you find where you want to set up, be prepared for hours of sitting. Have a comfortable seat underneath you and good camouflage around you, whether you build it out of brush or use a popup blind. And don’t overlook masking your silhouette from behind.
Scouting is never more essential than in late season. Gobblers are said to prefer fields and openings where they can see threats and hens can see them. Know where they roost and the routes they will take back and forth.
Listen more, call less. Use calls you didn’t use earlier in the season and use them softly. Learn the lower pitch and slower cadence of a gobbler’s yelp. It only takes a little calling for a bird to know where you are, if he’s interested. A bird is coming quietly, so listen for scratching, footfalls, the alarms of squirrels and other birds. Learn to recognize spitting and putting. And because turkeys are especially cautious this time of the season, one could be sneaking in behind you.
Late season works better with another hunter. While one is forward with the decoy, the other can be farther back, calling. A turkey that may hang up out of range of the second hunter, might fall right into the sights of the one in front.
Decoys are nearly indispensable late season. Use one as lifelike as possible, while being careful about placement. I have hunted a couple times over full-body taxidermied decoys, and where legal there’s virtually nothing like them. The expense can be daunting; but even if you hunt widely, there’s no need for one of each sub-species; a single decoy will do, a Rio mount attracting an Osceola every bit as effectively as it will a Merriam’s, etc. Then all you need are reliable turkey loads, such as Browning TSS Tungsten Turkey.
They say April is the cruelest month. But if you can fill its 30 days with as much turkey hunting as you like, you may come to have a second opinion about that diagnosis.