This Wisconsin longbeard, affectionately referred to as “King of the Mountain” by the author, couldn’t resist hard cuts and raspy yelps from a Zink Calls diaphragm. He only gobbled a couple times before charging nearly a quarter mile straight downhill to finish within a few yards on the last day of the 2013 Wisconsin turkey season. Photo by Charlie Killian.
The mere mention of late spring turkey hunting causes some hunters to cringe, while others relish the heavy foliage and solitude of the latter half of May. It took me years to realize, but my favorite time to hunt turkeys is after the majority of hunters have hung up their vests.
My turkey-hunting mentor hated the late-season and convinced me that it was critical to capitalize on early-season birds. He’d explain how toms get spooky, quiet, and just plain weird. Consequently, like many hunters who fear the late season, I had no idea what I was missing and often rushed to tag a bird as quickly as possible – even when conditions were less than ideal.
What’s so great about late?
With special late-season and leftover tags available, many northern tier states and Canadian provinces offer turkey seasons that extend through the end of May. There is far less hunting pressure, as most hunters are done for the season, and gaining permission on private land is often easier. This makes taking a road trip to another state a much more feasible endeavor.
The woods have greened up, too, so it’s much easier to move around without getting busted by the birds. Foliage provides visual cover and shade, as well as a kind of sonic cover. A light breeze is all it takes to crank up the ambient sound of clattering leaves, masking the noises we make while moving about in turkey country. Concealed in lush undergrowth, hunters can hide a heck of a lot better than they could just a couple weeks prior. Without question, the late season provides the best opportunity of the year to make a move on a hung-up long-beard.
Complicated decoy set ups aren’t necessary during the late season. A single, realistic hen like Avian-X’s LCD Breeder Hen perfectly represents a hen that is ready to submit to an amorous tom, and won’t spook wary gobblers that have seen every cheap decoy on the market.
Keep in mind; while heavy cover is great for hunters, it’s also an advantage for turkeys. Remaining largely hidden, they can see us long before we see them. Thoroughly scan the area you are hunting for birds with binoculars prior to entering, and move with stealth. Look for details like the tip of a tail fan or the red head of a gobbler peeking over a rise.
The bugs can be bad by the time the late season rolls around. While some hunters use bug spray, I much prefer using a ThermaCELL appliance, which gives much better coverage. This device has proven to be irreplaceable during late-season turkey hunts. Just make sure to carry extra butane cartridges and repellent mats.
While a gobble may be audible from a very long distance in the early season, birds often vocalize with less volume in the late season, and their sounds can be attenuated by foliage. Position yourself in a good spot to hear – away from rustling leaves and blowing timber – and listen carefully.
While a gobbler can be a little flaky during the late season, he’ll still come to a hunter’s calls. This is especially true if he thinks a hot hen has wandered into his midst. Complicated decoy set ups aren’t necessary, as a single hen will usually do the job. Ultra-realistic decoys in natural poses rule during this time of year. The Avian-X LCD Breeder Hen perfectly represents a hen that is ready to submit to an amorous tom and won’t spook wary toms that have seen every cheap decoy on the market.
Like any other turkey hunting scenario, different gobblers respond to different calling techniques. Light calling may be necessary for tough birds, but the risk of over calling a hot tom is generally a non-issue during late season. Once they answer, it’s often a game-on situation.
Nesting hens tend to be very territorial and respond to aggressive cutts and yelps. Whether or not a gobbler is visible nearby, if the real hen accepts the challenge, the ensuing racket may attract long beards as they come to see what all the ruckus is. With heavy cover to hide the hunter’s presence, hens will often loiter long enough for Mr. Turkey to venture into shotgun range for a look-see.
Without question, the late season provides the best opportunity of the year to make a move on a hung-up long-beard. The full foliage provides extra cover for both turkeys and turkey hunters. Thoroughly scan the area you are hunting for birds with binoculars prior to entering, and move with stealth.
A good cutting-style mouth call is hard to beat in both of these situations. The Josh Grossenbacher Signature Series diaphragm by Zink Calls has just the right amount of rasp, pop and volume for ornery cuts and yelps that push late-season turkeys over the edge.
Hens are busy tending nests in May, and only take brief sojourns to forage and stretch their legs, potentially distracting a mature gobbler. While these toms may appear to be henned up, in reality it’s only temporary because she’s probably not that into him. Soon, she’ll return to the nest and he’ll be back on the prowl.
The late season is also a great time to take advantage of rainy days when hens are reluctant to leave nests and expose eggs to cold temperatures and pooling rainwater. After fly down, gobblers may wait for hens for a bit, but eventually they’ll give up and head to their common foraging areas to see if any other turkeys are there. A hen decoy or two set in the open will often draw the lonely boys in directly. Rainy days can be miserable for the turkey hunter. This a perfect scenario to stay warm and dry in well-concealed blind such as the Ameristep Shifter, which has plenty of brush loops and extra straps to hold natural vegetation.
Late-season toms are often worn out from the grind of breeding activity. Fighting, mating and a lack of feeding has taken its toll, and it’s not unusual for gobblers to shut down for a few hours and take a much-needed rest. These birds may stop mid-strut and start feeding, or simply stand in an almost trance-like state for hours then suddenly pick up where they left off with a gobble or two. This is especially common during the heat of the day, which makes capitalizing on morning and late afternoon hours highly advisable.
If you love to turkey hunt and haven’t had your fill of early wake-up calls and thunderous gobbles, there is no reason to call it quits just yet. With turkey seasons extending well into May in many areas, there is still plenty of time left to enjoy the sights and sounds that only the turkey hunter knows. So skip the golf game and hit the woods for some late-season turkey time.