April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring?
Late season turkey hunting!
You may feel a bit pressured when the turkey season starts to wind down if you still haven’t filled your tags. You know there are ten more months until the spring season comes back in, and you’re dreading the question from your friends… “Did you get a turkey this year?”
I know the feeling. I used to use the same techniques in May that I’d tried during the early season. I soon found out that late season turkey hunting requires a slightly different approach.
As hens get into nesting mode and toms vacillate between breeding and eating mode, I change where I’m hunting, how I’m calling, how long I’m waiting, and the decoys I’m using (if any). These changes have helped me nail more “buzzer beaters” and keep the naysayers off my back.
Read on for my five late season turkey hunting tips to help you kill more last-chance gobblers.
Is Early or Late Turkey Season Better?
Like almost everything, it depends. You have huge differences in temperatures, hunting pressure, breeding cycle, food sources, and foliage. Let me break down the pros and cons of late season turkey hunting and you can decide for yourself.
Pros of Late Season Turkey Hunting
- There is less competition from other hunters. The lucky ones have tagged out. The rest have given up. That leaves the woods and fields wide open for you.
- You have less competition from real hens. Rare is the late season, henned-up tom. Most of the real hens are tending nests or even raising poults.
- If you get on a hot gobbler, he’s not going to be hard to kill. While not a guarantee, a gobbling late season tom is very likely to keep on coming to your calling.
Cons of Late Season Turkey Hunting
- Many of those gullible two-year-old toms have already been killed. The survivors may have been hunted hard. In high-pressure areas, they’ve likely heard all sorts of calling and been shot at over decoys so they’re going to be extremely wary of common hunting tactics.
- There is less gobbling than in the early season. Calling will be much sparser and generally limited to the early morning.
- It’s harder to appeal to the aggressive nature of toms. No one is looking for a fight anymore. Strutting decoys and reaping are not going to as effective as they were in the early season.
Late Season Turkey Hunting Tips
1) Change the Scene
Turkeys probably won’t be in the same places they were early in the season. Food sources, foliage growth, and habitat needs will dictate that turkeys shift away from their early spring territory.
Now you need to focus on the nesting and rearing areas. As hens settle in on nests, toms will stay nearby to ensure that they are there to help the lady with breeding should her nest or poults be destroyed by predators or weather.
Look for good nesting and brooding cover. Also, look for areas with good food. If they’re not breeding, toms will start to prioritize getting their bellies full.
2) Take Their Temperature When Calling
There are a lot of variations in calling throughout the turkey season. This continues to be true in the late season.
On some days, you may need to dial it back a bit with some contented clucks and purrs. Yelp a little, but don’t sound too excited. You want to sound like a content hen.
Because turkeys have been called to by hunters for many weeks at this point, it is a good idea to try to sound different than the average hunter. Employ custom calls as much as possible. Try subtle techniques such as scratching the leaves to sound like a hen searching for food.
On other days, you may find it more effective to call loudly and aggressively. Toms may be desperate to breed with a hen late in the season and there are not many hens in play. If you’re the only one and you sound like you want to mingle, he might just head your way.
3) Take Out the Jake Decoy
Later in the season, toms are worn out from all the fighting and posturing they’ve endured the past couple of months. Some toms have gotten their butts whipped and will steer clear of any trouble that might be brewing.
That’s why I will usually take the jake out of my late season turkey hunting decoy spread. This is probably the worst time of the season to use a strutter decoy.
If I’m going to use decoys at all, I like to use a hen or two when late season turkey hunting. I especially like a feeding hen that appears to be content. I want my decoy to look like the real hens that are filling their bellies before heading back to the nest.
4) Keep Calm, Be Patient
When you are late-season turkey hunting, the woods will be close to full foliage. That means you won’t be able to hear as far as you could in the early season.
Therefore, you will need to be a little more patient. You may have a tom working towards you from a distance, but you may still not be able to hear him.
You will also have to be more patient when it comes to striking up a gobbler. Toms may not be as vocal as they were earlier in the season. However, if you get one to answer you. Chances are, he’s coming. Get ready!
5) Hunt Them Like You’re Practicing for Deer Season
I’ve been on properties where it was dead quiet late season. No gobbling. No hen talk that I could hear. But I was seeing turkeys!
If they don’t want to play the game but you’re seeing them, consider setting up an ambush. While “deer hunting” turkeys is not everyone’s cup of tea, it is a way to fill your tags when late season turkey hunting.
Watch fields, open woods, and logging roads. If you see a tom in a certain spot, try to get set up in the spot the next day. You’ll have a half-decent chance of giving him a ride in your truck.
Hopefully, these tips will help you nail a late season gobbler. If they don’t, just tell your friends you decided to let them grow for one more year.
And who says you have to wait a whole year anyways? It will only be a few months before fall turkey hunting will be in. You can read my tips for hunting turkeys in the fall here.
Good luck filling those tags this spring. More importantly, have fun and be safe!