Turkey Tales: Taking a late-season bird means planning before starting a hunt
Plenty of toms waiting if you know where to look
Based on the number of turkey tales I’ve received recently — ONE — I guess the turkeys must be getting smarter.
Maybe we have to get a little smarter, ourselves. One thing I’ve been hearing a lot of is that there are not as many birds this year. Do not give up!
I’ve tagged out for the spring turkey season, but last Monday morning, I traveled through Saratoga and Washington counties, stopping by various fields and woods and using a box call out the window of my truck. I got quite a few gobbles. I also saw several strutting toms with their harems in other fields. They’re still there and still chasing hens.
Let’s look at a few things that can help you bag a late-season gobbler.
First, locate birds. This doesn’t mean returning to places you saw or even shot a tom last week or last year. Those are possibilities that need to be checked before sneaking in there in the dark. The only sure way of locating a tom is to put him to bed. The successful spring turkey hunter knows the day before where his tom is sleeping.
I don’t mean the exact tree, but the general location. He/she will learn this by getting out just before sundown the day before hunting. Use binoculars when you see them in fields. A few loud crow calls or owl hoots will get a gobbling response if they’ve already roosted.
I have a friend who uses those small, loud air horns, and they get shock gobbles when sounded. If you see turkeys on the ground within 15 to 30 minutes of darkness, you can bet they’re close to where they’ll be roosting, and that’s all you need to know. Once you have this information, you’ll definitely enter the woods with a lot of confidence the next morning.
Speaking of the next morning, head in well before sunup, in the dark. If you’re going to set up in a field, don’t walk to your ambush point across the field. Stay tight to the wood line even if it requires walking all around the edge of the field.
Forget white lights. Use either a green- or red-beam flashlight or cap light.
Many turkey hunters don’t use decoys or don’t think they’re needed. My first tom came to a decoy, and I’ve been using them ever since. I believe when a gobbler answers and starts to come, he expects to see a lovesick hen waiting for him. I also believe that late in the season, as now, toms can become call-shy and/or very cautious if they’ve had encounters with hunters. The decoy(s) can mean the difference between a gobbler hanging up or coming in to claim a mate.
Given this late-season cautiousness, I also like to use three decoys, which could put him even more at ease. I use a jake-and-two-hen setup. I’ve read about placing the decoys in a line so the incoming tom will think they’re on the move and come in quicker — maybe.
I set up my decoys 20 to 25 steps from where I’ll be hiding. My setup in a field is random, but in the woods, it’s based on the terrain. I like to place decoys on higher ground, if possible, but most importantly, I want them to be seen from a distance. The sooner the gobbler sees the decoys, the better.
Another trick I like to use during the late season is attaching a monofilament fishing line to the stake of one of my hen decoys. If I feel or see a tom that is hung up and reluctant to come in, I add a little shaking to her. This has worked for me several times.
Hunting in the wind with decoys can be a problem. On a windy day, they can become spinners, and that can keep Mr. Tom away. Using small branches stuck in the ground on both sides of the decoy’s tail will remedy that problem. Leave about an inch or so on each side to allow the decoy to shake a bit.
This is vital. The best calling and decoy setup in the world is useless if the hunter doesn’t blend in completely with his/her surroundings.
Head-to-toe camo is a must. This includes a full face mask and gloves. Those white hands wrapped around your shotgun are easily seen by the keen eyes of an incoming turkey. I learned that a long time ago when I moved my gloveless trigger finger to push off the safety and sent a tom airborne.
Additionally, I use a low fence-type camouflage blind. It quickly unrolls and has a series of stakes to stick in the ground. It’s easy to carry in the game bag of a turkey vest, and most importantly, it keeps legs and most of the upper body concealed. It also hides hand movement when using box and slate calls.
It’s definitely that time of year. Douse yourself with bug/tick spray as soon as you step out of a vehicle, and do it again when you are set up, and include spraying the area all around you.
There’s no such thing as “too much” bug spray. I also recommend using a Therma Cell unit. They really work.
The single turkey tale this week is definitely a trophy. It was taken by Craig Murcray of St. Johnsville. Craig’s tom tipped the scales at 23 pounds, 12 ounces, carried a 10-inch beard and a pair of 13⁄8-inch spurs.
According to the National Wild Turkey Federation’s scoring system, his bird would have totaled 71.25. That’s a big bird. Congratulations, Craig.