When it comes to hunting longbeards, the late season is a very different ballgame. Follow these proven tips to help ensure you make the most of the last weeks of the season.
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Hunting wild turkeys is one of the most-adventurous outings an outdoorsman can take part in, but grabbing a gobbler by the feet is no easy feat. And in many ways, the later in the season it gets, the harder it becomes. Fortunately, there are ways to make it simpler. Some of these methods are even found right there in your HuntStand app, courtesy of a HuntStand Pro subscription. Here are some tips and tactics to score on a last-minute, sharp-witted strutter.Find The Remaining Gobblers. By the late season, some turkeys have been shot. In most states, the bulk of the harvest takes place on opening week. That’s the reality. But too many hunters automatically assume that there aren’t any turkeys left after the first few days of the season. Actually, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Personally, I prefer the period after the opener. By then, most hunters have given up, or aren’t hunting nearly as much. They might head out from time to time, but the overall hunting pressure falls off the map after week No. 1. That being said, come the late season, it’s important to locate the remaining longbeards.Locate Shifting Turkeys. Remaining turkeys are beginning to shift their patterns as spring wanes. While turkeys might still frequent their older haunts, it’s possible they have either changed up their home ranges, or are just beginning to do so. Food sources might be changing, which can result in shifting roost sites and travel routes.
Another factor is general turkey behavior. The breeding cycle is winding down, and hens are heading off to nest. Once the bulk of hens are doing so, it’s not uncommon to see gobblers start following the ladies off toward these nesting grounds, which are generally thicker and more grown up in nature.Use The Foliage. One of the best things about the late season is the onset of fresh, green vegetation. This new foliage growth is great for hunters, because it helps provide additional cover for moving into position on turkeys. Whereas before, during the early season, it was more difficult to slide into position without getting picked off by sharp-eyed strutters.
There is a downside to increased vegetation, though. It’s harder to hear turkeys, and for them to hear you. Also, remember that birds won’t actually be as far away as they sounded during the early season, especially with the denser forest growth now hanging on every limb, stalk, stick, and twig.Tone The Calling Down. Aggressive calling is synonymous with the early and middle portions of the breeding cycle. Oftentimes, it isn’t as productive during the late season. This is due to beaten and bruised gobblers that have fought other turkeys, and encountered other hunters.
That being said, never assume aggressive calling won’t work. Sometimes, it can, and it’s important to take a turkey’s temperature, so to speak, to see what flips their switch. Just start soft and crank it up from there.
It also doesn’t hurt to change up the calls from what you used earlier in the year, especially if hunting the same area over and over. After a while, those turkeys just might catch on and recognize your calling. That isn’t good, especially if they previously registered your sound with danger.
Change The Decoy Spread. One of the best ways to kill turkeys is to use decoys wisely. I rarely deploy aggressive spreads during the late season. Turkeys aren’t as likely to engage with rivals, and they aren’t as likely to seek out confrontations.
Because of that, it might be best to leave the strutter decoys at home. Instead, use a jake and a hen pair. Or, better yet, just go with a single hen or pair of hens. This will be much more alluring to a gobbler that isn’t looking to fight for women.Swing Ahead of Them. During the late season—or any time of the year, really—some turkeys won’t be responsive to calls or decoys. They just want to peck the ground, stuff their mouths, and do other turkey things in peace. You won’t sway them from it, either.
There’s only one tactical solution for these types of turkeys—use deer-hunting strategies. You can either wait for another day and set up along their known travel routes, and wait them out. Or, you can use a more-aggressive approach and swing right around ahead of them. Just make sure you circle far enough out that you remain in front of them. Fail to do that and you’ve walked a lot for nothing, and might even spook your target bird.Hunt The Midday Shift. Now that most hens are nesting, there are less of them to entertain the remaining attention-hungry gobblers. That translates to a mess of lonely longbeards suddenly looking for love. And those that still have girlfriends are likely to lose them by mid-morning.
This makes the middle third of the day an excellent time to target turkeys. Toms are much easier to call now, and getting one to commit will be simpler once real hens are out of the question. While these suddenly-lonely longbeards might not scream their heads off, don’t be surprised if they slip into range, nonetheless.Focus On Cooler Areas. Late-spring days bring the heat, and turkeys don’t like that. With thick layers of dark feathers, these birds are magnets for sunrays. Cloudless days with baking sun force them to seek reprieve from the onslaught.
This makes cooler areas excellent hunting spots during the late season. Hunters should focus on low-lying areas, such as marshes and swamps. These are generally cooler than higher elevations in more open areas.
Timbered ground with plenty of canopy cover is another surefire bet. Turkeys enjoy the shade, and can still feed in these places, too. Just remember to avoid spots that are so thick that turkeys vacate them.
Third, and most importantly, consider waterways. When it’s hot, lakes, rivers, creeks, streams, springs, ditches, drainages and other water sources become turkey magnets. They need to drink, but these locations are generally several degrees cooler than surrounding areas. Turkeys like that.Beat The Bugs. Anyone who’s hunted in the South, or most anywhere in the heat, will know just how bad the biting bugs can get. Mosquitoes are the worst, but you also have to worry about others, such as buffalo gnats. No matter what insects one must deal with in your neck of the woods, it’s important to be prepared.
There are many options for this, including bug spray, essential oils, a ThermaCell, etc. Determine which option (if any) is right for you. Then, be ready to go to war with these little buggers. The hotter it gets, the meaner they become.Be More Patient. Finally, remember to be more patient. While it’s possible to find a red-hot turkey during the late season, it’s not as common as I’d like it to be. Generally, the gobbling is still pretty good, but things tend to unfold a little slower. That isn’t a bad thing, though, as we late-season turkey hunters are likely beaten and bruised ourselves.
Of course, it can be hard to express patience while in the field. There are several ways to do so, though. Call more sparingly. Use fewer decoys. Sit and wait for turkeys longer, rather than constantly moving. Give setups more time to unfold. Turkeys still do turkey things, it just sometimes takes them longer to do so during the late season.