April 01, 2018

Turkey season opens for Michigan hunters on April 23. In some areas, mostly in the north, the season will run through May 6, with some areas having the season split into two hunts. Some southern units will have four hunts, with some extending to the end of May. As usual, the “Guaranteed License Hunt” will be most of the month of May, starting on the 7th and ending on the 31st with no quota.

Many serious hunters will have done their scouting by now and, hopefully, have some birds located. There are a number of traditional techniques for hunting turkeys in the spring. Here are three of the most promising.

Roosted Birds

This was the favorite technique used by locals when I hunted in New York and Pennsylvania, in those years before we had good numbers of turkeys in Michigan. The hunters would go out and walk the rustic two-tracks or hike over the ridges, in the half-light of evening, using some sort of shock-gobble call. An owl hoot or a tom turkey call was used to try to elicit an answer from a roosted gobbler. If there was an answer, the hunters crept close, but not too close, looked around the area carefully to locate some landmarks and made plans to return in the morning. We didn’t have handheld GPS units then but that would be a great tool now, for this hunting.

Before first light the next day, the hunters were back at that same spot, having carefully moved in to about 150 yards of the roosted birds before taking a seat next to a couple of big trees. As the light started to seep into the woods, the first quiet clucks were heard from the tree-tops and then a couple of thunderous gobbles broke the dawn. Over the next 20 minutes, turkeys were heard all over the area, with both hens and toms announcing their presence.

About 30 minutes after first light but before sun-up, the first furious fluttering was heard as a turkey flew down from the roost. In the next few minutes, a dozen more hit the ground and their get-together talk grew even louder. The hunters added their own calls, giving subtle hen yelps on a slate call with each being answered by at least three gobblers. Within 10 minutes, the first gobbler strutted into view, followed by two more. The hunter already had his shotgun braced on his knees and as the gobbler strutted into range, he touched the trigger and claimed a fine big bird.

The Feeding Strutting Area

Careful scouting will often locate an area that attracts turkeys every day. It could be a hidden crop field or perhaps a small meadow surrounded by woods. It will almost always be a clearing of some sort and it is likely to be well away from the usual haunts of man. When turkeys venture out into the open, they want a safe place. The birds will have been roosted near by, perhaps no more than a few hundred yards from the feeding/strutting area. At dawn, they will fly down, get together and walk directly to the field or clearing.

The hens will feed actively and the gobblers will trail along, strutting and showing off but perhaps not feeding at all. If there are any jakes (young males) in the group, they will also trail along, hoping to get in on some mating activity, to no avail. They will forego feeding in vain. The best bet for the hunter, in this situation, is to get between the roost trees and the clearing and begin to call just as the birds fly down, hoping to attract a tom before the hens gather them up. If the birds get together immediately, however, the hunter may lose his chance. If the gobbler is following the hens as they walk to the clearing, all is lost, at least for the moment. It’s very difficult to call a tom away from the hens.

The hunter can still succeed, with the application of a little patience. After the birds have fed (and that could take two hours or more), they will head back to the woods probably right along the same route they used at dawn. If the hunter is stationed along that route, it might now be possible to call a gobbler away from the hens and I have done that a number of times. On one occasion, I had my decoy set out along the edge of the field when the birds first came into the field. They ignored it at the outset but, two hours later, as they were headed back to the woods, they spotted the decoy and one by one, the gobblers split off and raced to the decoy, with the hens trailing along behind. I was no longer behind the decoy, having moved through the woods to the spot at which the birds had entered the field. After the birds milled around the decoy, they walked directly to my location and the first big gobbler that sauntered into the woods fell to my shotgun. Even if you are unable to call a gobbler that has been out in a field with feeding hens, you have a good chance of ambushing the birds as they return to the woods and that has worked more often than calling to a mixed flock.

Run and Gun

If you fail to call in a bird at a location you have scouted and it is getting toward mid-morning, it might be time to hit the road, provided that you know of other spots that might hold some birds and you have permission to hunt there. The plan now is to drive or walk around to a number of likely locations and call at each for a few minutes, to see if you can get a response. Usually, by mid-morning, the gobblers have already checked out the hens in their immediate area and they will be looking for additional female companions.

This situation becomes even more likely in mid-May when the hens are tending to eggs in their nests. The hens will leave the males after an hour or two and go to their nests. The gobblers immediately start looking for other hens and are really susceptible to calling. At this time of the morning, they can sometimes be spotted walking along energetically, covering ground, looking for hens. You may have to try a number of spots in your “run and gun” activity until you locate a bird but this tactic works more often than not.

During one of those endeavors, we walked way back to a distant ridge that sometimes held birds. We reached the top and let loose a short series of yelps that was answered immediately. We put out a couple of decoys, backed up to a big tree and called some more. That bird must have come all the way at a dead run because he was there in just a couple of minutes and he stayed for dinner.

There are many tactics and techniques that will put a spring gobbler in the freezer and they all promise suspense, uncertainty and hunting thrills as well as a very special meal.