Get out in the turkey woods this spring…
When my Uncle Jack and I heard the first gobbles of the day, we knew instantly that we would have our work cut out for us. The gobbles were faint and distant and sounded as if they were on the property to the east of us. After spending the next few hours trying to call them to our setup, we decided to call it a morning. My dad, hunting north of us in a stand of hardwoods, joined us, and we headed back to the house for lunch.
Although the morning had been unsuccessful, my hopes were high for some afternoon gobbler action. I had filled my tag earlier in the season and wanted to help my dad and uncle fill theirs. After lunch, I slipped out behind the farmhouse to do a turkey reconnaissance.
As I reached the end of a narrow fencerow that divided two fields, a pair of gobblers appeared to the east with beards like ZZ Top dragging the ground. It was time to make our move and perform some midday magic.
Running and Gunning
Midday turkey hunting, although challenging at times, can be quite productive if you’re patient and adapt to the turkeys’ change in activity. During the afternoon, turkeys mostly go completely silent, however, using a locator call such as an owl or crow call or cutting on a turkey call as you walk through the woods and fields where you hunt, will often cause a nearby longbeard to shock gobble. This surprise response from a tom allows you to determine the location of the turkey and set up for a shot opportunity.
When choosing your setup, be careful not to get too close and bump the gobbler, causing him to head in the opposite direction. Stay a safe distance away, preferably one to two-hundred yards. As you sneak in on the gobbler to this range, pay attention to natural features that will help keep you hidden as you cut the distance.
Once you arrive at this distance, find a wide tree to hide your profile and get into position. If the gobbler is responsive to your calls, then keep throwing some soft yelps at him. However, if he goes silent, be ready, the longbeard could arrive unannounced.
One spring afternoon, my dad and I were walking along an old farm lane and decided to stop at the top of a hill and cutt on a slate call. Shortly afterward we realized that a pair of gobblers were close, causing us to go into stealth mode instantly.
We circled the birds, which allowed my dad to get into position for a shot. I continued to call as my dad sat in the ready position tipping over one of the two gobblers that came into our setup, allowing him to fill his first turkey tag. Our running and gunning technique had worked on these gobblers. Sometimes it takes being more aggressive and using this particular tactic, however, this is not always the best route to take on afternoon toms.
Sit Tight and Blind Call
Being aggressive, like running and gunning, isn’t always the answer. Sometimes it’s best to blind call, sitting and calling from one location for an extended period. This tactic can be quite productive if you’ve scouted before the season and know where turkeys spend midday feeding, dusting, and strutting. These are the prime areas to focus on and should determine your afternoon setup location.
Feeding areas can be found by looking for tracks and scratch marks on the ground. Scratch marks are especially easy to find when hunting in the woods because they show up well in the leaves. During the afternoon, turkeys feed on insects, seeds, nuts, and waste grain in agricultural fields they come across on their travels. You can imitate a turkey scratching by gently pawing at the leaves and upturning them. Purring or clucking softly on a turkey call while scratching will help make this imitation feeding scenario more realistic to a nearby gobbler. These two types of calls indicate a contented turkey.
On my family’s property, I focus on setting up near the clover food plots and an older hay field where turkeys can be found feeding on insects and clover mostly in the afternoon. I can also ambush turkeys as they travel across our property to the neighbor’s corn field to feed on waste corn. It was near this field that I used a slate call to lure in a gobbler to my uncle’s gun barrel and later on to my dad’s, allowing them to fill their tag.
Turkey tracks can also provide valuable information when searching for afternoon birds. They can tell you the direction the turkeys are traveling, how recently they were in the area, and the sex of the bird. A gobbler’s middle toe is generally more than two and a half inches long. Tracks are proof that turkeys are indeed traveling or feeding in a particular location and a sure sign that they will pass by again in the future.
Another area that turkeys frequent in the afternoon and are great places to hunt is dusting areas. These shallow depressions are usually found in dry dirt or sand and commonly along field edges and old logging roads.
One spring afternoon, while seated in a tent blind with bow in hand, I witnessed a hen dusting herself for about twenty minutes or so. I thought she was never going to leave. This was okay, though, because I knew that the longer she stayed, the greater the chances of her luring in a big old tom to within bow range.
One more area that should be high on your list of places to hunt during the afternoon is strutting zones. Gobblers will often spend hours strutting in hay fields, openings in woods, meadows, and CRP fields for nearby hens. Pick out a spot along the edge of these areas that provides good cover and set up. Be careful when approaching these strut zones, use the topography to hide your movements as you travel to these areas. Turkeys may have already taken up real estate there.
Whether you’re hunting near feeding, dusting, or strutting areas during midday, find a comfortable setup location because you’ll be spending a good deal of time there. If I’m not hunting from my tent blind chair and I’m out and about chasing turkeys, I have a cushioned seat that allows me to sit comfortably for hours. Most turkey hunting vests come with built-in cushions to sit on also.
When you’ve arrived at one of these areas, start calling softly; you never know if a gobbler could be nearby. Purr or cluck softly at first with some occasional yelps. Try a variety of calls until you find one that produces results. I have a slate call in my arsenal that will usually fire up a nearby gobbler on any occasion.
Along with calling, try setting out a decoy or two. This will make your setup appear more realistic to incoming gobblers.
Whether running and gunning or blind calling, get out in the turkey woods and perform some midday magic on a gobbler this spring.