If you love turkey hunting as much as I do you then you understand the excitement that comes with opening day. The night before almost feels like Christmas Eve and you barely even need your alarm to get up the next morning; the crisp cool air awakens your senses as you sit and listen to the woods come alive. However, as the weeks pass by the excitement you felt on opening day has come and gone. Waking up early starts to feel more like a chore and you begin to think that big ole Tom is taunting you. You're mentally exhausted and his gobbles sound like he is mocking you from the roost and then some how he vanishes into thin air. At this point it is easy to become discouraged but it is important to maintain hope and know you are not alone. Hunters everywhere struggle with late season turkeys, just like you, but if you can stick it out till the end there is a good chance you'll end up bagging that bird of a lifetime. Based off my personal experience here are 3 quick tips to help increase your odds of tagging that late season gobbler.
Talk Turkey - That ole tom didn’t become ‘that ole tom’ by being stupid. Wild turkeys are one of the smartest birds and at this stage of the game they probably have heard your box call 100 times and they aren’t buying it anymore. The same tactics you used in the early season are not going to work effectively in the late season because the game has changed as the mating season is coming to an end. It is no longer the time to act like a hen eagerly wanting to mate. Try switching it up to a call the birds haven’t heard yet and don't over call. If you are hunting an area that you know receives pressure from other hunters try and use calls that the other guys probably aren’t using, like an old wing bone call or a push button call. Turkeys have a wide range of vocalizations and too many times hunters get stuck in a rut of using the same calls over and over again and too frequently. Try calling softly and then wait 20 or 30 minutes before hitting the call again. Chances are that turkey heard you the first time and over doing it will only alert him that something isn't quite right. Also, add some realism to your calls like flapping your hat to simulate the wings of a turkey leaving the roost, and scratching at the leaves to mimic an actual turkey.
Stick it out through the mid-morning lull - Patience is the key to hunting turkeys all season but it becomes especially true later in the season. Toward the end of the season there may not be as much action in those early morning hours as the birds have become accustom to you running around the woods at first light. Although it may be different where you are, here in Eastern North Carolina 10:30 seems to be that magical time that birds start to re-appear. By this time it is common for the hens to be off by themselves laying eggs or sitting on their nests, leaving the toms right where we want them, lonely. This works to our advantage as it increases your likelihood to see and hear more action during that mid-morning to afternoon window. Additionally, as the season and mating come to a close the turkeys will actually begin calling to regroup with one another, which means you may hear more gobbling throughout the day and be able to pin point the where a bouts of that Tom you've been going after.
Hunt to scout – This tip in particular I really like. While scouting prior to the season is one of the most important things you can do, scouting during your hunts can provide valuable information for late season hunting. Turkeys are messy creatures and they will leave signs of where they have been and where they are going. Use this information to your advantage when trying to find your gobbler towards the end of the season. If you are like most of us and have a full time job, you end up getting to your hunting spot a couple hours before sunset on Friday afternoon. If you aren't comfortable jumping straight into the woods, then set up on an elevated area with a good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope and scan the edges of fields or wood line. Hopefully you will spot that tom making his final rounds before heading into the woods to roost; this is commonly known as ‘putting the bird to bed’. If you spot a tom, keep your distance and stay quiet! Watch closely to pin point the exact spot where he enters into the woods. Turkeys don’t follow a pattern quite like deer, but if you can get setup in that general area the next morning there’s a good chance he will come back giving you the opportunity to take a shot off. Likewise, if you watched him walk a couple hundred yards down the wood line, it’s possible he will take that same route back giving you a potential ambush setup. Part of the reason this tactic is so beneficial in the late season is because, as previously mentioned, the birds just aren’t responding to your calls like they were early in the season. Now is not the time to sit and wait for the bird to come to you because more than likely that is not going to happen. Instead you need to use your hunting and tracking knowledge you've accumulated throughout the season to locate the bird and go after him. In a way, it’s similar to hunting deer over his acorns vs using a pile of corn.
All of these scenarios can be used during the entire season but have proved helpful especially in the late season. The pressure has been on the birds for weeks, population size has decreased and the birds can name the brand of every call sold at your local sporting goods store. So Stick it out, Be different, and Keep Scouting Throughout the Season. Give these tips a try and it just might help you bag that late season gobbler. Happy hunting!