Successful Turkey Hunting: Understanding the Breeding Cycle

Pro-staff Contributor: Zach Raulie

I’m no archery purist, but I prefer to hunt turkeys with a bow. I know, crazy, right? Taking spring gobblers with a bow requires that I slow down, be patient and more thorough in my setup. And my success rate has dramatically increased since switching to being “mostly” a bow turkey hunter. This isn’t because of my weapon choice, but rather, because I’ve found that the single greatest factor that determines whether I go home empty handed or with turkeys in three to four states each year is the ability to understand where the turkeys are in their breeding cycle.

Zach with his second kill this year.

Zach with his second kill this year.

Scouting

Prior to hunting, I spend time determining what part of the breeding season the turkeys are in. Are they still in winter flocks? This will likely be the case this spring as many of the Midwestern states are seeing very cool temperatures and have snow on the ground as seasons open. Even in North Florida, where I live, the spring season has been 2-3 weeks later than normal due to the much cooler temperatures. Scouting is critical in determining what part of the breeding cycle birds are in.

Adaptation

You should be ready to adapt your hunting tactics as turkeys break from their winter flocks and go into full swing. A prime example of this is the changes I experienced during our Florida opener this year. Ten days before opener, trail cameras were showing only a few turkeys—still in winter, bachelor flocks. As seasoned opened, I was blessed with 6 gobblers, 20+ hens and 10 jakes all around the small property I hunt. Then by the end of the first week of the season, this big flock had broken up into much smaller groups of hens, solo-dominant gobblers, and subordinate gobblers and jakes. This all occurred within seven days!

Suffice it to say, the stages of the spring season change very quickly. Adapting to these changes will increase your success rate immensely.

Working the Cycle

Early in the season, when gobblers are still establishing their roles in the pecking order, I’ll observe a lot of fighting between them. Jake decoys, like the Avian X LCD ¼ Strut or a full strut decoy, can be game changers because they challenge the dominant birds on your property. During

A gobbler approaching a full strut decoy.
A gobbler approaching a full strut decoy.

one of the first days of the season, as I yelped at a lone dominant gobbler, he turned, went into full-strut facing the challenging decoy I had deployed, and in less than a minute from first sight he was face to face with my strutting decoy and six yards from my well-hidden blind.

But when the cycle progressed, it was important to adapt. Several days after this first encounter, the gobblers would not commit to the same decoy the first gobbler ran in to meet. I suspected that they had their tails whipped by the dominant bird and had to change my strategy. Before my next hunt, I set out two hen decoys in the predawn hours. I flapped a turkey wing against my leg as morning broke and gave a very soft series of yelps. Moments later a hen cackled as she flew from her roost into the field. Another turkey, with a much harder thud, hit the ground on the fire break behind me and seconds later, 5 yards away, in full strut, he eased his way into the decoys.

Many hunters, me included, have tried to stick with a “lucky” decoy and wonder why it doesn’t work. It’s simple. The cycle within the turkey breeding season changed. Adapting to that change and using different tactics, different calls, and different decoy strategies can be all it takes to pull that gobbler into range. Scout your birds: they will tell you what part of the season they’re in.

Zach Raulie is an avid hunter and amateur retriever trainer living outside of Jacksonville, Florida.   He is a multi-year qualifier for the World’s Duck Calling Contest and is highly competitive in AKC and UKC sanctioned hunt tests.  You’ll see Zach representing krugerfarms.com and Lodge Creek Calls in all of his endeavors each year.  You can contact Zach at zraulie@gmail.com and find him on Facebook (facebook.com/zraulie).

Zach with his first kill this year.

Zach with his first kill this year.

Crow Creole Recipe

Derek Nelson setting up decoys during last year's Crow Fest.

Derek Nelson setting up decoys during last year’s Crow Fest.

We’re getting amped up about the Starbuck Crow Fest that will take place this Saturday, March 30th! We’re giving gift cards to the winners of the event at the farm as well as one winner via Twitter (#KFCROWFEST). The event has been an annual reason to get together with friends, have some fun, and hunt some game in March. To win the event, you must bring in a bigger murder than your competitors–but what do you do with the crow once you’ve won?

Crow Busters provides quite a few recipe options for the adventurous hunters looking to create a savory dish from the spoils of their crow hunt.  Just follow the directions in their Field Preparation section to prepare the crow meat for your culinary masterpiece. We wanted to highlight this recipe from their site, as it looks like a fun country twist to a classic Southern dish.

Crow Creole

Preparation

Soak crow breasts in salt water for at least two hours, or preferably overnight, then rinse and dry the breasts. Next, coat the bottom of a container (that has a lid) with your favorite italian dressing, place a layer of the breasts on top, and follow with another layer of dressing. You can add additional layers of meat followed by dressing until you’ve put all of the crow into the container.   Once this is complete, put the crow breasts in the fridge overnight–the next day they will be tender and tasty.

Ingredients

1 jar italian dressing (for preparing meat)

2 medium onions
2 fresh chilies chopped
2 ribs celery
3 cloves garlic minced
¼ pound butter
16oz. chicken broth
1 can whole tomatoes 1 small can tomato paste
8oz. ketchup 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
1 tablespoons hot pepper sauce
1/2 tablespoons garlic sauce
1/4 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 pound (12 pieces, or so) crow breast chopped into bite-sized pieces

Directions

Brown the crow breasts in a skillet with butter or oil. When browned, add onion, celery, chilies and garlic–saute until tender. Add this sautéed mix with the remaining ingredients to a crock pot and cook on low for 6-7 hours.

To serve, heap about one cup of rice in the center of the plate, and ladle a generous amount of the creole around it. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley. Enjoy!

Lake of the Ozarks FLW College Tour Recap

Michaela with a bass she caught while pre-fishing Lake of the Ozarks.

Michaela with a bass she caught while pre-fishing Lake of the Ozarks.

Pro-staff Contributor: Michaela Anderson

Last weekend I competed in the first FLW College Central division qualifier on Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. The field was limited to 50 college teams from the Midwest. It was a tough tournament to say the least! It took four fish, totaling 12.14 pounds, for Missouri University of Science and Tech’s team to take the win. To be in the top 15, which qualifies you for the Central Invitational in July, you needed 4.07 pounds. Unfortunately my partner and I tied for 26th because we were not able to find any keeper bass that measured at least 15 inches.

Pre-Fishing

Tournament waters go off limits the Monday before the event; so in order to prepare, we fished the waters during a long weekend prior to the event and had a lot of success. The weather was in the 50’s with water temps in the high 30’s to low 40’s in some spots. On Friday, we spent most of our time fishing secondary points with jerk baits. Later in the day I caught our biggest fish with a ghost colored, size 10, X-Rap on a brush pile in about five feet of water. This made us think that the fish may have been shallower than we expected. On Saturday, we started to key in more on this pattern. We were able to catch a limit of keepers fishing pea gravel banks around brush piles and docks. We were a little surprised to have found so many keepers on these banks because they are normally where the fish will go to spawn, but the water temps seemed too cold for that. There was a down pour all morning on Sunday, but we fished for a few hours before we had to head back home in order to make it to our classes on Monday. Even with the rain, we were able to catch three keepers in about four hours on new pea gravel banks so we were feeling pretty confident in our pattern by the time we left the lake.

Tournament

The weather leading up to the tournament was consistently in the high 60s and even reached 83 on Friday. We figured that the sunshine meant that the brush piles and banks we had found successful during the previous weekend would still be productive.  A cold front blew in on Saturday, bringing the temps down to 40 and dropping, but I was still super excited when we got to the ramp; full of optimism that we would be able to have a good day on the water. We started the day at 7:30am—hitting all the spots in which we had previously caught fish. But we soon found that we were not getting bites in these locations. We only caught two short fish out of eight key spots. We threw the same X-Rap that had worked so well in the past, as well as jigs and flutter worms around the key brush piles with no luck. After we determined that our key pattern did not stick through the week, we made a change to some steeper chunk rock banks where we had graphed huge schools of shad. We were able to catch five short fish off of these banks but could never connect with anything over 15 inches.

Unfortunately, we ended the tournament with an empty bag. But we’re looking forward to the next qualifier on May 4th at Pickwick Lake in Alabama. I’ll be sure to keep you updated on our progress!

Michaela Anderson is a college angler fishing the FLW, B.A.S.S. College Circuits and select FLW Walmart Tour events representing krugerfarms.com, Trigger X and the University of St. Thomas. You can follow her on Twitter (@MichaelaFishing) and like her on Facebook (facebook.com/MichaelaAndersonFishing).

Is the New Scatter Rap Worthy of the Hype?

Pro-staff Contributor: Rich Lindgren

Every year, we are all inundated with a myriad of new fishing lures, shapes and sizes, some designed to catch anglers and others designed to catch fish. Within these new options each year, theScatter Rap Shadre are always a few true winners in the bunch. As anglers, it’s our job to try to filter through the marketing, packaging and hype to determine ultimately what ends up in our tackle boxes.

Of the new baits launching in 2013, I have to say I am genuinely intrigued by the new Scatter Rap series from Rapala. These items have come with plenty of hype as of late, but that is not always bad, and Rapala has a pretty strong track record of putting out winners that are mainstays in my tackle boxes and most of yours.

The exciting premise of the Scatter Rap is that it has a natural “hunting” or “evasive” action–something anglers are constantly trying to create by running our lures into the bottom, wood, rocks, grass or anything else we can get our crankbaits to make contact with. If it moves as advertised, this new line of baits will wander randomly, simulating this action of baitfish that triggers reaction bites from predator fish.

As a bass angler, I am most anxious to try the Scatter Rap Shads early this spring while the water temps are still in the 40’s to lower 50’s. The original Shad Rap is a known spring time producer for early season bass, so I can only imagine what the new Scatter Shad could do. Once we get past the spawn, my attention is likely to shift toward the Scatter Rap Crank as a mainstay for covering water and catching bass until the late fall!

If you live in Minnesota, come visit krugerfarms.com at the Northwest Sports Show for your chance to be one of the first anglers to get your hands on baits from the Scatter Rap series as well as other great show specials! We will have a limited number of these baits at the show.  If you can’t make it to the show, the Scatter Rap is also available for pre-booking on krugerfarms.com now!

Rich Lindgren is a tournament bass angler living in Lakeville, MN chasing bass all over Minnesota and its adjoining states. Bass blogger, podcaster and fishing promoter. You’ll see him fishing the Minnesota bass tournament scene representing krugerfarms.com and Dobyns Rods among others. You can follow him on Twitter (@HellaBass) and like him on Facebook (facebook.com/bassinblog).

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Lewis Smith Lake FLW Tour Recap

Pro-Staff Contributor: Jeff Gustafson

Gussy with a nice spotted bass caught on a Jackall Squad Minnow 115 jerkbait in practice.

Gussy with a nice spotted bass caught on a Jackall Squad Minnow 115 jerkbait in practice.

The second FLW Tour event of the season took place this past weekend at Alabama’s Lewis Smith Lake. 175 pro anglers participated in this event and in the end it was California angler Brent Ehrler who took home the $125,000 first place prize.  I had a great experience at this event and ended up with a 71st place finish. Though I would have liked to have finished higher, I was happy that I ended up squeaking into the money (the top 79 places were paid). At some of these events, when you have to improvise your game plan in the moment, salvaging a decent finish can be considered a success. That’s how I feel about this one.

Practice

During practice I got on a pretty good bite–catching my fish on suspending jerkbaits like the Jackall Squad Minnow 115 and the Jackall DD Squirrel 79. The water temperatures were 47-50 degrees, which just screamed “jerkbait” to me. During the practice period the weather was conducive to fishing jerkbaits because it was overcast and there was some wind. I also looked shallow for largemouths and deeper for schools of spotted bass and though I did catch some of each I felt like the jerkbait program was my best strategy for a strong finish.

The Tournament

When the event started, the weather changed–it became really bright and the wind died. However, I managed to catch a decent limit the first day that landed me in the 80th spot. I caught all my fish on the jerkbaits but I only caught six keeper fish all day. I knew something wasn’t right, because during practice I was getting 12-15 fish per day. On day two, when things got off to a slow start, I started thinking about what I could do differently to trigger some fish to bite. I moved my boat out to deeper water and kept my eyes on my Humminbird depth finder, watching for fish. Surprisingly I marked several fish immediately. After trying several baits I ended up getting some bites on ice fishing jigs that are popular during the winter months with anglers in the north. For the rest of the day I was able to use a Northland Puppet Minnow and Rapala Jigging Shad Rap to catch my fish. I only brought a few baits down with me so I was a little bit limited on color options. I fished these baits vertically under the front of my boat the rest of the day and watched them on my depth finder the entire time. I was able to mark the fish, watch my lure and watch how fish interacted with the lure as I fished it. Over the course of the day I probably had over 100 spotted bass chase my lure that did not bite. I really wish I would have gotten onto this bite in practice so that I could have fine-tuned the color that the fish wanted and found more spots that were holding fish.

In the end, I was really happy that I figured out a way to put some fish in the boat on a tougher day two. There were a lot of good anglers that were not able to put a limit in the boat that day.

I get a few weeks off now before the next FLW Tour event at Beaver Lake, Arkansas. In the meantime I’m going to be headed home to take in a couple of weeks of ice fishing up in Ontario’s Sunset Country. Late March is the best time of the year to catch the biggest walleyes, lake trout and pike so I’m looking forward to pulling some giant fish through the ice!

Jeff Gustafson is a professional angler living in Kenora, Ontario on the shores of Lake of the Woods.  Outdoor writer, fishing promoter and host of “Fishing with Gussy.” You’ll see him fishing the Walmart FLW Tour representing krugerfarms.com and Lund boats among others. You can follow him on Twitter (@GussyOutdoors) and like him on Facebook (facebook.com/gussyoutdoors).

Gussy with a big striper that fell for a jerkbait during practice.  "These things fight so hard!"

Gussy with a big striper that fell for a jerkbait during practice. “These things fight so hard!”

Three Commands Necessary to Raise a Good Puppy Citizen

Pro-staff contributor: Zach Raulie

It was nice receiving a compliment from a fellow hunter this past season regarding the steadiness of Zoi, my veteran retriever, during our hunt. Birds were plentiful and the shooting was non-stop. The compliment validated the many hours I’ve spent working with my veteran lab and reminded me of the necessary work I would put in with our new puppy, Finn. Proper socialization of a puppy is a key factor: how you spend the first few weeks and months setting expectations will go a long way in building a foundation around your pup’s training.

Our Training Method

At our home, we do a few things starting on day one and have found that these simple commands build a respect and bond that will last the pup’s life. This is not formal training and no reprimandsfinn dish are needed. We don’t use a lot of food treats, but if necessary we may use them sparingly at times. Teaching through repetition with lots of love and praise is best in my opinion.

Basic Commands

Do you know anyone that appreciates a jumping, barking, biting dog? I definitely don’t. No matter how cute your puppy is, these three actions are unacceptable and can lead to major issues in the field if not handled consistently at an early age. You can deter these actions immediately by teaching, Pup, your new family member the word “NO”. “No” is very simple to teach and you will use it often with a young exploring and energetic pup. No simply means that what it is doing is not acceptable, so please stop. Teaching this one word can keep a puppy safe from injury and possibly save his life when a dangerous situation arises unexpectedly.

You can also find many training opportunities to teach your puppy “SIT” and “OK” in every day routines. Before your pup is let out or is put back into its kennel, ask Pup to sit. Rather than letting Pup impatiently run to his food or water dish, ask Pup to sit first. Before letting Pup charge through a doorway to the outside or inside simply ask for Pup to sit. Then simply release Pup with the word “ok”. Early on Pup may not understand what’s being asked of it and may require a little assistance. But soon Pup will realize that with the right action a reward will be given—be it food, water or praise!

Turning any situation into a positive training opportunity for a new puppy is easy and there will be many early on. Start right away, on day one, because you can never get back those early days when Pup is eager to listen, quick to learn, and free of any bad habits.

Just a Start

Teaching these simple “Good Citizen” commands is just the beginning. Eventually these good behaviors will be conditioned in formal training and then in the field as a finished retriever who is steady to shot as he waits for the command to retrieve. This is a Good Citizen retriever. Safe, steady and obedient! As young Finn progresses I will be writing more blogs about our training program and techniques used so be sure to check back in.

Zach Raulie is an avid hunter and amateur retriever trainer living outside of Jacksonville, Florida.   He is a multi-year qualifier for the World’s Duck Calling Contest and is highly competitive in AKC and UKC sanctioned hunt tests.  You’ll see Zach representing krugerfarms.com and Lodge Creek Calls in all of his endeavors each year.  You can contact Zach at zraulie@gmail.com and find him on Facebook (facebook.com/zraulie).

Zach and Finn