Spring Turkey Hunting: Is it Easy to Punch Your Tag?

Pro-staff Contributor: Brian Cote

Whenever I have conversations with others about turkey hunting, they constantly say, “How hard could it be? Turkeys are dumb.” In some cases this holds true, but in reality many pieces of the puzzle have to fall into place to make it seem as though turkeys require little-to-no effort to punch your tag.  I myself don’t believe in a “dumb” turkey. While hunting the Midwest region, I’ve learned that many gobblers will do things you’ve never heard of before.

Two weeks ago, we targeted an area in Wisconsin that had not been hunted for many years—the scouting reports looked great. When getting set up under the cover of darkness, multiple toms broke the morning silence and let us know they were awake. Turkey DashWe were set up no more than 100 yards from their roost and I was optimistic. As the day became brighter and many more critters were making their presence known, the birds continued to gobble and the hens began yelping and clucking. But even though the gobblers were responding quite often to our calls, around an hour after daybreak, it was quiet throughout the woods. We made a game plan to get mobile and try to find them again.

After some searching we heard the birds gobble once more and eased closer. Then to our amazement, we spotted the group of birds walking across a bog, headed towards some thick tamarack swamp area. My good friend and I stood and stared at each other in awe trying to figure out why they were there.  What would cause them to cross a creek and head towards some of the thickest swamp around? We couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t go to open timber or nearby cornfields. As we headed back to the truck we talked about our game plan for the next day.

Day two started off a lot quieter than day one. As we were trying to decide where to set up, I noticed a big black object in the top of a Tamarack tree, out in the middle of the bog. I thought to myself, “Could that be a turkey?” Then the object began to move and a thunderous gobble lit up the swamp. Again, this bird threw us for a loop. Why was this tom all by himself in the middle of a bog? Could it be he knew that most of the predators that prey on him would not be able to reach him there? Did he know that he was being pressured by us? For birds that are rumored to be an easy kill—this flock was putting up a challenge!

DecoyWith this odd behavior, we were unsure of where we should set, so we decided it’d be safe to set up near the place we saw the birds on the previous day.  We set out our Avian X LCD Jake Quarter Strut along with the Avian X LCD Lookout Hen to try to pull a gobbler into shooting range. As the morning went on, the sounds of distant gobblers kept us optimistic. Then I glanced to the left of our set and noticed a bird working our way. It was a tom, and he came in without making a sound. I let my buddy know and he called softly and the bird let out a gobble that shook the woods. I was ready for the shot when the bird started walking out of range. He snuck away to some private property just as quietly as he came!

Unfortunately, we concluded the weekend without success.  But we did take home a few lessons.  I learned that swamp turkeys are very unpredictable and by far the hardest type of birds I have ever tried to bag.  Even when you think you know their roost patterns, they can change overnight.  I also learned to always scan the woods for silent birds that may sneak in under your radar.  No matter what anyone says about turkey hunting I think that every bird has its own personality and will react differently from another. For that reason, I don’t think any turkey is dumb, just unique.

Brian Cote is a website administrator at krugerfarms.com and a devoted outdoorsman.  He’s eager to take up any opportunity to hunt waterfowl, deer and turkeys in the Midwest region. You can follow him on Twitter (@BrianJr22) and find him on Facebook (facebook.com/brian.cote.148).

Brian Aiming

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.