Prospects better during late turkey hunts
Prior to our past two winters of profound global warming, turkey-hunting period “B” held the best prospects for bagging a lovesick longbeard in southern Wisconsin zones 1 and 2.
This year, period “B” was a washout almost every day, with the jury still out on period “C” that runs through Tuesday.
Rain won't stop nature from taking her course. Gobblers will find hens in any weather just slightly drier than full-blown monsoon.
By the time hunting periods “E” and “F” arrive, most hens will already be sitting on nests waiting for the blessed event.
Old boss gobblers, satellite toms and sneaky jakes will still be on the prowl with perhaps less vegetation to conceal their skulking approach than hunters must contend with in a normal spring.
That's great news for those holding tags for periods better suited for hunting morels than turkeys.
Volumes have been written on the value of putting the birds to bed and returning before dawn's early light to intercept them when they fly down from the roost. Three decades of chasing turkeys in five different states has convinced me filling a tag is usually easier after a hearty breakfast at a reasonable hour.
Too many times I've set up too close to a roost or given in to temptation and answered a tree yelp instead of waiting for a fly-down gobble. Savvy birds know you're out there even when it's dark. One peep out of you, and they'll fly down to land a half-mile away every time.
Going out the evening before a hunt and trying to locate turkeys by making owl or crow noises—or barking like a dog is a good strategy. Set up within a half-mile of their roosting trees by 7 a.m. and you'll be within the gobbler's action circle when they go on the prowl.
Scouting is an important component in consistent turkey hunting success. Identifying a prime strutting area or frequently visited food source and showing up when the birds aren't there to set a ground blind and a couple of decoys is a sound strategy for filling a tag.
I've had the best success placing a jake decoy about three feet behind a hen about 20 yards away from a ground blind. If a gobbler decoy is part of this presentation, set the gobbler 20 yards from the blind as well—but on a different tangent from your firing position.
Setting decoys farther than 20 yards from your hiding spot is a great way to experience the frustration of watching a gobbler come in and stop short, strutting just beyond effective shooting range.
Experience teaches the best call to bring along when setting up on a food source or strutting area is a ham sandwich. The birds already know where they're going. Saying “howdy” with a yelp, cluck or purr simply enhances their wariness.
Expect the boss gobbler to come roaring in out of nowhere when the gun is in your lap and your mouth is full of sandwich.
Bringing two, or even three, sandwiches enhances your chances for success.
My favorite way to hunt turkeys is a high stakes game of hide and seek. Stack odds in your favor by having every aspect of your being totally camouflaged. Three-dimensional leafy camouflage is worth its weight in gold.
Sit with your back against a tree, which is wider than you are. Wait at least five minutes then try a couple of soft purrs or clucks. If there is no response wait 10 more minutes and try a yelp or two.
Satellite Toms within earshot will usually answer. Boss Gobblers probably just shake their heads and sneak away. You'll never know because you'll never see them.
If a Tom answers your yelp, sit tight for at least 20 minutes.
Resist the temptation to call. He will find you. I don't like using decoys when playing hide and seek. The Toms tend to look harder and longer if they don't see something that looks like a turkey.
Should the inbound Tom sound off from another tangent in the distance, which doesn't sound any closer, yelp again and immediately move at least 50 yards farther away. Wait at least 10 minutes and try a couple of soft clucks, shoulder the gun and get ready.
Patience and restraint are just as important as shooting straight. When you get ready to pull the trigger don't shoot until the gobbler deflates from full strut mode and aim for the beard, not the head.
Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.