Many turkey hunters have had opening day circled on their calendars since the close of last season. For turkeys, however, opening day is…well, just another day.
Remembering that fact is the key to killing an opening day tom.
Concentrate on Food Sources
By this time each spring, it's been months since turkeys experienced hunting pressure, so they're likely to continue their normal, daily routines. Use this to your advantage and set up in known feeding areas.
Many turkey hunters focus on roost locations as potential starting points for hunts no matter the time of season. For opening day hunts—and early season hunts in general—I like to focus on and hunt over food sources rather than trying to pick off a grouped-up gobbler right when he flies down.
Don't get me wrong, finding a roost is great because it tells you where birds are likely to start and end their day. But early on, before the active breeding season kicks off, hens will leave the roost and follow their stomachs straight to food sources, dragging the toms along with them.
This behavior allows you to safely set up shop away from the many prying eyes and ears of the roost. Treat it like waterfowl hunting. I simply don't want to disturb the roost too early in the season and risk blowing birds out of the area, especially when hunting public land.
This time of year the foliage isn't very thick, which means setting up in a gobbler's bedroom isn't as easy as later in the season when grass, leaves, and underbrush all intertwine for better concealment. Too much real or perceived pressure can force turkeys to roost elsewhere.
Fake 'Em Out
Sticking with food sources relies on predictable behavior. It also allows you to use decoys to enhance your setup.
In the early spring, turkeys are often found in large breeding flocks with a loosely defined home range. These home ranges overlap with home ranges of other turkeys. As birds run their respective circuits each day, it's not uncommon for them to encounter other birds. Setting up in a known feeding area with decoys plays on this fact. In short, birds aren't surprised to see other birds in the area. Even better, it often piques their curiosity.
When birds are bunched up on opening day and in the early season, this strategy has proven more effective than setting up decoys under or adjacent to a roost. Active breeding hasn't kicked into gear yet, so there's no separation between hens and gobblers as they fly down and sort out the daily pecking order.
However, as birds travel to a food source, the flock often spreads out a bit. Hens typically lead the way with the toms in tow. This is when you can turn the heads of the always-ready-to-breed gobblers with lifelike decoys. Plus, setting up on the edge of a food source is much easier than under a roost. Whether it's a pasture filled with bugs or an old corn field, the natural edges created between differing habitat zones offer plenty of places to hide or place a blind.
For nearly all my decoy setups I use a jake-and-hen combo. I prefer jakes in a half- or quarter-strut posture next to a breeding hen decoy. This visual combo matches the seductive yelps, clucks, and purrs I'll be using to signal that my fake hen is ready to breed. The somewhat relaxed strut posture of the jake will challenge a gobbler's dominance without appearing too intimidating.
If your morning setup doesn't pan out, don't give up. In states and hunting zones where you can hunt past noon, finding a midday gobbler can often salvage an opening day hunt.
Every morning turkeys go through a daily ritual of sorting out the pecking order. It's also the time when gobblers are the most vocal as they try their best to collect a hen or two for the day. In fact, 80 to 90% of the gobbles you hear in a day might occur right at fly down. As midmorning rolls around, it's not uncommon for once-vocal gobblers to clam up.
Once the gobbling dies off, it's easy to pack up your decoys and head in for breakfast. However, it's important to remember that turkeys, while they may be silent, do stay active all day long, which means you should stay active too.
This is where being mobile comes into play. Prospecting for spring turkeys is a midday method, so try the run-and-gun ground game using yelps and shock-gobble calls to strike a willing tom. After you hear a gobble, move in as tight as possible to that turkey's position. He should be more receptive to answer your call if he knows his gobble brought you in for a closer look.
While it won't technically be an opening morning gobbler, those afternoon successes feel just as good.