How to Kill Late-Season Turkeys

How to Kill Late-Season Turkeys

Opening day of turkey season has its perks. A new season will make you forget about the previous year’s mistakes or misses, and it’s hard to beat that first spring morning after you’ve been cooped up all winter. Morale, energy, and expectations sit at an all-time high, with a season full of promise straight ahead. Killing a turkey on opening day might be your most exciting hunt, but killing a turkey during the last days of the season will be your most rewarding.

Despite what the outdated hunting forums or comment sections say, birds still gobble well into (and even after) the season. They might not be as eager as they were opening week, but there’s plenty of good turkey hunting to be had during those last few days of the season. Whether you’ve yet to fill a tag or you’re in a multiple-bird state, here are a few tips on how to kill late-season gobblers.

Less Calling

While this tip applies to turkey hunting across the board, it really pays off if you hunt pressured turkeys, especially in the late season. It’s tempting to think that the next call will be the one he gobbles at, but that’s rarely the case. If you’re hunting public ground or other hammered areas, put your call away and scout for turkey sign. Just because the birds aren’t talking doesn’t mean they aren’t around. Fresh tracks, scat, and scratching will help you find birds faster than cranking down on the yelps.

If you come across an area littered with scratching, post up and keep the calling to a minimum. When I find areas like this and the birds are quiet, I try to impose a no-yelp ban on myself. I’ll scratch in the leaves, cluck, or purr, and then wait. It’s tough, and I’m not always that strict with it. However, I’ve had multiple encounters where I called lightly and a curious hen brought a gobbler in or multiple gobblers came in silent. And, yes, the occasional fired-up tom will stroll in too.

More Calling

I promise, I’m not sending mixed signals. Nor am I an advocate for overcalling. Successful turkey hunting has more to do with interpreting an individual bird than it does being a champion caller, though that certainly doesn’t hurt. While it’s generally a good idea to call less, some longbeards seem like they fire up the more you call to them. After all, sometimes punching a tag comes down to not just finding a bird but finding the right bird.

I’ve had gobblers, especially in the late season, that gobbled all the way into my setup, like they couldn’t get there fast enough. Those hunts aren’t frequent, but they are awesome. I don’t have the research to back this up, but I have to imagine it has something to do with hens going to nest, a reestablishing of the pecking order, or a combination of things.

Recently, I killed a turkey that wanted to play the game exactly the way a turkey hunter dreams. He gobbled at yelps, cutts, clucks, purrs, and scratching in the leaves. I got to watch him strut and gobble his head off around a field. Only, every time I’d go quiet, he’d turn the other way, quit strutting, and start to leave.

When he’d start to walk off, I’d turn my head the opposite way and yelp. Just like that, he’d blow up, turn colors, and start strutting toward me again. I’d go quiet, and we’d repeat the process. Finally, I decided to keep calling, even though it felt wrong, and everything inside me told me to shut up. I’m glad I didn’t. He put on a show, gobbled his tiny brain out, and strutted all the way to 35 yards where I shot him. While this goes against turkey hunting 101, there are always exceptions to the rule.

Cover Ground

This should go without saying, but in the latter part of the season, most of the killable turkeys are in someone’s freezer. There are still plenty of turkeys out there; they just might not be in obvious places (like in earshot of the road). If you’re not hearing any gobbles, it’s probably time to trade out your heavy rubber boots for some hikers.

One of the best ways to do this is to pick a large parcel of public ground and work your way through it, calling sparingly and listening for walking or scratching in the leaves. If you come across a place with fresh turkey sign, park it for a while. It’s probably a good place to kill a tom at midday.

Hit the Unconventional Spots

Covering ground doesn’t just mean racking up the miles. Sometimes, you’re better off working through unconventional spots that don’t scream “turkey woods.” Everyone wants to kill a longbeard in old-growth forests or wide-open river bottoms, myself included. But you have to go where the turkeys are, not where you want them to be.

A few years ago, I killed a longbeard that was roosted in a stubby pine stand that had yaupon thickets interspersed throughout it. You wouldn’t have pegged that spot on a map. He wouldn’t leave that stretch of woods, and I had to crawl my way in there before getting a shot.

Just Keep Hunting

Honestly, there’s no real secret to killing late-season turkeys. It might not be the gobble fest of opening day, but it’s still better than the off-season. While these tactics can help, the majority of your success depends on your patience and persistence.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve punched a tag on mornings when I wanted to hit snooze. If you can wait out the crowds, you can wait out the season for sneaky good hunting. After all, patient hunters kill more turkeys.

Feature image via Justin Michau.

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