It’s true work gets in the way of turkey season! Sometimes there is no way around it. It can be nearly impossible to take off every morning to enjoy a hunt. What should the approach be to turkey season when you have limited days to fill tags?
Opening day, you just can’t resist going out! There is something magical about opening morning that gets you out of bed and in the woods. If you are like me and cannot resist, then hunt. But when you do scout very intently. What you learn then will be used later. Take notice of the exact locations where birds are roosting. After fly down, remember which ways they travel and what they are traveling to. Opening morning birds can be tough to kill. Longbeards usually have hens with them. The gobbler may simply follow the flock, gobbling every so often. After you have the first day jitters worked out and the scouting report, stay out of the woods.
Here in Missouri our season is only three weeks long. With a few vacation days remaining I’d wait for late into week two or even week three to take off again. Gobblers will most likely be breeding hens for some time. When time is limited don’t waste it calling to henned up gobblers. Let them breed their hens. Then they will begin searching for hens. This is the time when gobblers become more responsive to the call. By this time many hens are out searching to find a location to nest or sitting on their nest already. This makes for lonely, responsive gobblers.
Your opening day scouting report can help determine where the birds are roosting. You know the general area of where to start your hunt. Once that bird sounds off, you also have a good idea of where they are likely to travel to. Setup and let the show come to you! Plan your days in the turkey woods accordingly. Learn early, then get in and hunt when the odds are more in your favor. Don’t let minimal vacation days stop you from filling your tags!
You hear a bird on the roost and you start to close in on his location. Immediately you think where can I setup? How close can I get? You want to be close enough to peak the gobbler’s interest but not risk spooking him.
A strutting tom works a narrow ridge on a small clover plot.
After hearing a bird on the roost there are some general rules that I follow as I setup. First off, I map out the gobblers route to me. I imagine how he would make his way to me. The gobbler will work in using the terrain to his advantage. From here I make my first move. This may mean circling completely around the gobbler.
After doing my best to predict the route he may take, I determine where I want to setup along that route. I look for visibility, but cover as well. I want to have a shot opportunity but I do not want to be sitting in the wide open. I also do not like to setup close to the edge of a ridge. These places are great ambush points for predators. A turkey coming into the call will likely circle you or hang up if he is forced into this situation. Each setup I ensure visibility, cover, and room for the bird to work in as he finishes.
I look for all of the factors above to be about 200 yards away from the roost tree. Getting in to tight to the roost tree limits the gobbler’s approach to you. If you crowd him on the roost he is more likely to circle you. Another reason to stay further back is that if you need to move your setup, you have the room to do so. Your setup should not handcuff yourself nor the turkey.
The 200 yard mark allows my soft tree yelps at first light to carry to the roost tree. I simply let the gobbler know where I am. From that point on my other calls will hopefully convince him to come. The bird has the terrain to his advantage and room to work in while I have visibility and cover. If I can coax him within range of a Long Beard XR round, this usually means I punch a tag.
Chasing longbeards together,
Hunting a bird right off the roost can be tough! Naturally, they wait for the hens to come to their roost tree. Hunters try to reverse this and entice a gobbler to come to them. If you’ve experienced this you may wonder, is the hunt over after a gobbler flies down and gets with hens? How do I remain successful when I don’t harvest a gobbler off the roost?
These lonely gobblers make prime candidates to chase during a late morning hunt!
The hunt is not over, unless your honey-do list is long. If you can remain patient your chances of success increase. Once a gobbler has flown down and met his hens, do your best to keep him gobbling. This isn’t to call him in. It’s simply to keep tabs on his location. Turkeys can cover a lot of ground quickly. Using a crow call (watch a short video of calling here) during this time of the hunt works well. As the season progresses and hens are bred, they will begin to search for nesting locations. Hens may fly down and congregate with other turkeys but then soon leave. This means gobblers are left alone. A lonely gobbler is a good gobbler to have in your turkey woods.
Keeping the gobbler vocal allows you to make the appropriate setup once his hens have left. Toms may begin to gobble on their own once this occurs. They are lonely making this is your time to strike! Gobblers are already on their feet and searching for the hens to accompany them.
To put the odds further in your favor, your setup should be very approachable. Do not force that gobbler to walk down a hill or through a tight pinch point. If you do, he will most likely circle behind you or hang-up out of range. Instead make his approach a safe one. This may mean getting your boots moving to circle behind him. Get to where the terrain allows him to close the distance safely. Even though this bird wants to be with a hen, he wants to survive. You’ve been patient all morning; take the extra time to get setup correctly.
Hunting longbeards mid-morning can be extremely successful. Do not give up on the gobbler if you don't bag him at first light. Stay persistent and keep him gobbling. Waiting a turkey out until he is lonely is often a recipe for success.
Chasing longbeards together,
Shopping for turkey calls can be overwhelming. Stores have shelves packed with different turkey calls. Many calls swear to produce a unique sound. These various calls mimic the vocalizations that turkeys make. What they do not mimic are the other noises turkeys frequently produce.
Whether turkeys are flocked up or alone, they can be noisy in the woods. Scratching through leaves, flogging one another, and beating wings. While hunting, replicating these sounds adds another lifelike measure to your turkey hunting setups. These sounds are what turkeys are familiar with hearing.
During each turkey hunting setup, I put my back against a tree and lay my calls out around me. I grab a mouth call, then my friction call, and lastly my turkey wing! Yes, I carry a turkey wing in my vest. This “call” is placed on the ground within reach. When calling to a bird on the roost, I will use a wing to resemble the sound of a turkey flying down. I simply beat the wing against my leg a few times, pause, and then smack the leaves on the ground. This sequence communicates a turkey has flown off the roost, sailed, and then landed on the ground. Replicating this sound increases the realism of your setup.
Even after fly down I keep the wing handy. Turkeys do not stay still once they fly down. To resemble the sound of turkeys walking, I use the wing to scratch in the leaves. This allows me to stay in communication with a gobbler in between actual calling sequences. A longbeard expects to hear turkeys in the leaves as he approaches. If a gobbler begins to hang-up out of range, I don’t call. I scratch in the leaves. This is to reassure him that turkeys are here without making a turkey vocalization.
Lastly I carry a wing with me to create a fighting scenario. Turkeys establish pecking orders (watch GrowingDeer episode 328 here) in late winter. Pecking orders are challenged during the breeding season. These fights are generally loud and get turkeys to investigate. Fights among hens include aggressive fighting purrs and flogging. A last ditch effort is to create a fight. I purr aggressively on a mouth call and use a wing to replicate a fight. Simply purring aggressively may do the trick but beating wings takes this scene to the next level.
Don’t fall for some of the game call gimmicks. Save a wing, replicate what happens in nature on a daily basis. Using a wing can increase your odds of success in the spring woods. Remember wings are free with the harvest of any turkey! Draw that gobbler into range!
It is opening morning and the turkeys are still flocked up. Despite this, you get setup on a bird gobbling hard on the roost. You have high expectations until a few hens begin calling in the distance. The gobbler pitches off the roost right to them. He sounds off a time or two as the flock makes their way to an open field.
Perfect early season situation to fan or reap a gobbler.
What is your next move? Calling him away from the hens is out of the question. The field is flat as a pancake. You could pack it in and come back another day. But there is something special about punching a tag on opening day! Having a big arsenal during turkey season is critical to staying successful! Fanning or reaping may be the answer!
Throughout late winter, both gobblers and hens establish pecking orders. Turkeys have distinct social ranks throughout the flock. They sort out these roles by pecking, spurring, flogging, and chasing one another. This very behavior is what can turn the hunting scenario described above into a success – if you have the right gear.
Dominate gobblers do not take challenges well. They know where they rank! Any other gobbler who threatens them or their hens will be challenged. A fanning or strutting decoy, like the Fanatic from Montana Decoy, works wonders during these situations. This decoy is designed to hide the hunter as you stalk to a flock of turkeys across open terrain. Using a large strutting decoy suggests a challenge to the dominant bird. Usually resulting in a change of behavior! The longbeard may charge in looking for a fight.
Stalking across open terrain IS possible! Just be ready for a charge.
Now that bird from opening morning is approachable. Even more important, he is harvestable! A note of caution! Before taking on this approach safety must be understood. Know your surroundings! Are there any other hunters in the area? You will need to know this before getting behind a strutting decoy. This technique is intense but works in the appropriate circumstances.
This spring don’t let a flock of hens or open terrain stop you from closing the distance on a longbeard. Check your surroundings and go after him! Be ready for some up close and personal action.
Chasing longbeards together,
As season approaches for us here in the Midwest we are talking turkey tactics. We have already been out a few times listening for gobblers on the roost. These pre-season scouting trips give us an idea of where birds are roosting. This may change as season progresses, but until then, we start planning our tactics to intercept the birds. One thing that remains pretty consistent is how we communicate with birds while they are on the roost. Some folks say to never call to a gobbler while he is on the roost, while others call a lot! Where do you draw the line?
Try using these calling techniques to work gobblers into range.
Turkeys communicate with other birds on the roost 365 days a year. Turkeys use certain calls in specific sequences while on the roost. This sequence is exactly what we try to replicate when calling to a gobbler that is still on the roost. With our back against a tree and our Montana Decoys placed in front of us, the first turkey sound we make is a tree yelp! Tree yelps are soft notes intended to talk with other birds on limbs nearby. This call represents a “Hey! Good morning, I’m over here.” message. We may use this sequence a time or two before moving on to communicate another message! Next, we transition into a fly down cackle! As it gets lighter in the woods, you will here a more excited cutting sequence as birds fly off the limb. This call usually gets a good response from a gobbler. We may do this multiple times! As we call, we use a wing to make the sound of wings beating. This adds more realism to the setup. The gobbler now knows that multiple hens have hit the ground. Since turkeys are on the ground, the next process is to gather the flock. Assembly yelps are used to complete this message. This call is louder than the tree yelp. It broadcasts where the flock is to gather at. We follow up the gathering of the flock calls with soft clucks and purrs. These calls are calls of contentment. Clucks and purrs communicate safety as birds gather at your location. During this process we rake the leaves. This sounds like birds are feeding. Any sound, other than calling, that is natural in the turkey woods, we use! This makes our setup more realistic and enticing as he makes his final approach!
From the first call of the morning to when the Winchester sounds off, all calls communicate simple realistic messages to a gobbler. This natural calling technique leads many gobblers on their final approach each spring! May you be blessed with a productive spring listening not only to gobblers, but to the Creator as well!
Chasing longbeards together,
Finally you’ve found the needle in the haystack! For some this is a common success, but for others, not so much. Shed hunting in crop country is different than mountainous timber country. Simply navigating the uneven terrain can be tough. This added level of difficultly makes each find a true trophy. But does the game end there? No, the hunt has just begun!
Finding a shed is just one piece to the entire puzzle. New smartphone technology allows us to document the routes we take, distances we cover, and save specific locations. Once the shed is found we mark and save the location on an aerial map. This provides us with the exact location of the find. Once marked, we continue to search hard for the other side. After returning to the office, we transfer the location onto a topographical map. This determines the most likely travel routes.
We typically prefer to hunt deer in transition. This means not hunting directly over food plots or bedding cover. Here in the northern Ozarks, the terrain plays an enormous part in this tactic. Terrain determines where deer travel while limiting where we can hunt. Quick changes in elevations means thermals determine where our stands are located. The area where the shed was found is a great indicator that Swoops may commonly travel there. But can we hunt there?
Once the location is analyzed on a map we return to get boots on the ground. Immediately we start looking for specific trails deer may be using. After this, we determine if we can approach, hunt and exit the area undetected. If not, then we continue on the trail to find an area where we can. Once a huntable location is found we check the wind! During scouting trips we carry Dead Down Wind Wind Checker. Using this allows us to visualize how the wind moves through the timber and hills. If we see swirly movements in the wind, we move on. Hunting areas like this almost always results in a bust. The search continues until the perfect ambush location is found.
All this work comes from a nice shed found lying on the ground. This work may now result in success during the upcoming hunting season. If you are out shed hunting, take the time to focus on each find. Use this information to assist you in closing the distance on a mature buck!
Over the past few years we have been testing different cover crop varieties and planting methods here at The Proving Grounds. We do this to continue learning how we can improve the soil. Food plots are fun to hunt over, but food plots are tools. These tools work to transfer nutrients from the soil to wildlife. Plants take nutrients from the soil and air then produce vegetation that is consumed by wildlife.
Eagle Seed Broadside mix drilled into standing beans makes for an excellent cover crop and forage for the local deer herd.
Some excellent research (watch episode #296 here) has been published confirming that better soil and nutrition means bigger and healthier deer. So, as you may have guessed by now, cover crops are used to improve your soil! There are many ways that cover crops or, in our plots, Eagle Seed Broadside, improve the soil’s health. Some of the benefits are immediate while others occur over time. Nevertheless, these improvements help to increase the quantity and quality of the nutrients that are available to the plants (watch episode #288 here).
Benefits of Cover Crops
- Cover crops keep the soil covered – Covering the soil shades out and limits weed growth in food plots. This decreases the amount of herbicide needed to control weeds.
- Cover crops reduce soil erosion – Rain droplets do not drop directly onto bare soil, therefore nutrients aren’t washed away.
- Cover crops keep nutrients in the top layer of the soil – Having an active root system year round keeps nutrients in reach of the roots rather than sinking lower into the soil.
- Cover crops decompose – Once vegetation from the cover crop is terminated, it begins to decompose. This acts as a slow release fertilizer which benefits the crops to follow.
- Cover crops are a source of mulch – The decomposing cover crops act as a mulch. Mulch holds in the necessary moisture for the soil and root system.
- Cover crops build organic matter – After the mulch breaks down it becomes organic matter which improves soil structure and overall fertility.
Do you keep your food plot’s soil active all year round? If not, I encourage you to plant cover crops. It will increase your soil’s fertility and allow you to grow larger and healthier deer!