Each spring, when the strutters begin their dance and gobbles echo through the hollers, we get excited because we know turkey season is just around the corner! However, the number of turkeys there are to chase is influenced by many factors. As wildlife managers there are several things that we can do to help encourage healthy populations. There are also factors that are beyond our control.
Each winter we use Duke cage traps to remove 50+ raccoons and opossums which are notorious turkey nest predators. By reducing the number of hungry predators, turkey eggs have a better chance to hatch and mature if the conditions are favorable.
Another way we help encourage a successful hatch is by providing high quality habitat. We use prescribed fire during the late winter months to create ideal nesting habitat for the spring.
The results following the prescribed fire are incredible! Native grasses and forbs are great for nesting and brood habitat. Hens can raise their heads above the vegetation and look for predators. This type of habitat is also a great bugging area for hens, so they can feed and nest in the same area.
With fewer predators in the area and quality habitat, hens and poults have the ability to express their potential.
However, rain is often an influencer of turkey numbers. Timely spring rains can destroy turkey nests or result in the death of young poults.
This spring we had several heavy rains during prime nesting season. We suspect that many nests were destroyed. We have not seen many poults and are now seeing another spike in turkey breeding behavior. Hens are likely re-nesting which will result in a later hatch.
We can’t control all the factors, but as managers we can do our part to encourage healthy populations so there are plenty of longbeards to chase each spring!
Dreaming of future turkey hunts,
Rae grabs the Winchester and heads to the turkey woods! Watch as a big Ozark Mountain tom makes Rae work for a shot. Then, Grant shares an update of the Buffalo System for our food plots and the observations he’s made after a spring rain.
Food plot management techniques and seed varieties have improved significantly during the past 25+ years. Food plots provide deer the nutrients that they need to grow healthy and strong. Plus, you can create the opportunity for a memorable hunting season next fall by maintaining great food plots. In this blog, Grant shares what he's using for the successful food plot program at The Proving Grounds.
Whitetails are selective feeders. Watch as this deer seeks out the clover in this food plot!
Tip of the Week:
During the first week of Missouri’s turkey season toms were henned-up and quiet. See how Grant and Daniel make tactical changes to their hunting strategies and tag two mountain toms in tough hunting conditions.
Can other hunters hear the gobblers when you can't? After being disappointed at not being able to hear birds, Grant found an answer. Read this week's blog as he shares his solution to this problem.
We've captured a lot of turkey action with the help of the iSCOPE! See a recent encounter here.
Tip of the Week:
Turkey clothes can start to stink after chasing longbeards. For your sake and your hunting buddies', running turkey hunting gear through the Scent Crusher makes the next hunt that much more enjoyable!
I really enjoy turkey hunting. A huge part of turkey hunting is listening to the birds call and using calls to attract them. It's a super interactive hunt! This form of hunting requires good hearing. Often my daughters or someone younger than me that I'm hunting with will say “Did you hear that gobble?”
I sometimes have to respond “No.” I shot a lot as a kid but didn't use hearing protection. This damaged my hearing. I wish I had used hearing protection – even when hunting! Just one shot can result in damage to your sense of hearing.
Back in the old days we never thought about wearing hearing protection. There were some shooters that might wear ear plugs or cover their ears when others were shooting. However, now that I know “better” I don't shoot a firearm without hearing protection. The experts say: “Exposure to noise greater than 140 dB can permanently damage hearing. Almost all firearms create noise that is over the 140-dB level. A small .22-caliber rifle can produce noise around 140 dB, while big-bore rifles and pistols can produce sound over 175 dB.”
Here at The Proving Grounds I require all our hunters to wear hearing protection, whether it be when sighting in the guns or during the hunt itself. I also expect any by-standers, hunting partners, and cameramen to use hearing protection. I’m that serious about it. If we’re on the range, a shout of “fire in the hole” goes out to make sure everyone protects their ears – if nothing more than throwing their hands over their ears or simple ear plugs.
Research shows that only about half of shooters wear hearing protection all the time when target practicing. Hunters are even less likely to wear hearing protection because they say they cannot hear approaching game or other noises.
Years ago I was introduced to the electronic earmuffs that allow shooters to hear what’s going on around them. When you wear the electronic earmuffs, they allow you to still hear (some even amplify the sounds) then silence the blast of the shot. These earmuffs are great and what most of the hunters on our team wear. A good example of this was in the recent turkey hunt where Chase shot his first tom. Chase sets a good example with the earmuffs on his head, ready to be quickly put in place before he takes the shot. (Click HERE to watch the hunt.)
As I mentioned, because I’ve spent most of my life shooting I’ve lost a significant amount of my hearing. A friend told me about a product that could not only protect my hearing, but actually assist me in hearing those important sounds I need to hear in the woods – like the sound of a turkey gobble or a critter walking in the leaves. You’ll see me wearing a small, custom-fit digital hearing protection system found at https://www.wildear.com/ Since they are custom fit, they stay in my ears and are comfortable all day long. I don’t have to worry about adjusting them and making a lot of hand movements that might alert a gobbler.
I have no doubt that if I hadn't protected my hearing during these recent years I'd be hunting turkeys by blind calling or setting on plots – because I wouldn't be able to hear them calling.
Remember – even one shot of a firearm without hearing protection can result in a decrease in your sense of hearing.
I encourage you to protect your hearing so you can continue to enjoy hearing all the sounds during the spring. It will likely help you locate a tom and will certainly help you enjoy all activities that much more.
Daniel recently headed to central Kansas to kick off his turkey season with an archery hunt! There was a lot of turkey action and feathers were flying. Plus, Heath Martin tags a mature mountain tom in Arkansas, during opening day!
If toms aren’t talking where you hunt and you’re just itching to hear a gobble, then this video will fire you up!
Tip of the Week:
A Caldwell FieldPod can keep your gun in the ready position so you’re not scrambling to get the gun up when a silent tom walks in.
Turkey hunting is not always easy. We all love it when the gobblers respond to our calls then come in strutting with big fans, long beards and wings dragging. But it doesn’t always happen that way. Some days hunters just have to work harder and smarter to get those toms in range.
The weather has played havoc with turkey hunting these past few weeks. We’ve had hunters from Tennessee, Kansas, Missouri to Wisconsin and states in-between share their frustrations with hunting and the unusual spring weather: colder temperatures, rain, and even snow.
For us and others, it’s been a tough year to locate gobblers. Hunting in Tennessee, then Kansas and now Missouri has had us pulling out all the tools and tricks to get birds in range.
Here in Missouri, it’s early in the season, the toms seem to be henned up. When they are with the hens it is hard to entice them away with calling.
Here are some tips to use if you find yourself in a similar situation:
- Try to call hens in as the toms often follow. Use soft feeding calls: yelp, soft purr, or relaxed (not aggressive) clucks.
- Set up your decoys in feeding positions.
- If you KNOW there are toms in the area – sit still and wait. It’s not necessarily fun since the interaction and action is missing but patience can be your best strategy to punch a tag when that tom quietly comes into the field.
- Every day is different. Just because the birds don’t respond one day, they may the next. Keep trying.
- Weather: birds are still out there when it’s cold and windy, they’re quiet but still moving and feeding. Figure out where they are roosting and feeding then get in-between or in front of them.
We had two good examples of turkey hunts last year where the unseasonably cool and wet spring posed challenges during turkey season. You can see how changing locations and strategies paid off for Clay and I in this video when turkey hunting during the late season and the toms went quiet and did not respond to our locator calls.
Also, Heath and Lindsey’s Kansas hunt last year required a change in strategies. After a few days of colder weather they went out for a hunt. The weather during the first morning of their hunt seemed perfect but the toms were silent. They adjusted their strategy for the afternoon and soon had a gobbler in range. Watch that hunt by clicking here.
Our encouragement to you if you haven’t tagged yet is to remember the three “P’s” of turkey hunting: patience, persistance and position.
While you’re hunting, take time to listen not just to the gobblers but also for what the Creator is saying to you.
During Missouri's youth season first time turkey hunter, Chase, braced the cold, snowy weather to hunt longbeards! It was cold but the hot turkey action warmed him right up! Watch as Chase's entire hunt unfolds. Plus, Grant travels to South Carolina to help a landowner improve their property and pine management.
Internships are a great way to help the future generation of hunters and wildlife managers.
Meet one of our current interns, Jacob Hamilton from Jackson, TN.
Daniel and Tyler were turkey hunting in Kansas. It's always a good day when turkeys come in! Catch the excitement in this short video clip.
Tip of the Week:
Placing the iSCOPE on your turkey gun the day before the hunt saves time and ensures you're ready when the first tom fires off.
Grant gives tips for shooting turkeys at close range with a bow. Plus, see why we’re switching from perennial clover to annual clover in some of our plots as Grant shares how the Buffalo System provides quality forage and builds soil during the spring months.
An effective tool for turkey hunters can be quality decoys. Learn how we determine when to use a specific decoy set-up.
Learn how to take a soil sample and prepare for spring planting.
Tip of the Week:
A sharpening stone can make a great conditioner for pot calls.
I’ve recently shared tips from world champion turkey callers that will help us all become better at turkey calling and hunting this season. Becoming a proficient caller is the first key to get a tom to close the distance.
My decoy setups are chosen based on the different hunting situations. These are things like the local terrain, where the birds are in the breeding season and the habitat. Below are several decoying strategies I use.
Lone Hen: My initial “go to” when I am turkey hunting is the lone hen. A lone hen has proven to be very effective in catching the attention of a gobbler. (The Miss Purr-fect by Montanna Decoys is the ideal decoy for the lone hen strategy.)
Jake/Hen combo: A jake decoy with a hen can be a strong attractant to a dominant tom. I use this combo frequently at the beginning of the hunting season when the toms are sorting out their dominance. I position the jake about two to three feet away from the hen then put the head up so that red head draws the attention of the dominant gobbler. It’s a good idea to put the lone hen in a feeder pose to create a more natural and enticing setup. Think about it: if both are upright and alert they are sending communicating that something has them nervous. As the season progresses, this remains an effective setup. As the days go on, hens leave and go sit on the nest. When it appears that a jake still has a hen with him it can make a boss tom jealous and get him fired up to come into range! One of my favorites is having a jake sit right behind a hen when she’s in the breeding pose.
Breeder Hen/Full Strut Tom: When toms are running together and working to sort out who’s the boss, another effective decoy strategy is to put a hen decoy in a breeding position in combination with a strutting tom. I set the Miss Purr-fect hen decoy on the ground (without a stake) in a breeder pose, then add a Papa Strut behind her. The local toms will see the “intruder” and come in to see who’s messing with their hen!
Three Hens: Setting up three hens is an almost irresistible setup for a tom. It’s especially effective if you’re hunting an area with bully jakes and gobblers won't come in. But what gobbler is not coming in to three hens? When you stake out the hens, put one in the breeding pose, another in a feeding pose and another in an alert pose.
I mentioned above that we use Montana Decoys. These are easy to carry, multiple decoys can fit into your vest and they are very versatile. The days of lugging a bagful of hard, loud decoys are over! They just fold up to fit in your vest; they are adjustable and have different leg pole sleeves to enhance various poses. Think about the message you want to send when posing the heads of the decoys and add movement by using their Motion Stake.
We’ve used all these setups at different times and in different states. Each one has proven successful during the right conditions. When scouting and then during the hunt, read the mood of the turkeys and create your decoy strategy around those observations.
For more details on how to setup your decoys, click here to get a free guide from Montanna Decoy.
Chasing turkeys, setting up decoys and enjoying Creation,
We recently held our annual Field Days at The Proving Grounds. Follow along as we share our management and hunting techniques with fellow landowners and hunters! Get an inside look and see the fun we had along the way!
There were so many kind, friendly folks here at the Field Event: 128 folks from Georgia to New York to Michigan to Texas. Each and every one of them were passionate about deer hunting and deer management. Here are a few of the folks and just a little insight into why they came.
Learn tips on how to film a quality turkey hunt that you can share with your family and friends!
Here's a video to watch and listen to over and over! Watch World Champion Friction Turkey Caller Steve Morgenstern as he shows how to call turkeys. Listen, practice and learn!
Tip of the Week:
Turkeys can get very close and that means you may need to use your 30 or 40 yard pin to hit the target. Practice close shots to prepare for turkey season.