Wild turkeys lead busy, detailed lives with refined daily routines. If you doubt that statement you’re hindering your turkey-hunting success before you ever head afield. Take time to study wild turkey routines hour-by-hour, however, and you’ll put yourself on the road to a springtime, turkey dinner.
SUNRISE: Wild Turkey Set-Up
Most states allow hunting a half hour before sunrise, so be in the woods early. How early? Since you’ll be traipsing within spitting distance of a roost and placing a decoy, I recommend getting to the blind at least 30 to 45 minutes prior to legal shooting light.
Turkeys don’t have superior night vision, but they do recognize danger in the dark. The form of a slinking predator before fly-down may cause the disruption of a wild turkey’s routine. Birds may clam up and sail well past their typical landing zone.
Wild Turkey Sunrise Setup:
This set-up includes preseason scouting and a well-devised ambush plan. Locate a reliable roost site – one the birds use often – and set up a ground blind when you’re sure the birds aren’t in the area. A blind set up a few days prior to your hunt provides the flock with plenty of time to accept it. Remember, turkeys may change roosts as spring progresses and food preferences change, so monitor your roost site with diligence.
Blind Locale: Use the Sun and Landing Zones
Your ground blind should be overlooking the landing zone or in a location turkeys will move to after hitting the ground. Have the shooting window facing away from the rising sun. You want the blinding rays behind you to increase visibility and keep you hidden. Be sure to bring along a realistic decoy and don’t overcall on a sunrise set. A few soft yelps minutes prior to turkey fly down will focus a gobbler’s gaze in your direction.
MORNING TO MIDMORNING: Food Sources
You’ll likely hear gobbling on the roost and some after the flock hits the ground, but the uproar can decelerate rapidly in the morning hours. Why? There’s a lot going on. First and foremost, the birds have been up in a tree for possibly 10 hours or more. The turkeys will be hungry. After hitting the ground, grub becomes a high priority, especially for hens. Gobblers, on the other hand, have other amorous activities swirling in their brains. They engage in nonstop strutting to impress any willing hens into breeding. Oftentimes the only sound a gobbler will make for several hours after fly down is spitting and drumming.
Determining Where Wild Turkeys Feed
This courtship and need to hit the groceries can make for a quiet morning, but it doesn’t mean you can’t rile a tom. Just as you scouted for a roost-site setup, you need to know where the birds feed and where longbeards are likely to strut along the way.
Since these areas can fluctuate slightly from day to day and especially week to week, you may or may not be able to establish a permanent ground blind setup. You may have to stay mobile. Nevertheless, attempt to beat or circumnavigate the flock to their morning feeding area if the roost setup fails. Once you relocate, you’ll have two choices: You can either wait and ambush the birds or use calls to lure them in close.
Ambushing turkeys may seem unfair, but lots of scouting, patience and luck go into a successful setup. Flocks have favorite feeding sites and, if you unravel their pattern, you can stake a blind and just sit back and wait.
If you prefer calling, place a decoy or hide in enough cover to cause a turkey to hunt for you as you call. Use subtle calls to start a conversation. If the gobbler ignores your yearning yelps, crank up the intensity and consider a series of fighting purrs to grab the attention of even the most stubborn of toms.
NOON: Wild Turkey Loafing, Dusting, Nesting Chores
The middle of the day can mean an end to your hunt if you live in a half-day hunting state. Be sure to check state hunting regulations before pressing beyond the noon hour. For those who can chase a noon gobble, it’s time to look for loafing areas.
Your pre-hunt scouting should reveal shady areas adjacent to field edges and feeding zones where turkeys go to seek shelter from midday temperatures. Turkeys will also spend midday hours dusting to rid themselves of vermin. Look for dusty, dished-out bowls in known turkey haunts, and you’ll surely find sign of turkey loafing.
As the season progresses, more and more hens begin to slip away in the morning to tend to nesting chores. With hens focused more on their soon-to-be young, gobblers find themselves with fewer ladies to impress.
What’s This Mean For You?
Gobblers are often alone and a few soft calls can produce some of the best gobbling action of the day.
Noontime temps can curtail gobbling, but don’t bet on it or let it become an excuse to head back to the truck. While hunting in Texas a few years back my guide and I called a tom into shooting range when it was 105 degrees…in the shade!
AFTERNOON: Feeding and Roost Travel
The noontime rule is still in play for gobblers that have lost their flock to nesting activities. Lone gobblers are wandering around, oftentimes tight-lipped, but a well-timed call on your part into a coulee could kick start some mid-afternoon delight.
Your afternoon hunt, like a noontime hunt, should take place near a loafing zone, but as the sun begins sliding westward, start looking for turkey activity near field edges and feeding locales as birds try to fill up before flying to roost.
Afternoon Calling Tips
Lone gobblers come to mid-afternoon calls best, but hens also have a tendency to come to other hens as flocks begin to regroup for roost travel. I’ve called in dozens of gobblers in the mid-afternoon hours, some with hens leading the charge. I typically start subtle, but I’ve always followed a rule of talking back in the same manner of the responding birds. Boss hens oftentimes require a cantankerous response.
SUNSET: Travel Patterns
Now is the time to see if you’re a gambler.
Sunset setups can be successful since turkeys will be on a guaranteed trail to their roosts. The risk is that a screw-up on your behalf could cause birds to abandon a traditional roost and ruin a sunrise setup. If you do find a sunset pattern where turkeys follow a field edge back to a roost, be sure to set up far enough away so birds won’t be alarmed if the ambush goes awry.
A surefire, travel pattern demands a ground-blind setup to ensure turkeys won’t see you hunkering in the shadows. Wild turkeys lead a paranoid life, but that doesn’t mean you can’t target their behavior with hour-by-hour strategies.
For more wild turkey tips and facts to prep for this hunting season, check out Grand View’s wild turkey how-to articles and videos here.