6 Tips for Late-Season Turkey Hunting

When the birds aren't flopping, late-season, turkey hunting can really drag on. Don't give up. Here are six ways to hunt smarter as the days wind down.
6 Tips for Late-Season Turkey Hunting

It’s nice to call in a big old longbeard right off the roost first thing opening morning, and get him bagged and tagged early. But sometimes it doesn't work that way. I’ve had turkey seasons that dragged on into late-April or even May. One year, it was Memorial Day before I dropped the hammer on an old Kansas patriarch.

Those seasons can drag on, but don’t throw in the towel just yet. Here are some ways to keep your head in the game and hopefully punch that tag before the season ends or you go nuts.

Be Patient

Patience isn’t just a virtue in turkey hunting, it’s essential. After the first week or two of the season, the pressure’s on to make something happen. But that doesn’t mean you should go running willy-nilly through the woods. The same methodical approach that applies early in the season, becomes especially important in the late-season. When you strike a bird, calm down, take a few breaths, and be patient. Don’t let the bird dictate the pace; make him come to you on your own terms.

Call Sparingly

Don’t overcall and blow a bird out of the woods. This is particularly important in the late-season, when gobblers have likely been called often by hunters already. They didn’t survive this long by being stupid. You shouldn’t be either. Call just enough to let the tom know you’re there and interested.

Use Enough Gun

The late-season is no time for experimenting with small-bores or light loads. Use the most gun you can comfortably handle. For many that means a 3-inch 12-gauge, but if you can stand a 3½-inch or even a 10-gauge, use it. Now’s the time to pull out the big guns. Also, use enough choke. Pressured, late-season gobblers have a tendency to only come in so far and then hang up. While I like to call ’em in close just as much as the next hunter, the reality is that’s probably not as likely to happen as the season progresses. Be prepared for every contingency and use a gun, tight choke, and heavy payload that can reach out to 40 yards or a little beyond and cleanly kill a turkey.

Sleep In

Nothing beats killing a gobbler just as the sun cracks the Eastern horizon, but in the real world of turkey hunting, that situation doesn’t play out as often as TV shows or DVDs would indicate. This is especially true in the late-season. Turkeys have grown used to a bunch of yahoos running around the woods at first light. The survivors have learned to keep their mouths shut until around mid-morning, when they can happily go about their normal, daily activities.

By mid-morning, a lot of late-season hens have also left their boyfriends to go lay eggs or sit on their nests. That means gobblers are lonely, desperate and vulnerable. Slip into the woods around noon or even in the afternoon (if legal) and it’ll likely be just you and Mr. Tom. Over the years, I’ve killed a lot of late-season turkeys around noontime.

Don’t Be Picky

A lot of those mid-day birds were wizened old gobblers, but that doesn’t mean you should limit yourself to longbeards. If a yearling jake or 2-year-old answers your calls and comes into range, by all means shoot him, especially if there’s only a few weeks or days left in the season. The late-season is no time to be picky. Longbeards are nice, but any legal bird is a trophy in my book. Besides, tender young jakes taste a whole lot better than a worn-down, old boss tom whose energy reserves are depleted by weeks of breeding.

Get Out There

We began this discussion with patience and we end it with another equally important turkey-hunting virtue: perseverance. It’s an absolute fact that you won’t get anything if you’re not out there hunting. Be persistent. I know, it gets difficult as the season winds down and lawn care fishing, and other interests and chores compete for our time. The early-morning, wake-up calls have also long since ceased being fun. But don’t give up. Get out there in the woods and hunt, even if it’s just for an hour or two.


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Featured photo: Mark Olis



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