As I crossed my friends’ hay field in the dim morning light, a distant flash of lightning started my internal timer. “If only I could
find a way to put thunder in a can”, I thought to myself, “I’d be a millionaire”. Sure, manufactured crow calls, owl calls, coyote howlers and
the like all have their place in shocking a gobbler into giving up his location, but nothing beats a booming assist from Mother Nature. “Eighteen
Mississippi, nineteen Mississippi…” At 20 seconds I finally heard the low rumble of thunder. Even before the simple calculation of 4 miles
distance to the lightning came to mind, the gobbler sounded off. He was kitty corner across a county road, on private property I couldn’t hunt. I tried my
best to ignore him, but a second lightning and thunder combo, this one a bit closer, generated another throaty gobble. It reminded me that I should probably
not stray too far from my vehicle with a possible thunderstorm brewing. It also reminded me that late season gobblers that sound off with gusto can be some of
the most fun and most reliable birds to hunt.
My home state of Wisconsin has a fairly brief but rich tradition of turkey hunting. Restocking of wild
birds beginning in the early 70′s has turned into a quantity and quality of harvest that game managers could only dream of. When hunting turkeys was first
allowed there were quite conservative quotas and seasons put in place. Those restrictions have been gradually liberalized over the years, based on solid
harvest data and research that followed the upward swing in bird numbers statewide. In the just-completed 2012 season the previous scheme of 6
individual turkey seasons consisting of 5 days on, 2 days off, was changed to allow hunting all 7 days. Those extra 2 days, Monday and Tuesday, make even
more hunting opportunities for hunters still holding tags. Despite the extra opportunities, it’s still human nature to want the first crack at the birds
each season and that’s why the first couple seasons are the most heavily subscribed in the lottery drawing. I’ve gotten those early tags enough times to
know that the birds are plentiful, gobbling activity is usually pretty good, and the loud-mouthed 2 year olds fill many a hunter’s game bag. I also know
that the weather can be nasty, foliage cover for moving on the birds can be nonexistent, and competition from other hunters is at its peak.
Enter the late season.
Mid May takes on a whole new flavor from mid April. The leaves are fully out, especially after the recent mild winter. Hens are busy
with nesting duties, so the remaining gobblers still interested in some company are less likely to get it. This is the time of year when you might catch the nearly constant calling of a “troller” – a gobbler that does a lot of
talking while also doing a lot of walking. Sometimes he’ll frustrate you to no end, answering all your calls but still not turning back to check out the “hen” that’s pursuing him. But there are other times when things work
out in your favor. That’s what I was hoping as I quietly closed the tailgate of my truck and slipped off through the woods to try to intercept the thunder bird I’d heard 10 minutes earlier. With only 3 days left ’til the end of the season,
it was game on.
He was on the ground now, gobbling on his own without any prompting from the thunder, which had since vanished. By the time I got settled
in and ready to call to him I realized he’d already crossed the county road and was now on my side. While that was good news for me, unfortunately he was still well to my south on unhuntable private land. As he continued east I called to
him sparingly with my diaphragm. He answered, but each gobble was further and further away. He was paralleling me so I picked up the pace and jogged through
the woods along the old barbed wire fence separating the properties. I knew from aerial photos that there was a large grass field on the neighbor’s land
and that’s where the gobbling stabilized to a single location. Since I couldn’t see that far through the thick greenery, I could only imagine that bird
strutting and gobbling out in that field, trying to coax me out of the woods from the north.
I knew the woods well – setting up against a big oak just 50 yards downhill from a favorite tree stand that had yielded several deer in past
years. My calling was very low-key, interspersed with a lot of scratching in the leaves to simulate a feeding hen. No need for the long strings of yelps from the earlier seasons. Single or double clucks kept him interested, and it
was clear that his gobbling was getting closer and more insistent. Finally, I saw that black form slinking through the woods that all turkey hunters long to see. He set up shop in an opening between some mature oaks that gave him a sight line to his expected hen. Trouble was, he managed to put a wind fallen dead pine tree right between us. From under my facemask I was chirping clucks
out the side of my mouth to try to get him moving to my right and away from the tree, but he liked his spot and let me know it by alternately fanning and gobbling, but without moving his feet. After a few tense minutes of enjoying
what I like to call “The Greatest Show on Earth”, I straightened my back against the tree and gained just enough height to manage a shot between the branches of the downed pine. At 35 yards the Hevi-shot 6′s caused massive
head and neck damage, anchoring the bird in place. I rushed over and steadied his wings so he wouldn’t break any feathers when he thrashed. The tom was my first 5 year old – with inch and a half spurs, an 11.5 inch beard, and weighing 22.6 lbs. As I stood over this beautiful bird and gave thanks, I thought about the friendly location, the 2 hours of elapsed time from when lightning-caused thunder gave way to shotgun-caused thunder, and the quarter mile this talkative old bird walked before turning to my calling. It all convinced me in an instant
that he’d be mounted in full strut to preserve the memories of a very satisfying late season hunt.
I have written many articles on equipment, techniques and how to’s, so know I am going to put a lot of this valuable information to the test and spend this Wild Turkey hunting season in pursuit of one of the most elusive of the Grand Slam Turkeys, the Osceola.
If you have no clue what an Osceola Turkey is, or where it is found, this isn’t really the article for you as I will go into those details in another piece. This article is for those individuals who are established Turkey hunters who are preparing for the upcoming season and pretty much know where and how they plan to proceed. It’s meant to just tweak their realm of possibilities and tell my ongoing quest as well.
So here we go. For the past two years I have not been able to secure private land to hunt so I was forced to endure the large number of crazies that head out to the public land such as JW Corbett and Three Lakes, in South Florida to try and take a bird. Now don’t get me wrong, there are quite a few established and excellent hunters who consistently take birds off these wildlife management areas, I unfortunately am not one of them. But, I have learned some techniques that may help those who know the routines, but are still coming up a bit short. I remember sitting against a cypress tree at an ungodly early hour, at what I thought was the perfect set up, only to have three rather large men carrying an aluminum ladder through the woods making enough noise to drown out a marching band. Not fun!
OK, so here is a great tip I learned, please comment on this if you think it makes sense as I have thought about this possibility and feel it is one of the reasons some consistently harvest birds while others do not. First, as usual you must not only know that birds are in the area, but also prior scouting should also give you some indication of their patterns. They quite often follow a predictable pattern after flying down from the roost, and on private land or lightly hunted land you can put yourself in an interceptor position to take advantage of them. Or, you can run and gun with out being cursed or shot at for interrupting another’s hunt. This is pretty much on par with some guy walking through the woods and blowing your favorite decoy to bits.
So here’s my plan for this year, if I am hunting on public land. Having already scouted the area and knowing the possible patterns of the birds and where a vast majority of other hunters will be moving through, I am planning on hunting the birds, not so much on where they usually will want to go, but where the other hunters might possibly push them! So this weekend I will start looking at angles and trails and paths of least resistance that the elusive Osceola Turkey would consider moving through to give a wide berth to the throngs of hunters that will be in the woods this season. So what do ya think? Or am I merely putting myself in the crosshairs of someone’s scope? Last tidbit of info although most know this already; do not practice your calling where you will be hunting! If you are as bad with a mouth call as I am, you are merely telling a Wild Turkey that you are there and conditioning him to run at that sound.
By the way, this year I have been able to get hunting rights on a 250 acre piece of land that is used for cattle. The edge of which is adjoining a popular WMA. I will keep you informed of my progress in hopes of bagging the elusive Osceola Turkey!
Can you smell it? All across the country hunters are patterning their shotguns, checking their decoys and are driving the wife and kids crazy by constantly listening to their audio cd’s while practicing to get the tones and cadence of their favorite calls. Spring Turkey season is in full swing! Bad calling technique and decoys that couldn’t fool Wyle E. Coyote can do more harm than good on a hunt so you better get started now to have it all down pat before that first gobble is heard just before dawn on opening day. The Wild Turkey’s proclivity to let you know where he is gives the shrewd hunter an occasional advantage, but only if he or she knows what to do next.
Calling a Turkey to bring him closer to you, or coaxing him to give away his position is probably the most enjoyable method of Turkey hunting, and since this incredible bird is gifted with incredible eyesight, calling the Turkey is probably the best way to get into position for a shot. Combine this with proper decoy management and you have a great chance of harvesting a nice Tom. Remember, it only takes one bird to let you know what direction he is, and then you will have to judge the distance for yourself. When the birds are silent it can seem as if you are all alone in the woods as they can go completely quiet when alarmed.
Turkey’s breed primarily in the spring months of April and May, during this period they can become extremely vocal and learning the differences in each sound can tell whether your quarry is a Tom, Jake or possibly even a hen. One of the first things I was taught when using my calls was what type of sound to imitate to elicit the desired effect. Sitting in the dark an hour or so before dawn during Turkey season is very exciting and when the sound of a mature Tom breaks though the darkness it will be something you won’t ever forget!
Turkey’s can be located using a variety of calls; you can imitate a hen, or the unmistakable call of a big Gobbler or even those sounds such as crow and owls. The sounds of thunder have also been known to cause a Wild Turkey to give away his position. These locator calls are a hit and miss situation and usually work best in areas that you know Turkeys have been seen in sufficient numbers. Locator calls are used to identify position not to bring birds in.
With so many calls on the market, its hard to figure out what might work best for you, but the bottom line is know how to properly use the call before taking it into the field. I prefer the box call as it is easy for me to use since my attempts to use a mouth or diaphragm Turkey call have similar results to Roseanne Barr singing the national anthem. However, the diaphragm calls give the hunter who can properly use them, are great bit of versatility. The problem with a box call is that there is motion involved and the hunter will need to put down the call in order to lift his shotgun.
Turkeys make a number of different sounds depending on what they are doing at the time; it can range from a series of purrs, clucks, yelps or a combination of sounds. Remember on windy days your sound will be limiting in the distance it projects and trying to hard to increase volume might through off the proper sound. Cadence is also of great importance and it’s usually a good practice for novice hunters to merely try to match the sounds of birds they can hear. Combine this with some life-like decoys set out at a know distance such as 20yds and you are just about ready. In some areas, the use of decoys may actually hamper your hunt as the birds have been pressured greatly and are wise to the decoys. But all in all, 1-3 decoys depending on the circumstance should suffice, and by the end of the day you may have an incredible dinner that the whole family will enjoy and a great story to tell around the table.
Turkeys can see you coming from a long, long distance away, they also have incredibly sharp hearing, combine this with their natural instincts to be a bit cautious and you have a very formidable adversary. I have heard many hunters claim that if the wild turkey had the sense of smell of a deer, nobody would ever harvest one. Having said this, turkey hunting is one of the most enjoyable challenges, and is actually fairly simple if you merely understand how a turkey thinks or acts, and why.
It seems like whenever you are driving along a country road looking into the fields and pastures there is never a shortage of wild turkeys mulling about, picking up pieces of grain and insects, yet walk around in the woods with your shotgun, and you would think that you are hunting on the moon. In order to successfully harvest the elusive wild turkey you must first locate potential wild turkey habitat. I have on many occasions merely driven around in the early evening with my binoculars, and began by glassing various areas, or spent an hour or so on the edge of a forest just listening for the unmistakable sound of Wild Turkeys flying up to roost, or the tell tale gobble of a bird responding to an owl or some other locator call. This practice is called “Roosting” a bird or “putting a bird to bed”. If you see a gobbler feeding in a field or parading around in the late afternoon and evening hours before your intended Wild Turkey hunt, you have a great indication that the bird will be somewhere in that general vicinity come first light, as these birds tend to feed in the evening near where they will be roosting.
After roosting a bird the night before, you will need to return to this general area before dawn (this means in the dark!) and situate yourself, well hidden at the base of a tree or other type of blind. Hopefully, the previous night you have already marked the location you wish to hunt and set up a bit of a blind. It is imperative to make no noise when returning in the dark, so marking a trail you can find is a good idea. If using decoys, it is also important to move slowly and silently so as not to give away your location. Pace off the number of yards, to your decoys to give a good indication of incoming birds and your comfortable shooting range, you may also place a stick in the ground a bit further out so you know your maximum distance as well.
If you chose the right location these birds could fly down right in front of you, as Wild Turkeys prefer to fly down into open areas, making it a very short, but rewarding morning. If you have not heard the birds as darkness gives way to dawn, you might attempt to simulate a few tree yelps in the hope that a gobbler will reply, thus giving away his location. If you are not proficient with calling, “don’t”, as many novices tend to overcall or call badly, which can push birds further away.
It’s also important to remember that gobblers are hesitant to walk downhill to calls, so you want to try and be either slightly uphill of the birds or on level ground. I was once hunting in Coulee country in Southern Wisconsin for spring Turkey and had snuck in about 30 yards above a strutting gobbler and had several Jakes walk in from my side to within several yards before I even noticed them. If you had no luck on the morning fly down you can try to identify a gobbler’s strutting zones as they tend to prefer the same areas again and again to display for the hens. Don’t get too impatient if a gobbler responds to your calls but refuses to move in closer. Just remind him with subtle calls every now and then that you, or in better words…a hen is still in the area.
If the early morning hours are not productive, at some point it may be time to try other strategies and get on the move to locate the birds. This technique is known as the run and gun method, and may work with seasoned turkey hunters and older birds. Moving to new areas and trying to locate birds, then employing a sit, wait and call method can sometimes lure in some Jakes and younger Toms. Either way, enjoying the great outdoors in pursuit of the Wild Turkey is an excellent way to spend a beautiful spring morning.
Spring Turkey hunting is just around the corner and in many states in the country there is a lottery drawing to determine who will receive the limited number of permits that will be available for specific areas. It is important for all you wild turkey hunters to decide if you want to put your name in for the drawing, but also to decide on what particular zones, (if your state uses zoning for permits) you wish to hunt. If you are on good terms with land owners of prime wild turkey habitat, you may want to check with them first to see if others have already requested hunting time on the in-demand area.
This is also a good time to get in touch with your state DNR (Department of Natural Resources) to ask questions as to what public lands you may be allowed to hunt on and what the Wild Turkey harvest has been in previous years. Some states have quotas as to the number of hunters and time periods that prime wildlife areas can be accessed for hunting, such as Florida, however there is enough public land to at least have a shot at taking one of these magnificent birds. Hunting public land for the elusive Wild Turkey may have its added challenges, but just being out there at first light and hearing a gobbler calling is worth the effort. We encourage you to post your thoughts on accessible public land in your area or state, after all, not everyone has access to private land.