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Calling Late Spring Tom Wild Turkeys

Surprise Visit

Getting a handle on a vocal late-spring tom is the ideal situation, but it is only one possibility. Another is that you might interest a wary boss or a hopeful, subordinate tom that will come in for a look without making a sound. By all means, remain alert until the end of your hunt. Listen for gobbling, of course, and also for spitting and drumming, as that means a tom is close by and may be coming to you. If you’re focused on the things around you, even when you don’t hear anything, the unexpected arrival of a searching tom won’t come as a complete surprise. And that can be good for you and bad for him. — J.H.

 

Calling late spring toms

Generally, a spring season has three overlapping phases. In the beginning, there’s usually lots of gobbling and fighting as the tom turkeys sort out their pecking order and search for willing hens to breed. By midseason, gobbling diminishes because the boss toms are with hens much of the time. They may gobble a little on the roost, but when they join the hens on the ground they’ll normally strut more and talk less.

Late in the spring season, many of the hens will be on their nests full time, and that’s when gobbling picks up again as the jilted toms expand their search for available mates. So how can you take advantage of the second peak, which, in my experience, may last for only a few days?

First, you’ve got to be out there among the turkeys when it counts. Only by hunting the final days of the annual spring season do you have an opportunity to make good things happen. Here’s an incident that illustrates my point:

It was the last weekend of a spring season a few years ago, and I was hiking alone at first light to a familiar spot where I’d encountered turkeys several times over the years. I was almost there when a lusty Rio Grande tom opened up nearby with no prompting from me. Such behavior late in the season is a good omen. It usually means a tom is anxiously looking for female companionship.

In this case, the tom was on the far side of a low ridge, so rather than sit down immediately, I decided to get a bit closer and set up in a spot with better visibility. Bad idea. When I crested the ridge, I took one step too many. The turkey, much closer than I thought, spotted my movement and briskly left the scene.

Scurrying down the slope, I got below a sea of brush and paralleled what I assumed was the tom’s escape route. After hustling for 200 yards or so, I turned uphill, found a place to sit, and cast a series of plain yelps into the nearby woods.

The gobble that rang out was music to my ears. A few minutes later, I saw the tom coming. When he was 20 steps away, I collected him.

No doubt that tom’s performance was based on the fact that he recently lost the hens he was with and desperately wanted to find another feathered beauty or two at any cost. Happily, not even my brief appearance on that ridge dampened his urge to keep searching.

During nearly 40 years of chasing spring turkeys, I’ve had many memorable moments in the waning days of the hunting season. I have also had some real duds, some of which were the result of unseasonably warm weather that effectively halted the breeding urge and put the toms into their summer mode early.

Another thing that affects late season hunting, especially on public land, is hunting pressure. There may be fewer birds overall, but hunting the late season can still be super productive if you approach it with the right game plan.

When it comes to striking up a conversation with a late-spring tom, I rely mostly on non-aggressive hen sounds such as plain yelps, clucks and purrs. The toms usually aren’t hassling one another much this late in the breeding cycle, and the hens have long since settled their differences. It’s logical to assume that any subtle hen sound will get the attention of a lonely tom still looking for female company.

To verify my conclusions, I had a chat with Ronnie “Cuz” Strickland, senior vice president of Mossy Oak, and one of the most devoted turkey hunters I know. I was delighted to find that his observations, and his approach to late spring turkey hunting, are quite similar to my own. Strickland thinks the best gobbling peak is around opening day but he also recognizes the appeal of the late season.

“There are no absolutes in turkey hunting,” Strickland said. “The late season peak depends on the scarcity of hens due to the nesting process, weather events and the number of toms in an area to begin with. When it comes to locating a willing tom on an otherwise quiet day, I’ll roam and make cutts with my loudest tube call. From that, some people assume I always call aggressively. Not true. When I strike a gobbler that late in the season, I’ll settle down and patiently work on him with subtle calls. I’ve got a lot of them to come in that way.”

Strickland also said that, late in the season, if he had to choose between early morning and mid-afternoon hunting, he’d take the latter in a heartbeat. “Over the last 30 years, I’ve filmed many more successful end-of-spring hunts for our television shows between noon and 4 p.m. than I have in the morning,” he said.

While the best time to go turkey hunting is anytime you can, it is well worth the effort to pursue those hen-seeking gobblers just before the end of the spring season. — John Higley