How to Bag Early Season Toms
It’s no big secret that early spring turkey hunting offers the best opportunity to lure in an unsuspecting gobbler. The breeding is underway and mature toms appear vulnerable. We also know that hunting pressure is not an issue. Gobblers have not yet been bumped here and there, or harassed with calls.
Now for bad news. In early season, the spring woods are rapidly changing from flora to fauna. Strategies that typically work in a “green” woods do not apply. Hens are not yet nesting and a gobbler seldom has to worry about finding a breeding hen, or advancing towards a hunter’s call. Here’s what you can do to tip the odds in your favor.
1. Locator Calls
Although many turkey hunters have a vest stuffed with hen calls, locator calls should not be overlooked. During early spring, the gobbling is often furious. Toms look for any reason to gobble, and many begin before the sun peaks over the horizon. It’s also true that roost sites change consistently during early season. Where a gobbler roosts one evening could be nowhere close to where he roosts the next. For these reasons, I make it a point to use locator calls consistently, saving the hen talk for when it really counts.
Now consider the open woods. Even during early morning while the woods are dark, you could be spotted while moving towards a roosted gobbler. In other words, you can arrive early and wait on the birds to begin gobbling, or you can use a locator call to force the action. Locating a roosted bird before sunrise is recommended, simply because you can move toward him through dark woods. If you sit back and wait on a gobbler to talk, time might not allow you to get to him and set up before dawn breaks.
When using a locator call in early morning, stick to the appropriate owl hooter. Barred owls typically become mouthy just before dawn. I also suggest you try aggressive owl talk.
After dawn, consider a crow call for locating a tom. Moving consistently and covering ground is essential for locating a gobbler, but it’s dangerous business in an open woods. The crow call could let you know the whereabouts of a bird before it’s too late. Of course, locating a tom is only the first challenge.
2. Choice Setups
We’ve all heard the old saying that it’s best to set up against a wide tree before you begin calling. True, a large tree provides excellent concealment. Unfortunately, in open woods it’s not always a good idea to search for a big tree. On the contrary, there are other factors to consider, even if it means setting up against a logjam or in brush.
Always consider that closeness counts in woods where foliage is thin. You must set up in a location as close as you can get to the bird without being spotted, and where you will force the gobbler to search for you.
Veteran turkey hunters suggest you always choose a setup where the bird will be in range as it comes into view. This theory is vitally important in early spring. If a tom has excellent visibility , it’s unlikely he will approach. For instance, the accurate range of your shotgun is probably 40 to 50 yards. If a gobbler can see 80 to 100 yards, it’s doubtful he will come close enough.
Of course, finding an early-season setup where minimal visibility exists is often difficult. Nevertheless, it can be done. If you hunt hilly country, try setting up just off the ridge within gun range of the top. That way, the bird will be killable when he peaks the hill. On lower ground, set up only in the densest areas. As long as the gobbler’s visibility is limited, you have a chance of getting the bird in close. That is providing you don’t have competition.
3. Beating Breeding Hens
During early spring, the breeding is furious. That statement might appear inspiring, but don’t get too excited just yet. Although toms are eager to breed it doesn’t mean they will come running into hen calls. In fact, it works in reverse. Hens are usually running to gobblers. This means that most mature toms will gobble consistently, but hold their position and strut until a hen comes to them.
For several years, I have kept statistics of calling failures while recording the reasons why a gobbler did not come into range. Sometimes it was bad luck, such as hunter interference, or perhaps a coyote showing up at the wrong time. However, more than 60 percent of the failures occurred because hens were with a gobbler, or because they intercept a tom before he got to me. I’m sure you get the point. Floozy hens decrease the possibility of you luring a tom into range.
Although it might seem impossible to get a step ahead of breeding hens, there are steps you can consider that will boost you chance of enticing a gobbler. consider the hens that intercept a gobbler before he gets to you. You know how it works. You set up and call to a bird. He gobbles with enthusiasm, but before he gets to you, a hen comes in from the side on a collision course with the tom. That’s when you make it a point to spook the hen by waving an arm. Naturally, you must make certain the tom will not spot your movement.
Breeding hens are jealous. It also seems that the more your calls fire up a gobbler, the more likely the hens will interfere. The breeding cycle of early spring is fast and furious, with you otften caught dangling at the ind of the rope. Even if hens accompany the tom when youbegin calling, though, assertive talk might change the tide.
4. Aggressive Hen Talk
Aggressive calling could accomplish one of two things: it might pull a gobbler away from the hens, or it could bring the hens to you with the gobbler tagging along. The latter is the most likely scenario. Pulling a tom away from the hens is probably hopeful wishing. However, if you can raise a few feathers on a hen’s back, you might be surprised how quickly she will come to you.
Because hens are breeding and extremely jealous in early spring, they are often eager to challenge a competitive hen. Aggressive talk, such as cutts or consistent yelping will get the point across that you mean business. Sometimes it takes several minutes to convince a mature hen to come, while other times it happens quickly. However, you can bet that the gobbler will follow her as she comes to you.
I would also suggest you consider calls that mimic fighting hens. Several companies manufacture push-button box calls that simulate fighting sounds. This call could attract hens that accompany the gobbler, or other toms that happen to be nearby. Tom turkeys find the sounds of fighting hens irresistible, even though hens fight consistently in early spring. It seems they always want to witness the actions.
Seeing is believing! That’s exactly why decoys work best in early spring. Many hunters rely on run-and-gun tactics at the onset of the spring hunting season before settling into using decoys on fields later in the season. However, most hunters will agree that decoys become less effective as the season progresses.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of decoys. I would much rather stay on the move, trying to locate a cooperative gobbler. Nevertheless, in early season I often resort to using a certain decoy if run-and-gun tactics fail.
Although a gobbler will stay back and wait on hens to come to him, he will often find it difficult to stay away from another tom – in this case a tom decoy. Most hunters insist upon using hen decoys, but a tom will usually approach the decoy slowly and cautiously. They still expect the hen to advance toward the, And when it doesn’t , they often hang up – out of gun range.
A gobbler decoy, though, seems to force the gobbler to move closer. A mature tom with no hens becomes very vulnerable after spotting the decoy. Even if the gobbler is with hens, the hens are more likely to approach a tom decoy than a hen decoy. It seems they want to meet the “new guy” on the block. Again, it will be the hens bringing the gobbler into gun range. However, for safety reasons always place your decoy in a highly-visible area so you can see another hunter approach. It’s also best if you place your decoy within 20 yards of your setup. Many birds that approach will skirt around the decoy. The closer the decoy is to you, the better the chance the gobbler will be within range.
Tagging an early-season gobbler in open woods can be tough. You could get lucky this spring, or you could consider the previously mentioned strategies. I’ve always found that the harder I work, the luckier I get.
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