We’re heading into the home stretch of Maine’s spring wild turkey hunting season, which ends on Saturday, June 3. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of time to enjoy the thrill of trying to outsmart a gobbler.
The basics of turkey hunting remain the same throughout the season, but as the season ends veteran caller and hunter Brhaun Parks of Norway said some subtle changes in tactics can make the difference between harvesting a bird or going home frustrated.
At this point, turkeys are well into their breeding and nesting cycle. Many female turkeys, or hens, are already tending to eggs on their nests and are off the market, so to speak.
However, the dominant male turkeys, or toms, which do most of the breeding, are still scouring the woods in search of any potential remaining mates. So, how do you get the attention of the toms and juvenile males, known as jakes?
Parks’ top tip holds true for the entire hunting season. Don’t overcall. Even though hunters thrill to the sound of a turkey gobbling, there are limits.
“The problem is, even now there’s some hens that haven’t been bred so what happens is you’re calling too much, the bird’s gobbling too much, but it’s trying to come in,” Parks said.
The tom stops every time it gobbles, which actually slows its approach to the hunter. Parks said delays can give the male a chance to run off with a hen that might come in to check out the commotion.
Overcalling also has ramifications in terms of getting the hunter “busted.” Turkeys have a keen knack for honing in on a hunter’s location.
“They have such good hearing, they’ll pinpoint where that call came from,” Parks said.
That means any movement by the hunter could end the encounter in a heartbeat. So if the turkey is coming and you can see it, be silent and still.
A hunter in the woods, as opposed to on the edge of a field or clearing, has the added advantage later in the season of the cover provided by the leaves on trees and bushes. That could help get the bird into shotgun range.
Parks said late-season spring turkey hunters also are likely to benefit from being on their feet and moving methodically through the woods in search of birds.
“You might have to put a lot of miles on this time of year to find a bird that wants to play,” he said of the blind calling tactic.
“I’ll walk 50 yards and I’ll call. I’ll walk 50 yards and I’ll call,” Parks said. “All you’ve got to do is get to the general vicinity of where they’re at and put some miles on.”
In doing so, hunters must be keenly aware that there could be other hunters nearby. That means using extreme caution when moving around.
When getting a response, the hunter must determine approximately how far away the gobbler is. If it’s a considerable distance, more than 100 yards, Parks will move 30 to 50 yards closer, get set up against a tree and then call to see if the bird’s still interested.
“If he’s coming, let him come,” Parks said. “And when he’s committed, don’t call, just let him come in.”
Patience is another key skill in the late spring season. In some areas, the birds have been subjected to pressure from other hunters and may have encountered lots of manmade calling. That can make them more skittish.
Parks said it’s beneficial to reduce the volume of calling. Available hens that were aggressively making yelping and cutting vocalizations early in the season are less numerous and less “talkative.”
“It’s more just some soft yelps, and I make a few clucks here and there, but that’s it. You’ve got to really tone it down this time of year.”
Parks said decoys also likely will have less effect, especially with birds trying to see through the trees to identify the source of the calling. Turkeys have to come closer to find what they’re pursuing, which works to the hunter’s advantage.
If you’re determined to use a decoy, which might help in or around a clearing, a lone hen — which is what toms are more likely to find late in the season — is the way to go.
Another tactic is to visit the woods the night before the hunt and use an owl hoot to locate the turkeys roosted in the trees. Upon returning in the morning, well before legal shooting time, get as close as you can to the roosts without spooking the birds.
At that point, silence is the key, waiting until you hear the turkeys gobble before doing anything. Then, the best calls are soft yelps, short cuts or a flew clucks to attract their attention.
That doesn’t mean a hunter can’t cash in a little later in the morning at this time of year. Once the birds are out of the trees and the hens return to their nests, that reduces the active turkeys in the area to unbred hens and lovestruck males.
Parks also pointed out that gobblers often are not as keen on entering fields late in the season. That’s because the grass has often grown to the point where it restricts their ability to see what’s in front of them.
Turkey hunting is a little different late in the spring, but that doesn’t mean a hunter can’t harvest a nice bird by using some time-tested tactics.