Over the last several weeks, a lot of gobblers have been bumped, jumped, spooked, and in some cases even shot at by other hunters. Overcalling, bad calling and narrowly dodging swarms of magnum shot has a way of quickly transforming lovesick longbeards into master escape artists with nasty attitudes. Textbook hunting and calling tactics that got the job done earlier in the spring are suddenly being ignored — and in some cases even snubbed — by these clown-headed jokers.
To make matters worse, many of us across the country have been experiencing a crazy and unpredictable spring as far as the weather goes. Here in Kentucky and Tennessee we've had everything from major floods to tropical heat-waves and sudden cold-fronts. It will be 90 degrees one day and the next morning the temperature is flirting with the high 30's. All of these factors coupled with weeks of intense hunting pressure have now created a harsh and challenging hunting environment for most hardcore gobbling addicts.
With that being said, there's a good chance that you might just have a few gobbler tags leftover that are probably burning a hole in your pocket. The good news is you can still lay the smackdown on a swelled-up strutter before the final buzzer rings. If you're having some trouble making it happen, then try hitting gobblers with some hardcore late-season hunting strategies that'll help you close out your spring with an echoing BANG or a whistling SWACK for all you bow and crossbow hunters.
Raid The Roost
As all of you know, it can be extremely difficult to set up tightly on the roost during the early segments of the season without getting busted. The lack of foliage and cover are often a hunters nightmare when trying to close the distance on any sharp-eyed longbeard. However, some springs we'll not had to deal with these problems if by opening day everything was thick and green. If the woods are heavily covered, you can utilize the available cover and terrain to setup dangerously close to the roost.
By the end of April across large parts of the country, a large percentage of hens are nesting and not hanging out with the gobblers as much. Fortunately, there is still some breeding activity going on, which creates a window of opportunity. On the other hand, mature gobblers that have survived most of the season are often stubborn and typically will not travel long distances to hook up with a hen. After weeks of breeding, the longbeards are not as anxious and impatient as they were earlier in the season. In other words, the gobblers want the hens to come to them just like nature intended.
This is exactly why I like to set up tight on the roost throughout the late-season. Basically, you want to make it super easy for a gobbler to approach your calling position. Moving in close and hitting roosted toms with a series of soft and subtle clucks and yelps can be just what the doctor ordered. For tough call-shy birds, really tone down your calling by simply scratching in the dry leaves with your hand and using muffled purrs to coax a shooter off the roost.
Make Transitional Tweaks & Adjustments
In order to consistently tag tough late-season toms, you really need to modify your hunting strategies to meet the new challenges that inevitably go hand-in-hand with the late-season transition. For the most part, a combination of thick foliage, changing turkey behavior and intense hunting pressure are why you need to take a somewhat different approach. Finding ways to adjust and modify your setups and calling techniques from earlier segments of the season can be the difference between deep-fried turkey or tag stew.
Once gobblers are off the roost, the thick foliage will typically make it more difficult to pinpoint the distance of a longbeard's current position when he gobbles. Dense cover prevents sound from traveling as far, which causes hunters to make poor decisions when setting up. In other words, it's easy to bump a longbeard by misjudging his actual location. Secondly, hens can be a lot less vocal during this transitional period and you need to match this behavioral change. It's important to remember that loud and aggressive calling will often make a gobbler hang-up just out of range.
Break Into His Comfort Zone
Without question, it's really easy to misjudge the actual true distance from a gobbler when dealing with dense late-season foliage. However, you still need to setup as close as possible before going to work on a longbeard. Learning how to accurately judge the distance of a gobbling tom and using the terrain to break into his comfort zone is exactly what the doctor ordered for the late-season blues.
At all costs, try to eliminate large gaps between your setup and a gobbling longbeard. This cuts down on the possibility of a gobbler hanging-up behind some unseen obstacle or natural barrier. In addition, you need to rely on light calling sequences, which will make that old gobbler think the hen is not that interested in him. Making it easy for the longbeard to reach your setup and applying soft and subtle calling tactics will dramatically increase your shot ratio throughout this late transitional period.
Over the years, I've learned to focus on strut zones during the late transitional phase of the turkey season. For good reason, these key locations are hotspots when the hunting gets rough and tough. During the later weeks of season, mature longbeards will generally gobble on the roost and go silent after fly-down. Next, they will hit multiple strut zones throughout the day and try to attract any remaining hens that are not nesting. The longbeards may occasionally gobble at these sites or simply spit and drum to draw any nearby hens that are willing to breed directly to them.
When facing this aggravating scenario, try setting up within range of a known strut zone or along travel routes that lead to these sites. A single hen decoy coupled with soft calling will usually be more than a late-season longbeard can stand. The trick is to be patient and wait on the gobbler to arrive. Generally, the tom will visit the same strut zones and take identical routes to reach these sites on a daily basis. Stay on red-alert, because the gobblers often sneak into these areas silently and they can catch you off-guard.
Split The Distance
Growing and expanding turkey populations make it possible to encounter multiple gobblers on any given hunt. This sounds like a good thing, but it can actually cause confusion when multiple longbeards are not together, but located close to each other and gobbling simultaneously. Traditional tactics lean toward on picking a single bird and trying to work him into range. Although, there is another option you may want to consider. Over the years, I've actually found myself in this predicament many times and here is how I like to handle the situation.
When you find yourself facing multiple gobbling turkeys, try dividing the distance and setup directly between both birds. A setup that splits the difference will allow you to basically use your calling to create a competition between the two gobblers. By striking a jealous nerve, you can quickly pull both longbeards into range with minimal effort. Answering one gobbler with your calling and ignoring the other when he sounds off is a great way to get inside his head.
Set Up Near Nesting Sites
Another deadly tactic is to setup near known nesting sites throughout the late-season period. Gobblers that still have a little fuel left in their tank will often cruise these areas looking for a willing hen to breed. During the opening weeks of season, the longbeards were in high-cotton, because they had hens all around them each and every day. Now, most of the ladies have vanished and the boys are looking for some companionship.
Strategically placing a ground blind around these hotspot locations can pay huge dividends toward the end of season. Setting up a single hen decoy with a strutting tom or half-strut Jake decoy can definitely coax a jealous and lonely longbeard into your lap. Once again, soft and subtle calling techniques will usually be more productive at this point in the game. This late-season technique gets results, because it enables you to attack a gobbler's eyes, ears, and ego.
At the end of the day, the ability to adjust and modify your hunting tactics will have a huge impact on your overall success in the woods throughout the late-season period. Right now's the time to lace-up your boot-strings tight, go one more round, and exploit uncooperative gobblers with these time-proven and field-tested strategies. Go hard, hunt harder, and make it happen before that final buzzer rings.