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“Of the Outdoors” Being Prepared for the “Purr”fect Spring Turkey Season By Gary Howey

Entered by Gary Howey

Former tournament angler, hunting and fishing guide. Inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing "Hall of Fame" in 2017. Active member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW), Past Executive Director (AGLOW). Howey has been an outdoor communicator since 1980 with his award winning syndicated "Of the Outdoors" columns appearing in magazine, newspapers, and tabloids throughout he upper Midwest and nationally.

March 28, 2019

The Tom turkey, the gobblers are on the run in the spring keeping very busy, strutting, and doing their best to impress the ladies, fighting off other Toms who try to cut into their action and to doing all the other things turkeys do.
Before the season opens, this is when you’ll need to be out, scouting and figuring out if, things have changed since last fall and if the birds are still there.
I do the majority of my spring pre-season scouting once shed hunting is completed from a good observation point from my truck, using your binoculars to look for birds to figure out where they roost, strut, feed and their travel lanes.
Once you’ve got the birds patterned, don’t spend too much time in the area or the birds will spook and could change their entire routine around before the opener.
Because several of the states where I hunt spring turkeys allow hunting a half-hour before sunrise, I will be out early.
Turkeys may not see well in the dark and may not see a hunter or a predator sneaking in, but because they are up in a tree, they can see for a long ways and will see a dark form coming in. This spooks them, and once spooked they shut up and flying down as far away from the thing that spooked them.
The hunter, especially archers, needs to get, as close to the roost as possible, not to close where you spook the birds as turkeys have excellent hearing and are aware that something is coming towards them.
I like to be out well before it gets too light, you’ll want to set up your decoys when it’s still dark. Once that’s done, quietly set down, let things calm down and then listen for them. Then, if you don’t have turkeys talking back and forth, use your call to make a faint cluck or purr and once you have them located, wait for them to pitch out of the trees. This is going to take time and getting into the field an hour before sunrise is not a bad plan.
If for some reason you weren’t able to do your scouting in the spring, you may find that the roost area the birds used in the winter isn’t the roost they’re using in the spring.
There are several reason that turkeys will leave an area to find a new roost, one is their food source may have changed, something might have spooked them out of the area or the winter snowstorms have changed the habitat and it’s not conducive to turkeys.
You should make every attempt to locate their late winter or early spring roost or you may be spending your time, calling to an empty tree on opening day.
Once, the roost trees located, it’s not a bad idea to get your gear out into the woods early, but before entering g the area, use your binoculars to check the area out thoroughly, so not to spook the birds as you approach. I’ve found that it works best for me to put out my blind and gear just after lunch while the birds are disbursed, and not close to their roost tree.
This is particularly true if you are hunting out of a blind or some other type of camouflage. If you get it out several days ahead of the opener, the birds will become familiar with it and it won’t bother them on opening day.
If you have done your scouting, you will have a good idea as to where the birds will land once they pitch out of the tree. You will want to set up your blind close to their landing zone, in an area where the birds will first strut and then drawn away by the hens.
I like to have my back to the sun, which means the early morning sun will be in the bird’s eyes, not mine where they won’t be seeing as well.
Don’t go crazy with your calling at sunrise, go with a soft yelp or purr before the birds come out of the trees, this will focus their attention on your decoys and think that other birds are down using the area.
Toms love to gobble at first light, especially when the hens wake up and they start too cluck and purr.
Just because the birds are gobbling, their heads off in the trees doesn’t mean they’ll continue to gobble once hitting the ground. Some Toms, may gobble numerous times, generally, these are the young male turkeys, the Jakes.
These birds have been up in the trees all night, so the first thing they want to do is to soak up the sun, to warm up, flying down or towards area where the sun is hitting, once they limber and warm up, they will look for something to eat, to feed.
Hens will be the first to feed, as soon as they hit the ground, but not the gobblers. This is the time they’ve waited for, to them it’s the real deal, happening only once a year and they are strutting their stuff, drumming, dragging their wings on the ground while trying to convince the hens that they should join their harem.
Many times, after the birds hit the ground, they are busy feeding and strutting and may quiet up. If the roost set up didn’t pay off, you may have to relocate. This when your pre-season scouting pays off, once you have an ideas as to where they are going next to strut and feed you can attempt to get in between the birds as they come from the roost and either get in between them. If you have time, set out decoys, call one in or to ambush a bird. Ambushing them is not my favorite way to tag a bird, but I have did it in the fall.
I’d rather set up in the direction the birds are heading, put out my decoys and call, starting with a soft yelp and once I’m sure the birds aren’t close by, bring up the volume.
If there’s response from a gobbler, I’ll start getting loud, attempting to draw the attention of a lonesome gobbler to draw it away from the hens.
If that doesn’t work, I’ll raise my call volume; speeding up my calling, using an excited, hot turkey calls call. If that fails, you have only one choice, call to the hens.
My partner and I have used this method numerous times when a gobbler talks back to us, but refuses to move, hanging up, refusing to come in as he is with a hen.
Once it happens, one of us will move towards the bird while the other calls, once the hunters set up, Then the caller lays it on, with calls making the hen believe that some young hen is trying to pull her gobbler away.
Once the hen is getting close, cut the call volume, listening to the sounds she is making and duplicate it using a low volume putt, and purr to her. Each time she calls, up the volume, as this makes the hen “fighting” mad and as she pulls away from the gobbler, since he’s strutting going around in circles, he will lose track of her and head for the most aggressive hen calls.
Keep calling, and as the bird makes its way to this loud-mouthed hen, will pass right in front of the hunter, giving him an easy shot.
If that fails and it’s getting close to midday, when it’s starting to warm up, you may need to relocate to an area where the birds find some shade and where they can dust themselves.
If you had located areas where the birds dust themselves, head for that area as turkeys, like all animals in God’s kingdom are creatures of habit and sometime during the day, will return to these dished out depressions as this is where the turkeys dust themselves, throwing dust and dirt, to clean debris and unwanted guests from their feathers.
As the season progresses, the bred hens, once they have fed work their way to their nest.
The gobblers will be getting lonely and out looking for a receptive hen. Try a few soft yelps as you work your way “quietly” through the woods as in the late season, lonely Toms may gobble their head off trying to get another the hen to join him.
When it gets later in the day, the birds begin moving back towards their roosts, feeding along the field edge and fields, packing it in before they have to go to roost.
If you are approaching last light, try calling to the hen, when she responds, give it right back to her, make her mad, wanting to come over and kick your tail feathers. If you can get the Boss hen to come over, she will probably have several gobblers’ right behind her.
When hunting turkeys, as the season goes on things change, as most hens are bred and Toms are out looking and more receptive to a call.
This is when gobblers will be willing to sneak in and try to breed another Tom’s hen, when the fights break out. The sound of two Toms going at it draws a crowd.
This is an excellent time to pull out the fighting purr, as everyone, every animal likes to watch a good fight and while the two Toms are fighting over the hen, it’s an opportunity for another Tom to steal the hen they are fighting over.
No one, likes to be beat at any competition and that’s exactly what calling spring gobblers is all about as you are competing with the hens, sometimes you win, while others the hen does and If all of your attempts have been close but not close enough, no matter what you do and the birds just won’t respond.
When this happens, I’ve found the best thing to do is to hang it up, go home grab a good meal, hit the sack and start over tomorrow morning, as there’s always tomorrow.

Gary Howey, a Watertown, S.D. native, now residing in Hartington, Neb. who is a former tournament angler, fishing & hunting guide, an award winning writer, producer, and broadcaster and inducted into the “National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame” in 2017. He is the Producer-Co-Host of the Outdoorsmen Adventures television series and Outdoor Adventures radio. If you are looking for more outdoor information, check out, like Gary Howey’s Facebook or watch his shows on

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