Don’t Quit Too Early!
Hunkered back against a thick, live oak in the Texas Hill Country, I listened mesmerized as dozens of Rio Grande gobblers serenaded the morning. One would call out, and then seconds later a chorus of other birds would chime in immediately. There must have easily been three dozen or more gobblers concentrated in the roost area!
Now this may seem like a perfect setup. Just waft out a few calls and wait for the toms to come marching in. But actually things weren’t quite that ideal.
Real hens were also close by, and as soon as these ladies set out pecking and clucking as they walked across the rock-strewn pasture, all the gobblers trekked obligingly after them. One after another I watched them fly down and follow each other across the clearing. Even my best mouth and box calls couldn’t entice them away.
Before long, the Edwards Plateau grew silent. I decided to stick it out, though, and around 10:30 a.m. the birds opened up again. No, they didn’t call as wildly as they did at dawn, but there was a gobble here, then two on a distant ridge, then one up a side canyon. The Hill Country was coming alive with turkey talk!
Soon they began to respond, and within minutes I was facing the difficult decision of which of the two enormous birds bearing down on me at 25 yards I was going to harvest.
Squeezing off on the one that looked like the heaviest bird, I collected my first Texas turkey just a short while before lunch. The handsome tom had an 11-inch beard and long, sharp spurs.
More gobblers came to my calls and I was lucky to capture several on film. But shortly after noon I decided to put the shotgun to work again. This time I harvested one of four big toms that marched in together.
That wasn’t the first time I’d had the midday time period produce terrific gobbler hunting for me. And I’m sure it won’t be the last. Whether hunting Rios, Easterns or Merriams, the experience has been the same—often the mid-morning and afternoon period (where legal) is more productive than the time everyone wants to be in the woods—the crack of dawn.
You won’t hear as many toms during this period, but those that do sound off are often more anxious to come to the call. And many other birds, if you give them time, will sneak in silently during this midday period.
Gobbling peaks after first light, it’s true. Toms are greeting the morning, declaring to hens and subordinate gobblers where they are and telling the world about their willingness to breed or fight. But if hens are nearby, toms will often hook up with them quickly—either vocally or visually. Once they get together, your odds of luring them in to your calls drop dramatically.
Unless, that is, you wait a few hours. Sometime between 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m., the hens will often drift away. When that happens, toms grow frustrated and start searching for more companionship. No, they don’t call with the fury of first light, but they will often let loose a gobble or two and come willingly to a hen that still sounds interested in breeding.
Another advantage of staying out in the woods in late morning and early afternoon is that most hunters have gone home. You’ll have little competition for prime territory and gobbling birds.
While hunting late in the morning can be effective any time, it becomes increasingly productive as the season progresses. Hens don’t just drift away to lay an egg then, but actually stay away and begin sitting on the nest in earnest.
“Once all the eggs are on the nest,” says Jim Clay, champion caller and founder of Perfection Calls, “they sit on the nest almost all day to incubate them. That’s when late morning and midday hunting really get hot.”
At this time, toms’ travel hard looking for more mates, so covering ground becomes a good tactic. Walk 100- to 200 yards and then stop and call. If other hunters are in the area, it may be a good safety measure to wear an orange hat or vest at this time. If you get a response, then tuck the brightly-colored garb away, set up as close as you can, and try to call the bird in.
Wait a few minutes at each location and then move to fresh territory. Locator calls such as crow, woodpecker and peacock calls are good, since they’ll often shock a gobble out of a tom without bringing him your way. Then you can set up and try hen calls.
If you can’t rouse a response with a locator, try soft yelping or clucking. If these don’t produce, I like excited cutting on either a box call or mouth call. Midmorning toms often come in fast, so every time you stop to call, glance around for a nearby tree you could lean back against quickly if a bird answers close and you have to set up immediately.
If you still can’t draw a response, it may be time to try simply setting up and calling in locations with abundant sign, such as scratching and dusting areas, or near traditional strutting grounds where gobblers display year after year. Wait an hour or more at these prime spots, and you’ll be surprised how many birds simply sneak in silently.
Try using several different calls to imitate a group of birds and also scratching in the leaves occasionally, for added realism. Turkey hunting expert Rob Keck showed me the deadliness of this tactic on a South Carolina hunt one spring day when we simply couldn’t buy a response all morning. Setting up in a clearing in the woods, he called aggressively off and on for an hour and finally the old longbeard we were waiting for walked silently into range.
Oh—we won’t talk about the fact that I cleanly missed! At least the tactic of midday blind calling had worked.
Time of day?
Just before noon.
The Visibility Factor
One big advantage of late-morning hunting is that you can often find turkeys out in open areas instead of the woods. Work cautiously up to the edge of any clearings, meadows or areas where crops, such as wheat, alfalfa or clover are growing. If you spot birds, watch them to see what their sex is and if you can detect a pattern of movement. Circle around and try to get in front in the direction they appear to be heading, then call sparingly and softly if hens are present, more aggressively if it’s all toms.
I find this late morning field hunting particularly exciting since it has that “big game hunt” feel to it as you glass and stalk and try to predict the movement patterns of your quarry, but still throw in a bit of calling to give it that special turkey hunting mystique.
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