Late season turkey hunting can present some unique challenges. Our spring turkey season is regulated to coincide with the actual turkey mating season. To figure out the best strategy to bag an end-of-season trophy gobbler, you have to keep in mind what is actually happening at the end of the breeding season.
As the breeding season comes to a close, the dominant toms are worn out from maintaining their strutting zones and from servicing their initial flock. This is no time to make sounds like an early season hen ready to find a mate. Mature males know the state of the breeding cycle and are attuned to the subtle degrees of willing hens. By now many serviced hens are already nesting and laying eggs. These tend to be the more mature hens that have had a clutch before.
This leaves two basic options for the hunter: imitate a young, shy hen that has not yet been bred, or, pretend you another old gobbler. Mature toms at the end of the breeding season are often cranky old birds that do not want another mature bird invading their strutting areas and will often come a-running to ward off an interloper.
If you are going to imitate the young hen, act like one. Soft clucks and purrs will often be much more provocative then sharper tones. DO NOT OVERCALL. Low-key calls include purring softly on a raspy diaphragm or slate to simulate feeding turkeys. Use a stick or your hands to rake leaves on the ground-the sound turkeys make while scratching for food-for added realism. Turkeys will typically rake leaves two or three times before pausing to look at the ground, and then may do it again. Don't make such a ruckus that you can't hear an actual bird approaching.
Be patient. Make sure you are comfortable. bring a folding chair or set up against the trunk of a tree with a butt cushion. This way you can sit for an hour or so without fidgeting. You know that by now birds are call-shy and are slow to work on in. Be very aware of your surroundings and listen quietly for the sounds of an approaching bird. The alarm chatter of a squirrel or blue jay can be a dead giveaway. Also listen for footfalls in leaves. Track a bird's progress by sound as it walks, and don't move until it's wandered into your field of view. Many prefer a small blind to cover any body movement.
If you are going to try the mature gobbler route, remember that the goal is to irritate the old guy. Even though mating season may be coming to an end, the pecking order game goes on all year round. The biggest of birds want all the other males in the area to know he is the king of all he surveys.
Try to get as close as you can without being detected. Keep in mind that you are going to try to sound like an older bird invading his territory. Young birds sound sharp and clear. Old toms sound like “marbles in a metal can.” Cadence is as important as pitch and tone.
Try several deep gravelly calls and then flap your hat on the ground to imitate the flapping wings of a mating bird. Once you have done that just sit quietly. If their is a bird in the area he will have heard you and will come looking. Listen. Often a big tom will make that spitting “pffffffffet! noise they are famous for when they are mad. He is grouchy and tired. An angry old gobbler will often come slowly but with that determined effort of a big male ready to defend his territory.
In the late season I often change from my 12 ga. to my 10 ga. with a narrow-choked barrel. This will allow me a bit more range and killing power for these sometimes less-than-eager birds that often hang up. Although quite a bit heavier to carry in the woods, it can often be the difference between taking home a bird or not.
This time of year you might also try a single jake decoy. Once the old bird gets close, it will help having him concentrate on the decoy rather than searching for you and the call. Once sighted, the big tom might just come right on in to teach the young fellow his lesson.
Once you have taken your bird, the best part of the operation commences: cooking season! Here is a recipe that produces a baked turkey breast worthy of the Gods.
1 wild turkey breast half; 8 oz. zesty Italian salad dressing; 8 oz. white wine; 1/2 cup butter; 2/3 cup olive oil; lemon pepper seasoning.
Directions: Mix the dressing and wine; pour it into a 1 gal. Ziplock bag; marinate overnight in refrigerator, turning it once; drain off marinade; sprinkle the turkey breast with seasoning; place in a Reynolds cooking bag; melt the butter in the olive oil and then pour in bag; place the roasting bag with the turkey breast in a 9”x5” roasting pan; bake at 350 degrees for 90 minutes.
Serve with fresh fiddlehead ferns or fresh dandelion greens, small roasted red potatoes, and some whole cranberries. Top it off with a blackberry pie and fresh whipped cream. Oh My!