Every year I read articles from deer hunting experts who tell me that the best time to kill a mature buck is during the last days of the season. In my world, that advice is bunk. Absolute bunk. For turkeys, it’s a different story. Or at least, it can be. Even the oldest, wariest tom is no match intellectually for a hard-hunted whitetail and that’s good news for you if you’re still sitting on a tag.
As a matter of choice and necessity, for many seasons during my formative years as a turkey hunter I spent the bulk of my blind time in the woods in late May. What I found was that there were fewer gobblers around (no surprise there), but when I did find a bird willing to play the game he played it just the way I like.
These days, I try to fill my tags as quickly as possible so that I can spend more time fishing with my kids, looking for morels, and not going stir crazy in a camouflage cube. Sometimes it happens, other times it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, this is what I do to ensure I don’t eat a turkey tag.
Nothing To See Here…
I’ve never had a ton of luck putting a blind in the middle of an open field and calling a bird in, even though I know plenty of hunters who have. I suspect, due to the popularity of hub-style blinds, the genetic defect that causes turkeys to ignore a big block of Realtree showing up unexpectedly in their bedroom is going to get phased out after enough generations.
I’ve seen more than my fair share of longbeards keep a comfortable distance from blinds to believe that brushing them in is never a bad idea. For the late season, it’s a must. Take some serious time to cover your blind with natural foliage and make sure that you cover the top so that there is no chance of shine when the sun is overhead.
My preferred method for this is to nest the blind into a pine tree if at all possible, but that’s not always possible. If you want to hunt a spot where brushing in isn’t going to happen, the next best thing is to put a blind out and leave it for a long time. This is where hyperreal hay-bale blinds come in handy if you have the means and the spot. Either way, give the birds some credit with your blind setups when your season is winding down.
Pare Down Your Spread
I start out each season with a breeding jake/hen combo and at least two or three extra feeding and upright hens. I want to represent a small flock that has fractured off of a wintering flock, and just as important, show that Junior has landed himself a small harem of girlfriends.
That spread, which is deadly in the early season, seems to be much less effective in the later days. I don’t know why that is, but I do know I have a lot more success when I use a very realistic single hen or maybe two at most. Just like with earlier season dekes, put the hens close enough so that any bird that gives you a good look but doesn’t fully commit will still be within bow range.
Talk ‘Em In
It’s common to assume that late-season longbeards have heard it all and that a little subtlety will go a long way when calling. Label me a contrarian then because I don’t subscribe at all to that line of thinking. I’m an aggressive caller throughout the entire season unless the birds let me know that’s absolutely not what they want to hear.
During the back half of May, I oftentimes ramp up the turkey speak even more. I want the birds to believe that whatever hen is yapping is really in need of male companionship, like perhaps her nest got raided by raccoons and the clock is ticking on getting some more eggs on the ground.
So don’t be afraid to really let them have it. And don’t be afraid to try to sound like a couple of hens at the same time. My go-to calls are always a mouth call and a slate. I can operate both at the same time and sound like two distinct birds. With those two styles of calls, I can also sound like a dominant hen angrily cutting off a subordinate. That conversation tends to get the boys in a gobbling mood, and oftentimes will draw in cruising hens, which is never a bad thing.
Don’t give up just yet. Although the major push by most hunters involves the weeks nearest opening day, there is still good turkey hunting to be had. You’ll just have to think about your setup and your calling style. If you get them right, you might just realize how good the gobblers of May will respond.