Staying in the woods all day can increase your chances of bagging a spring tom but only if you adjust your style for afternoon hunts. Do it wrong and you are just putting more pressure on already wary birds. If you want to head out again after lunch or stay all day try these tips for an afternoon rendezvous with a longboard.
1. Gobblers are lonely in the afternoon. Veteran turkey hunters know about the dreaded Dead Zone in mid to late morning when gobblers have located willing hens and won’t leave them to investigate a hunter’s call. That all changes in the afternoon. The hens are bred and are retiring to their nests to lay an egg or rest or feed quietly and suddenly old long beard has no playmates. Your call may sound pretty good to him then. He may amble toward the location he heard you calling from in the morning or toward your fresh set up if you just entered the woods.
2. Call softly in the afternoon. Hens and toms are most vocal early in the morning and at dusk when they yelp and cut and gobble to locate each other after periods of separation. In the afternoon, hens forage along quietly keeping in touch with each other with soft clucks and purrs. Using soft clucks and purrs accompanied by scratching the leaves to simulate feeding is more natural than loud yelping and cutting in the afternoon. Friction calls like peg and slate or wooden box calls carry further than mouth diaphragm calls when calling softly and easily produce realistic purrs and clucks.
3. Set up near food sources early in the afternoon. Gobblers will follow along after the hens as they forage. In the first two weeks of the season turkeys feed heavily on harvested fields picking up left-over crops. In Ontario they favour corn and Soya beans. Later in May, when things start to green up, they like the tender shoots of new crops and natural plants. When insects begin to emerge they forage along the forest floor scratching and pecking for them. Hens feed heavily on insect protein to sustain reproduction. If you can set up along their daily feeding route they may bring a gobbler your way.
4. Gobblers sneak in quietly in the afternoon. A tom can gobble whenever he pleases and some toms gobble all day but generally gobbling falls off in the afternoon. Just because you don’t hear a gobble in answer to your call doesn’t mean there’s no tom turkey coming you way. Afternoon toms are still interested but tend to show up unannounced. If you know there are gobblers in the area you are hunting, don’t try to get them to gobble with a shock call or loud yelping. Just sneak in quietly, set up safely, call softly and get your gun or bow up and ready for a silent appearance.
5. Don’t resort to stalking turkeys. If you are in the woods all day you may get antsy if you’re not seeing anything at you set up. Don’t think for a minute that you can stalk close enough for a shot at turkeys that you can hear calling. So much can go wrong in this scenario, the least of which is that your movement will be picked off by the birds’ sharp eyes. The call you hear may be another hunter you can’t see. Or, the calling may be real turkeys that another hunter is working. Sneaking through the woods in full camo towards a turkey call is the best way we know of to get a face full of high velocity number four shot.
6. Be patient in early afternoon set ups. Choose an area that you know holds turkeys and don’t give up when not getting answers to your calling. Moving set ups increases the risk of bumping birds that are coming in quietly or disturbing feeding flocks and educating them to your calls and methods. If you can see or hear a flock of birds that may have a tom in it but won’t come within range, you may, as a last resort, try to incite the boss hen to come in. A bit of loud, bossy cutting and yelping might trigger her dominant instinct. If she answers, match her calls note for note with all the bossiness you can put in your calling. She may stride right over to kick your butt bringing the tom in tow. Late in the season, toms are as much about exerting dominance over other toms as they are about breeding. A boss tom may come in to fighting purrs or the slower and low toned yelps of toms. Master those calls for afternoon hunting.
7. Turkey activity, including calling, picks up in the late afternoon and evening. As the day cools and the shadows lengthen turkeys are on the move again foraging toward their roost sites. If you have located a roost site don’t disturb it but try to set up in a location where you will intercept the birds on their way to the roost area. Gobbling and hen yelping increase in the evening as birds try to relocate each other before roosting and louder yelping and cutting become more effective calls.
8. Don’t disturb a roost site. Turkeys require a secure roost. If they can’t roost securely they may leave the area entirely in search of a new roost site taking with them your chance at a gobbler on your next hunt. Hunting hours are over before they fly up to roosting trees so it only hurts your chances to be right in their roost area.
9. Hunt rainy afternoons. Rain may slow down turkey activity but doesn’t stop it. In a cloud burst they may shelter temporarily under the forest canopy but in light to moderate rain they carry on feeding and breeding. They do however; relocate their activities to open clearings and fields so that the sodden vegetation doesn’t soak their feathers. You may have the turkey woods to yourself on a rainy afternoon and you won’t be that uncomfortable with good rain gear under your camo. Head out in the rain because you want to be in the woods already when the rain stops and turkey activity fires up.
10. Scout your woods to find gobbler strut zones and dusting sites. Strut zones will usually be small, elevated clearings with a few feathers around and the ground quite scratched up. While the breeding season continues, gobblers come back to their strut zones hoping to call in a willing hen when they have none. In dry weather turkeys treat themselves to dust baths if there is a sandy patch in the area. If nothing is happening in the feeding areas, the strut zone and dust bath are good back up locations for afternoon set ups and quiet calling.