Chasing turkeys across America provides many opportunities throughout several weeks of the spring for turkey hunters. Depending on the region of the United States that you plan to hunt, certain parts of the season are better than others. If you decide to hunt the Midwest for a gobbler, when is the best time to schedule your turkey hunt? How about hunting out west? Is early or late season the best time to hunt?
Let’s explore the different regions that make up where turkeys live. I will give you my choices of the best time to hunt each particular region. You might agree with them. Maybe, you will not agree. However, I believe if you give them a chance they will work for you, and provide you with a chance to fill your tag that you might not otherwise get.
WEST: Are you heading out west to hunt turkeys this spring? If you go too early in the season you stand the chance of hunting in very cold temperatures, along with some snow. Turkey season in western states normally begins mid to late April, depending on which state you are hunting. With the unpredictable weather that you are likely to encounter, try and hold off until the second week of May. By the time the second week of the month rolls around the weather should settling down a bit and become more stable. That will make the hunt more enjoyable, and often successful. If you have plans to hunt a state out west that is a little further south, the gobblers normally will start working earlier in the season. The first day or two of May would not be too early to begin to hunt the southwest.
There are a lot of turkeys out west. Hunting pressure is not as heavy out west like it is in midwestern states. It is not difficult for a hunter to find birds that have not been pressured when the weather is cooperating. Another thing a hunter will notice is that it is easier to lure a mature longbeard away from the hens he is with when hunting the west compared to other parts of the country.
MIDWEST: States like Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky, among others, are what turkey hunters dream of. If you want to kill one of these birds it will be easier to accomplish after the woods have greened up a bit. This will vary by state. Check the weather in advance before heading out of state to hunt turkeys. One reason that it is best to wait for things to green-up is because it is hard to lure a paranoid turkey to your set up when he able to see long distances through the forest. In some states wild turkeys might not start nesting until the last few days of the season. In other Midwestern states the birds are already nesting when season opens up. If things do not start turning green till later in the season it is possible that nesting cycles will be affected.
There is no question that turkey hunting is at its best when the hens are nesting. Once the incubation process starts, a hunter’s odds of killing a mature tom increase dramatically. If you do not know when hens start to nest where you will be hunting contact the National Wild Turkey Federation Technical Committee member of that states Department of Natural Resources agency. That person will know turkeys better than anyone else that works for the state. It should not be a problem for him to tell you when he expects the birds to begin nesting. You can find out who your state NWTF tech member is by going to www.nwtf.org.
If you choose to go on a turkey hunt to the Midwest late into the season you will have a better chance to find hens that are already nesting. The problem is that these turkeys have seen every tactic hunters have up their sleeves by now. This will make it tough to kill a mature longbeard. Some turkeys will wise up to calls and the sounds that they produce, thus becoming call-shy. I also believe that more birds become people-shy than the call-shy. The presence of hunters every day is sure to make a turkey all that smarter. Because of this there are two things a hunter should consider when planning a hunt. The first is, are the birds are nesting yet, and secondly, how pressured are the birds?
EAST: Turkey hunters know the eastern United States for its long turkey seasons compared to those of the rest of the United States. It does not matter if the hens are nesting or not, the early and late season is by far the best time to hunt. Midseason is the worst time to hunt turkeys.
Early in the season the birds have not yet been pressured. Toms are gobbling aggressively and are still responding to your yelps and cutts.
You need to call aggressively too early in the season. As the season progresses, so does the hunting pressure. As more hunters hit the woods gobblers stop talking even though more hens are now nesting.
As midseason transitions into late season most hens have been bred by now and said good-bye to the gobblers. A hunter will again see an increase in gobbling activity. By now hunters have either stopped hunting for the season or bagged a bird. Whatever the reason might be there will not be as many hunters in the woods this part of the season. With less hunters in the woods there will be less calling, giving you a better chance at calling in a longbeard. And, toms are still in search of hens and will respond to calling better than what they did during the midseason.
NORTH: The north is much like the east. The first few days will be great for the hunter. How long the good hunting will last has a lot to do with hunting pressure and whether or not the gobblers are looking for hens or not. After about a week, hunters can expect that the gobblers will not be gobbling as much. For this reason hunters will notice that their calling is not as effective.
During the midseason the hens are more receptive to the advances of a gobbler. The toms do not have to gobble to find a hen and hunting pressure has put has put the turkeys paranoia to an all-time high.
When season opens most hens are not ready to breed yet. Turkeys have not yet grouped together in mating flocks. It will be much easier to call in a hot tom now than it will be later in the season. As midseason comes around breeding picks up and toms are not responding to calls as well.
Early in the season use decoys and bring plenty of patience. There is little foliage this time of the year in the north. On the good side of things, less foliage means better hearing for the turkey hunter.
The last week of the season means that there will be more foliage, as the forest is turning green. Since more hens are nesting, gobblers are looking to find new lovers. Turkeys will not be talking as much as they did earlier in the season. With soft calling hunters should be able to coax a turkey in. Northern toms are always looking for hens. They do not quit. Therefore, hunters should not quit either.
SOUTH: Depending on where you hunt in the south has a lot to do with the best time to hunt. Because of the long seasons hunters need to choose carefully when they hunt. Hunting South Florida on private ground has the possibility of being good all season long. On public land all of the hunting pressure can cause the chance to tag a big tom to taper off rather quickly after season open up.
Weather has a lot to do with gobbling and when the birds are breeding. Warm temperatures during the first couple of weeks of the year will get the toms gobbling, as well as responding to the calling of a hunter. Dominant longbeards will be with hens, so a hunter will have a better chance calling in the younger 2 – to 3 – year olds.
If it happens to be cold before the season opens concentrate on filling your tag later in the season. The late season also offers the best opportunities to kill a mature tom.
States like Texas offers some of the best hunting of anywhere. It is hard to know the best time to hunt. Success often has a lot to do with which ranch you plan to hunt. Some ranches have more hunting pressure than others. The ranches with less hunting pressure will have gobblers eager to respond to your calls all season long. Ranches with the most hunting pressure, mid or late season will be the best time to hunt.
Afternoon hunts will provide opportunities that morning hunts will not offer. By the afternoon hens will no longer be with gobblers. Gobblers will be looking for another hen to be with later in the day. This will make it easier to lure a gobbler in.
Gobblers and hens roost near one another and they will fly from the roost together. Because a tom is already with a hen it will be difficult to convince him to come to your set up. As the birds split up in the midday hours they will be easier to work in.
CONCLUSION: As more and more hunters go out of state to hunt turkeys, timing is everything. Choosing the wrong time of the season can make it a tough hunt. The weather before and during the season has a lot to do with how the gobblers will react to your calling.