This entire topic, like the rest of turkey hunting, is fluid.
I think it’s because it’s not only situationally relegated to the property you’re hunting and the hunting pressure it took, but it’s also dependent on the phase the turkeys are in in your region, and the weather conditions throughout it all.
One thing is sure. No matter where I’m hunting, I don’t have the ability to get a 30,000 ft assessment of the overall temperature of the turkey behavior there. Under the same weather conditions and potentially within minutes of each other, one bird could completely ignore my calls and spook at the first glimpse of a decoy. Another could come to me in a dead run because I made a leaf noise when I shifted my weight from one butt cheek to the other.
When we have a stack of uncontrollable variables as messy as those, if we plan to keep hunting and be successful, we have to center our focus on the controllable ones.
What you’re hunting
By this time in the season, you’re dealing with turkeys that have likely been called to. They may have been stalked or shot at as well. Even the younger turkeys have experienced this. So you’re going toe to toe with turkeys that are on full alert when it comes to calling and being hunted by clumsy humans.
Additionally, you could be hunting older turkeys that are especially set in their ways. The younger, more zealous two-year-olds have potentially ridden home in someone’s truck.
Unless you find one that’s particularly lonely, your early-season, fire ’em-up tactics could prove counterproductive. The days of generally calling to whatever will listen are coming to a close. All that said, again, it’s fluid. I’ve had to literally wear out a diaphragm call to get a bird in from a long way off over the course of an hour. On the other hand, I have had a couple of clucks bring a roaring Tom in within seconds from hundreds of yards away.
The bottom line, during this phase, I’m slowing down and becoming more focused on a specific turkey, and it could very well take me a couple of days to figure out his pattern and preferences.
As the season has played out, you should have been gathering intel during your hunts. Key on early gobbling. Where have you heard gobbling throughout the season? Maybe you have been glassing as you hunt. Where are you seeing turkeys during that time? Don’t be afraid to target that area and devise a strategy to simply wait him out.
Especially Eastern birds don’t typically travel that far from their roosting sites during a given day, and if you find an area where turkeys have wrecked in the woods with scratching, dusting sites, or roosting evidence, that’s a great place to get hidden and wait out a strutting late morning or afternoon gobbler. It can also be an ideal place to catch a late-season, lonely gobbler right off the roost with a few soft tree yelps.
Just know that he has heard it all by now. If you’re a run-and-gun hunter, your job is to get stealthy and don’t give yourself away with poor maneuvering and over-calling. Use the heavy vegetation to your advantage, and get comfortable with the fact that he could be right up in your business when he shows himself.
Not to be trite, but I talk to way too many turkey hunters who, judging from their hunting styles, believe turkeys live in every field and are only killable there. Just because that might be where we see turkeys doesn’t mean that’s where they spend most of their time. I’ve killed my share of birds from a field-edge blind over decoys, but pop-up blinds and ultra-realistic decoys have made many a turkey hunter into a blind sitter.
Especially with largely declining turkey numbers, we have to revisit our ability to understand turkey habitat. I remember a time when sitting on a random field edge and calling could be a fine strategy. But just as we classify turkeys into overly generalized “field birds” and “woods birds”, if we’re going to be versatile turkey hunters, we need to get better at being “woods hunters” and “field hunters”.
Even if you are a staunch bow and decoy hunter, you can use that strategy on a timber opening or strut zone. In fact, it makes the wait more comfortable. One-dimensional hunting leads to only killing one type of turkey.
The Calling Conundrum
The late season can be a confusing time for those of us who rely heavily on calling. Again, I like to take the individual temperature of a turkey’s attitude. Sometimes, they will turn themselves inside out to get to a single series of yelps. Other times they will do the same, but in the opposite direction to a single cluck. At this point, we kind of have to go with what we can get.
It’s completely based on speculation, but sometimes I’ll even change up my mouth-call and pot-call setups, especially if I’ve been hunting a spot for several days, out of concern for turkeys becoming too accustomed to my calls. Sometimes that minor difference will cause a bird to gobble out of nowhere.
I will even try more subtle gobbler calling during this phase of the season, as some birds are already getting back into a pecking-order routine like the majority of the year.
Just to recap
So just in case, this all makes your head spin, the basics to remember are this. You’re dealing with hunted turkeys. They are coming to the end of a season where they have been harassed by literally everything, even each other. You’re potentially hunting older turkeys. Which means they’re not rookies to all of it.
There are a ton of reasons early-season tactics don’t work in the late season. You need to be versatile. Rely on your calling and woodsmanship to position yourself within kill range.
You need to use your season-long intel to sharpen yourself to a better understanding of what turkeys are doing on the property you’re hunting. Then plan accordingly. Personally, I practice a mid-season reset just for this phase of the season. I like to be fresh if I haven’t tagged out already. Sometimes I’ll even take a couple of days to rest, regroup, and become scarce on the property I hunt.
Additionally, you need to listen to what the turkeys are saying to each other and mimic that. If gobblers are gobbling their heads off, don’t be afraid to call. If they’re being stingy, you need to do the same and be patient.
What have you used in the past to dominate the late season?
Jim Richman is an outdoor freelancer writer and photographer. Follow his adventures at Jim Richman Outdoors on YouTube.