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As the season winds down, the pressure to harvest and tag a turkey ramps up. Although hunting late in the season can be difficult, you can still down a trophy tom with the help of these tactics.
1. Assess the situation.
To create a successful strategy, you must first consider several factors. When late-season turkey hunting, be on the lookout for the answers to these questions.
Is it still breeding season? In some ways, late-season hunting can make your job easier. If the hens have finished breeding and retreated to their nests, you might be in luck. The gobblers will be on the lookout for new mates, making it easier to call them in.
To determine what the breeding situation looks like, listen carefully. If the turkeys are done breeding, the gobblers will be louder and more persistent as they look for unmated hens. You'll know that breeding season has finished if you see single sets of tracks and hens nesting alone.
If turkey breeding hasn’t finished, you can expect less noise as the birds leave their roosts. The hens and gobblers will still be commingling, and you’ll likely have more trouble calling in a bird with the added competition of real hens.
How pressured is the population? Generally speaking, the later the hunting season, the more pressured the turkey population. In a pressured population, the gobbling and hen speak is often reduced, and toms often learn to sneak through the range without making a sound.
If turkeys have been shot at recently, they will be on high alert and it will be extra tricky to avoid startling them. Put extra care into your stealth and make sure you’re well concealed when you set up. Specialty turkey hunting gear can help you stay hidden and quiet as you wait for a tom.
2. Avoid overcalling.
In a pressured population, the toms will be smart to your calling. You’ll have to put extra effort into creating a realistic calling sequence without overusing the stand-by method. Useful turkey hunting accessories, including a box or friction call, can help you produce the best call.
If the bird gobbles, don’t ruin the opportunity. Start the conversation softly and let him do most of the talking. You want the tom to look for you. Just supply enough chatter to capture and retain his interest. If the tom quits gobbling, stay on high alert. He might approach silently.
If you don’t hear any gobbling, your best bet may be to blind call and wait. Give soft yelps every quarter-hour or so and employ the leaf scratching technique in the meantime. You’ll benefit from keeping the volume low and not making the calls too frequently to avoid tipping them off.
3. Keep your eyes and ears peeled.
Silence doesn’t mean the toms are steering clear - especially in a pressured population. Keep wide-eyed and alert so you don’t miss a tom that comes in quietly, and keep your ears open for footsteps, spitting or drumming.
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4. Take the shot.
Late in the season, the toms will be prone to approaching and then stopping. Don’t expect to be able to call a longbeard in close for the perfect shot. Use as much gun as you can effectively manage and be prepared to take a shot at 40 yards out.
If you’re running out of season, you probably won’t have the luxury of waiting for the family patriarch. If a jake approaches, take advantage of it. A younger bird is often foolhardier and will taste better.
5. Try not to be predictable.
By the end of the season, your birds will have probably learned to keep quiet and cautious at dawn when the hunters come out. Luckily, sleeping in toward the end of spring can improve your chances of downing a tom.
Aside from catching even wisened turkeys off guard, starting the hunt around noon might give you a better chance of finding lonely toms. Even late-mating hens will often leave the toms by midmorning, making your calls more appealing.
Lastly, don’t worry about being late.
Don’t let a dwindling season fool you into thinking your chances of a turkey are over. If you’re smart about your situation and use these tactics, you can still harvest the best tom of the season.
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