Late-season turkey hunting can be challenging but also highly rewarding for those willing to adapt their tactics. This comprehensive guide will cover essential tips and strategies for filling your turkey tag in those final days of the season, including understanding turkey behavior, scouting, using decoys, calling techniques, and the most important detail — patience!
1. Understand Late-Season Turkey Behavior
As the turkey hunting season progresses, turkey behavior evolves in response to various factors, such as breeding activity, hunting pressure, and habitat changes. Gaining insight into these behavioral changes can make all the difference in your hunting success.
Here are a few of those changes in behavior and how to adapt:
Decreased Gobbling Activity
In the late season, gobbling activity generally decreases. Early in the season, gobblers are more vocal as they try to establish dominance and attract hens. As the season progresses, many hens have been bred, and gobblers may be less inclined to gobble, making them harder to locate.
Late in the season, most hens will be actively nesting, and hunting pressure will have pushed the remaining gobblers into more remote areas. You may have to cover more ground to find a bird, but the good news is that when you do, he will likely be alone.
Less Aggressive Toms
By the final weeks of turkey season, the toms will have long established their pecking order and be much less likely to engage in aggressive behavior. That’s not to say you won’t cross a gobbler looking for a fight, but it’s rare. That means you may need to adjust your calling and decoy strategy, which we’ll discuss below.
2. Keep Scouting
While scouting is important throughout turkey season, it becomes even more so the later in the season it gets.. As we already established, gobbler behavior changes as the season progresses, and the only way to adapt to those changes is through consistent boots-on-the-ground scouting.
Here are three specific areas to look at when scouting for late-season birds:
- Food sources: Turkeys need to replenish their energy reserves during the late season, so focus on food sources such as agricultural fields, oak flats, and other areas where food is abundant.
- Roosting sites: Look for signs of roosting, such as droppings, feathers, and scratched leaves. Identifying roosting sites will help you determine where turkeys are likely to be early in the morning.
- Monitor turkey movements: Use trail cameras, binoculars, and observation to track turkey movement patterns. This information will help you position yourself in the best spot to intercept turkeys during your hunt.
3. Adjust Your Decoy Strategy
As turkey season progresses, gobblers experience hunting pressure and can become increasingly wary of decoys that may have been effective earlier in the season. Adapting your decoy strategies to the changing behavior of turkeys is vital to increasing your chances of attracting and harvesting a late-season bird.
Another reason to adjust decoy strategies in the latter part of the season is the changing social dynamics among turkeys. Early on, gobblers are more aggressive, trying to establish dominance and attract hens. During this period, using a full-fan gobbler decoy alongside one or more hen decoys can be very effective. However, as the season progresses and breeding activities wind down, mature gobblers may become less interested in competing with other males.
In the late season, I leave the tom and jake decoys at home and stick with a lone hen or pair of hens — one feeder and one alert. This is especially true is you are hunting fields or open hardwoods, where a tom would expect to see a hen from a distance as he approaches your calling. If you’re hunting areas with more cover, then you may want to leave all your decoys at the house, altogether.
I would also recommend using realistic, high-quality decoys that mimic the natural appearance and posture of turkeys. The added realism can help convince a cautious late-season gobbler to approach.
4. Adapt Your Calling Technique
Calling techniques should be adjusted during the late season to match the changing turkey behavior. In most cases, that means using soft and subtle calls and not overcalling. Remember, at this point in the season, most birds have heard it all. They aren’t as likely to come into loud, overly aggressive calling. However, there are exceptions to every rule!
My best advice is to adjust your calling based on the response of the bird. If nothing’s gobbling, then I’m using infrequent soft and subtle calls. However, if you get on a hot bird, and he’s aggressively responding to your every call, then don’t be afraid to get more aggressive yourself. It takes experience to learn to gauge a turkey’s temperature, so be willing to mix things up and see how it goes.
5. Patience is a Must
Patience and persistence are vital components of a successful late-season turkey hunt. The odds of striking up a bird and calling him straight into your setup are pretty low by the final days of season. Not that it can’t happen. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience a few of those moments late in the season. But more often than not, the bird is going to come in much slower, and sometimes without making a peep. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given up on a bird, only to stand up and have him bust out from behind me.
PRO TIP: My rule of thumb this time of year is when I think I’ve given a bird enough time to come in, I’ll wait another 15-20 minutes.
Keep these points in mind:
- Be prepared for long sits: Late-season turkeys may take longer to respond to calls and decoys, so be prepared to spend extended periods in your hunting spot.
- Stay focused: Maintain your focus and attention during long sits, as turkeys can appear suddenly and without warning.
- Don’t get discouraged: Late-season turkey hunting can be challenging, but don’t get discouraged if you don’t have immediate success. Stick with your plan, be adaptable, and remain persistent.
Late-season turkey hunting has its share of unique challenges, but with the right knowledge, strategies, and preparation, you can tip the odds of success in your favor. And when you do connect with that late-season gobbler, there is nothing more rewarding.
Put these five tips to work for you this season, and be sure to share those success photos with us when it finally comes together.