Didn’t get your turkey in time for breakfast? Invite him to lunch.
When gobblers are too busy with real hens to pay much notice to your calling, it’s easy to get frustrated and start thinking about all the things you could be getting done at home. Catching up on sleep, eating an early lunch, enjoying a late breakfast or even taking care of some chores might seem like a better use of your time than staying out during the final hours of the morning. But don’t give up just yet, because sunrise isn’t the only good time of day to kill an old tom.
The six-day season had been an exercise in frustration, with gobblers flying down each morning into open fields and strutting for a seemingly endless parade of hens. Most days, this lasted until quitting time. On the final day, I walked away from the flock that had taunted me all week and drove to my backup spot late in the morning, only to find the same situation there with another group of “field birds” showing off for the ladies. Their group of girlfriends, however, seemed to be dwindling.
I set up to call to them from inside a small woodlot, needing them to step across a property line and into the woods to seal the deal without compromising ethics or bending any legal statutes. Eventually, two of the gobblers walked to the edge and began pacing back and forth, gobbling and peering into the timber with big, gawking eyes but refusing to enter. They paced, I called, they gobbled, they looked and then we’d repeat the scenario again. They were interested, but insisted the game be played on their terms. After about 15 minutes of this, the birds turned to the east and walked away, gobbling as they went.
I checked my watch; it was a quarter after noon. Forty-five more minutes and the tag in my pocket would end up being my lunch. I took off through the woods in hopes of leap-frogging in front of the gobblers and calling them into a tiny bean-stubble field at the eastern edge of the property. To my surprise, the birds were waiting for me in the edge of that little field when I arrived and they had started their pacing game once again. How I saw them before they saw me will always be a mystery to me, but I know a gift when I see one and quickly took a knee. After a couple of clucks on the mouth call to hear them gobble once more, I found for clear shot angle and dropped one of them with a heavy load of copper-plated #5s. A final check of the watch said the time of the shot was 12:30 p.m.
A little less than two weeks later I was back in the woods with a different tag but the same set of problems at my primary hunting spot. The big flock continued to roost right above their strut zone and pitch down each morning to a bevy of hens.
I returned to the little bean stubble field late one morning hoping lightning would strike twice, and my calling was answered by two gobbles in the neighbor’s field and one long-distance gobble way off to the east. I called about every 15 minutes over the course of the next hour and received lackluster responses from the duo. Unbeknownst to me, however, the distant gobbler from the east was silently coming. He seemed to appear out of nowhere, almost catching me off-guard, but his "limb-hanger" spurs and triple-beard were absolutely worth the wait. The shot was taken at 12:20, and he dropped just 10 paces from where the gobbler at the beginning of this story met his end.
High Noon Showdowns
That was my spring season last year in a nutshell; two high noon showdowns and a fair amount of luck resulting in a couple of dandy longbeards. Those are good examples, but they’re hardly the only times I’ve waited out long-winded strutting sessions and finally had the good fortune of catching a gobbler alone and vulnerable at lunchtime. In fact, I did a little survey of my hunting scrapbook and found that the time period between 11:00 and quitting time (which used to be noon some years ago) has now accounted for more of my harvested turkeys than either the early hours before 9:00 or the mid-morning hours between 9:00 and 11:00. And even more interesting to me is that most of my big, heavy toms have been very late morning or lunch-hour birds.
The breeding cycle of turkeys is such that we experience a stretch almost every spring when gobblers are henned up and don’t want to budge from their strut zones. Ideal ways to combat this are to get between their roost and the strut zone before fly-down time or to set up at their strut zone and let them come to you. But if you don’t have access to their route or they’re roosting right over the field that they strut in, it’s still far from hopeless. Avoid the temptation to head home early and, instead, exercise some patience. By calling sparingly from the periphery and being prepared to move when they finally run out of hens, you may find the final minutes before the 1:00 p.m. quitting time to be your best opportunity to put old gobblers on ice.