Last week, I made the drive down to northern Missouri to hunt turkeys and scout out some public ground for a potential deer hunt this fall. I met with a buddy from Nebraska, who owns some ground in Mercer County, to hunt turkeys in the mornings before heading out on afternoon scouting missions.
Nate and I had developed a pretty simple plan for the birds. It involved setting up a blind on one of his food plots in the hope of calling a tom in to bowhunting range. If we failed at that, we’d swap our bows for shotguns and run-and-gun.
The timing of a late-April hunt meant we should have been covered in turkey activity. In truth, we were. It just wasn’t the all-out gobbling and strutting fest we expected. It was much more subdued, and tougher to figure out.
As shooting light became official during our first morning, we heard a few gobbles ring out through the surrounding valleys, but none of the birds were remotely close. After a half hour of sporadic calling, I caught movement right in front of our blind. A lone hen, who purred and clucked a few times, walked right into the decoy spread. I readied myself to shoot her boyfriend, who never showed.
She walked off, and not long after another lone hen popped out from behind us. Again, she picked her way through the food plot without attracting a longbeard. As she ducked out of sight, a third hen stepped out and the scenario was repeated. Then at about 7:30, Nate whispered, “There’s a tom.”
A dark bird, standing upright and staring hard at our decoys, had showed up. Through the binoculars I could see he was a jake, and plenty big enough to wear my tag. I threw that bird every seductive call I could muster while he surveyed the scene for 10 minutes. He finally broke into a slow walk and at 30 yards held up again. For another 10 minutes he stood statue-still and eyed our spread. He didn’t gobble, wouldn’t strut, and didn’t exhibit any of the behavior we expected.
Nate and I watched as the jake finally started to walk – straight away. At that point, feeling we had nothing to lose, I started softly yelping, purring, and clucking on my mouth call. He stopped again for a long, long time. It was without a doubt the longest I’ve ever continually called to any bird. Finally, he turned 180 degrees and started to walk past the decoys. I drew and centered my pin above his drumsticks and heard the satisfying thump of my arrow passing through.
Nate and I switched roles and tried to make it a double. Hens kept filtering through, but the toms were a no-show until right before the 1:00 p.m. closing when a redhead made his way to the edge of the field, gobbled once, and lit out for greener pastures. The next morning proved to be a carbon copy of the first.
I saw at least 50 birds of both sexes while hunting and driving to different parcels of public land and saw exactly one tom strutting the whole time. We didn’t have the best turkey weather, but the end of April is the end of April as far as turkeys are concerned and it should have been better than that.
It wasn’t and I don’t know why, but I do know that it wasn’t the first time I’ve been flummoxed by turkey behavior. It was also a good reminder to keep an open mind while trying to tag a longbeard, because what I expect to be happening isn’t always what occurs. To make matters even more interesting, the morning after I drove back to Minnesota, Nate stuck around to see if he could get something going.
He called me late in the morning to say that he was covered in toms and had fed a beautiful gobbler a face full of 5-shot to fill his tag as well. Why it broke open that morning is anyone’s guess. I doubt the turkeys even know.