Sweat matted hair and a soaked hat, the silence of the woods only broken by the buzzing of flies signals the frustrations of the latter part of turkey season for so many. Silent and call-shy birds, the once vibrant sounding woods greets hunters with painful silence. Yard work piling up, spring youth sports for some people, and excellent fishing are tough to compete with toward the end of turkey season. Turkeys know we are after them, however, and tlate spring, like late in the deer season, is when the biggest birds to fall to those willing to mix up their approach and stay persistent. Some give up completely, eating their tags for another year.
We love our decoys. They are a part of this spring ritual each morning, placed carefully out in front of our gun barrels between 15 and 20 yards. But as the calendar bleeds away toward June we begin looking at different ways to inch closer to filling our tags. Rethinking how you use your decoys might be your answer.
Break out the jake
While some hunters use jake and tom decoys religiously, others do not. There is some fear of using tom and jake decoys in that it will attract other hunters, which is understandable. Given the right circumstances, like a high male to female ratio in the area, introducing your own competitor to the area as many of the hens are bred by the end of the season can instigate a fight. A great tactic to help instigate a fight is to create a sense of urgency by lining up your tom or jake decoy in single file line with your hen(s) heading toward the woods on a field edge. This gives the perception that the birds are leaving the field, forcing any competing gobblers to speed up their approach to your set up.
Leave them at home
There is valid debate to leave the decoys at home. Some veteran hunters swear by going decoy-less. One could argue the woods have become so thick with spring foliage the turkeys will not be able to see your decoy setup. Granted, this varies depending on location as well. Consider the amount of pressure your area has received; are birds still working your spread late in the season or are they flaring like waterfowl? Leaving them home and using the empty space in the woods to force a gobbler to continue searching for your calls can prevent the dreaded hangup. A word of caution: while hunting without a decoy don’t over-call while the bird is within 100 yards. This can cause birds to lose interest quickly since they will not see anything.
Don't you hate when birds hang up at 70 yards? Yes, we all do. Years of careful study and strategy have been put forth by hunters to solve this soul crushing aspect of turkey hunting. While we have developed fantastic calls and far-reaching chokes and turkey loads, those last few yards best us more often than not. Ever consider reversing your setup? Placing your decoys behind you 15 to 25 yards may not be the most romantic scene in the turkey woods, but it can lure a bird into range, avoiding the long-range hangup. As always with turkeys, movement is the enemy. Just remember to have your gun ready and scan the woods with your eyes as birds approach since there is no distraction between you and them.
Late-season turkey hunting can be summed up in two words – frustration and opportunity. Don’t let the frustration of heat and bugs derail your efforts of filling your tag. Time to dig a bit deeper, get craftier with strategy to ultimately walk out of the woods with an extra 20 pounds hung over your shoulder.