You know how, when the end of October hits, all of the bowhunters in your life start talking about when the rut will start? An awful lot of hunters believe the rut varies in timing by year, but the fawns born each spring tell a different story. Well, a similar thing happens as soon as the earliest archery turkey seasons open up. Except everyone is asking when the flocks will break up.
The reality is they start in late March, and while it might vary by a few days, it’s pretty standard to see some serious dispersal by the time the second week of April hits. That’s the way it is, and anyone who has hunted around a big wintering flock knows how frustrating it can be.
You’ll see plenty of birds most likely, unfortunately they’ll be one big ball of gobbling, yelping and general turkey carrying-on, and they’ll move as one. They’ll care just enough about your calling to answer, but not enough to commit. You can’t turn an aircraft carrier on a dime, and you can’t influence a big winter flock with sexy yelps.
All hope is not lost for the early bowhunter though. There are two ways to kill those birds. The first involves moving into their feeding area and waylaying them as they walk through. That’s not spring turkey hunting to me, so I tend to opt for the second method, which is to ride it out.
This strategy takes buddhist-monk levels of patience. It takes confidence in calling, spot choice, and overall ability to endure plenty of hours of counting cardinals and fantasizing about life outside of a fabric and fiberglass prison cell. If you resign yourself to this fate, the deal with the big flocks is that eventually someone will splinter away and come check you out.
To move this glacial process along I try to do a couple of things. The first is to use as many decoys as I can haul. I like a flock of ladies with either a strutter, or a half-strut jake. Later in the season it doesn’t seem as necessary to use a whole flock of fakes, but in the earliest part of the season it seems to be just persuasive enough to get attention.
The second thing I do is call like it’s my job. By that I mean there is no such thing as overcalling. Those birds listen to turkey calls all day long, from dark to dark, and they aren’t call shy. They couldn’t be, because they’d go turkey-level insane from all of the calling in their daily lives.
Because of this, I sit and yelp and cutt and cluck and purr and gobble any time I want. The only time I tone it down is when a bird is clearly digging my stuff and I can take his temperature. If he stays hot, so do I. If he backs off a bit and seems to want a tighter-lipped lady, that’s what I give him. But to get him fired up and thinking of coming in my direction, I throw them all I’ve got.
I’ve heard plenty of turkey hunters who’ve killed far more birds than I, say that once a tom hears you calling once he has you pinpointed and there isn’t much point in calling more. I don’t doubt they know where you are once they hear a call, but I can’t understand why it’s a good idea to shut up. Later, especially on public land, I sometimes play it much safer, but not in the early season.
Those same hunters often say that the gobblers will remember where they heard a hen and eventually head over there. I don’t know if this is true either, but I do know that a lot of the best encounters I’ve had in the early seasons have occurred in the afternoon. I don’t know if the birds spend the morning to midday with their flock, and after finding the ladies frustratingly prudish, they set out for someone more amenable or not, but it seems to be the case.
If you’re embarking on a late-March, early-April archery foray for the first-of-the-year longbeard, play it patient by hunting as long as possible. Put out as many decoys as you can swing, and call until you’re blue in the face. Eventually you might just coax in a red-headed visitor.