Spring turkey season is one of my favorite things I look forward to as deer season winds down. Chasing Ozark Easterners is something that is now deep in my blood. There isn’t a morning of the season you can’t find me in the woods trying to outsmart that wise old gobbler before heading into the office.
Growing up in Iowa back in the 80’s, we didn’t have turkeys to hunt. It wasn’t until moving to southern Missouri that a buddy took me on my first turkey hunting adventure. We wouldn’t strike a turkey until the next season, but I was already hooked from the start! I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t mind getting up at 3:30 AM and grabbing a strong black cup of coffee before heading to the woods. Listening for those gobblers to sound off, quickly and quietly making a stock, and setting up with your best guess as to where the long beards would pitch down is something that even twenty years later I still can’t get enough of.
As an avid whitetail deer hunter, I have found spring turkey season to be just the ticket to satisfy my itch for the chase of the wild game before gearing up for the next opportunity to fill a whitetail deer tag. Hunting a mature gobbler requires a different kind of skill set than deer hunting. Spring turkey hunting offers an entirely different kind of hunting experience that is fulfilling and exciting.
Scouting turkeys typically starts just as the grass is getting green and the temperatures are rising, giving me the perfect excuse to get out and enjoy the warmth and the beauty of the spring day. Watching turkeys roost in the evenings before the season can be both enjoyable and key to success.
Hearing that first gobble piercing the early morning sky wakes me up and gets my blood pumping. Nothing gets my heart racing like putting together a plan to intercept a wily old Tom as he flies down from the roost. Deciding which direction the bird is most likely to go and getting within calling distance is crucial if I want to successfully make a harvest.
Unpredictability of Turkeys
Spring turkeys are far from predictable. Just when I think I have them figured out, they change the script out of nowhere and go an entirely different direction than what I thought, leaving me to wonder what happened and why.
Unlike a whitetail deer, who may appear out of nowhere, a gobbler will often give me the opportunity to hear them coming, as a faint gobble turns into a piercing sound filling the timber. Just as they are about to be in range, anticipation builds when I hear the spitting and drumming from the approaching turkey making the hunt that much more thrilling. These birds are not easy to predict. After hunting day in and day out only to have that long beard give me the slip can be discouraging. I remember such a hunt all too well.
Tracking them down
Doing some pre-season scouting just before the start of the season, I spotted a couple of gobblers in a field atop a ridge overlooking a big hayfield bottom. Knowing that ridge is where we often roosted birds before, I made a plan to hunt that spot in the morning. Thinking that the turkeys would most likely roost on the ridge and fly down on the top field, I made my way to a nearby finger of woods in a waterway on the side of the hill extending out from the ridge. I set my decoys just off of a fence between where the birds were gobbling. I watched as several birds pitched down to the top of the ridge right below where they roosted, landing just out of sight. As is often the case, the mature gobbler hit the ground and went silent.
I began light calling which resulted in a few of the hens making their way onto the open hilltop. Soon after, just over the rise out of view, I heard the close thunder of a gobble. With my heart pounding, I thought for sure this was the morning when everything would come together.
What seemed like hours, but in reality was only a few minutes, the gobbler appeared in full strut as he topped the hill working towards my setup. My thoughts were racing as I needed only another 20 or 30 yards to make the shot. Just then, the big gobbler looked in the direction toward my right, let down out of strut, and ran into the ridge line they pitched down from earlier. In seconds, it was over as the birds cleared the field.
As my gaze shifted from the quickly disappearing turkey, I turned toward the direction the turkey looked. That’s when I see a herd of 10-15 cattle making their way towards where the turkey was just seconds ago. My heart sank.
My mind began racing as I analyzed the current situation trying to form another plan. I slowly stood and scanned the direction the turkeys were just moments ago, quietly slipping into the wooded waterway and around to the bottom of the ridge for a second attempt at the turkey. I began some more light calling. With a gobble that echoed the entire ridge bottom, my disappointment turned into something more hopeful. Noticing a bit of a rock cliff jetting out to keep me hidden, I made my way towards a tree right off of the ridge trail - a perfect place for an ambush. I didn’t want to run head-on into the turkey, so I made another light call. Nothing. Slowly, I made my way towards the tree. When I reached the tree and looked down the path I could see the head of a turkey. I froze only to see the turkey disappear.
Not able to make out whether the bird was a hen or the gobbler, I made some light calls. No answer came. Neither did another turkey round the bend to meet the end of my Mossberg 12-gauge. After a short sit, I packed up and headed to the office, admitting defeat. The old gobbler foiled me again. What seemed like a slam dunk became an empty-handed walk back to the truck.
I can also recall hunts where everything fell into place. It felt like the gobbler was reading the script perfectly, ending in a beautiful Easterner on the tailgate of the truck. Those high and low moments are what make spring turkey hunting such a thrill. It fuels my passion for chasing these birds and keeps me coming back for more each spring.
The kind of diverse adventures that comes with turkey hunting is great. These adventures range from sitting and waiting in ambush, to setting up at an advantageous location, to getting on your hands and knees (or even belly crawling) in a spot and stock attempt at a mature Ozarks gobbler.
If you have thought about spring turkey hunting, I encourage you to get out there this Spring and spend some time in the woods chasing these wonderful, yet elusive birds. You may ignite a passion you never knew existed.