The Turkey Woods
This past weekend I made my last trip into the turkey woods for the season. My cousin came up to Iowa to hunt with me and we had a great time together as usual. To top it off, he got to take a real nice gobbler back home to Illinois. The hunt did not start off as I had planned, however. I wanted to take him down to this bottom field that was full of turkeys back in mid-April. I knew that no one had been in there and there should have been several big ole toms just waiting for us. But, as the sun began to rise that morning there was not a gobble to be heard at my destination. We did hear a gobbler in an unusual location and attempted to get set up on him, but we were not in the best location and the bird pitched down and went the other way. Undeterred, we regrouped and went to check another location that is frequented by turkeys. Not only did we find a big gobbler hanging out with four hens but an hour later he was resting in the back of our truck while we ate biscuits and gravy at the diner.
This hunt proved to be very typical of my season this year. I found the gobblers to be quite responsive this season but not in your text book fashion that many are used to. I actually had very few hunts this year where I had a good set up off of the roost. Most of the mornings that I went out the birds started gobbling late giving me very little time to find a set up and implement an effective strategy. After fly down I usually found myself standing there scratching my head trying to figure out what to do next. But, when I stayed after them and checked known hangouts I was usually able to find a willing and able participant. Some of which provided some of the best hunts that I can remember. With the success and failures of this turkey season there was certainly some valuable lessons learned that I will carry with me into the seasons that lay ahead.
The first lesson, which certainly relates to my hunt this past weekend, is that your hunting area is a living, breathing, and ever changing environment. The spring season is a very active time of the year in nature and on the landscape. Trees are growing leaves, forest floor vegetation is getting thicker, CRP and pasture grasses are constantly getting taller, and crops are getting planted. All of these things can and will impact your turkey hunting.
- Thick vegetation can make it more difficult to hear turkeys and judge their distance. It can also limit places where you can sit down to make a shot.
- Tall grass soaking wet with morning dew is not an optimal place for gobblers to strut at first light. If the grass in your hunting area is allowed to grow thick and tall it can often times change a gobblers roosting patterns altogether. If keeping some strut zones mowed off throughout the season is not an option then you must plan around it and find the alternate roost sites that the turkeys may utilize.
- Freshly planted crop fields will attract turkeys. You need to monitor the fields in your area because farming activity will alter the patterns of the local flock.
The second lesson, which was learned by many hunters this year, is that changing weather patterns do have an effect on turkey behavior. There was a lot of discussion prior to this season about how the early spring would impact the breeding season. Most biologists stated that it would have little effect on the timing of the breeding but would cause gobbling activity to increase earlier than usual. Now that the season is over I tend to side with the biologists. I really did not notice a great deal of difference in the interaction between the hens and toms over prior seasons. I did, however, notice a drastic difference in the amount of gobbling heard off of the roost in the mornings. This leads me to believe that maybe the toms were just getting a little tired of gobbling. Many hunters may have viewed this phenomenon in a different way and assumed that the turkeys were done breeding early. I do not feel that this was the case at all. Thirty minutes before Cuz pulled the trigger on that big Iowa bird this past weekend; I watched through binoculars as he courted four hens, bred one of them, and attempted to breed another before the dominant hen chased her off. This would certainly be considered active breeding behavior.
- Turkeys are going to be turkeys no matter how much thought we put into weather. It certainly has more impact on us and our perception of what turkey hunting should be like than in does on the turkeys themselves.
- The unusual conditions that were presented to us this season certainly had a negative impact on the success rates of hunters overall. However, those who were willing to adapt their strategies to these changing conditions likely still experienced some quality turkey hunts.
I truly enjoyed this turkey season as much as I have enjoyed any other. I hunted some new locations, made some new friends, and watched some turkeys fall with many of my best friends and hunting buddies. Although it would not be considered a “normal” season by the standards of many, I don’t really know what “normal” is. In fact, I hope to never know what a “normal” turkey season is like because that just sounds pretty boring. For now I’ll have to wait another year to see what Mother Nature has in store. No matter what you know where I will be next April. Here’s to a great hatch in 2012!