On The Ridge with Joe Judd: Late season turkey hunting tips



Published: 05-15-2024 3:57 PM

Moving into the final week of turkey hunting season, hopefully you’ve already put a nice tom turkey on the table this spring – though we all know that it doesn’t always work out the way we want. Calendars fill up, the weather doesn’t cooperate, birds become less accommodating late into the season, and there’s this thing called “bad luck” that sometimes sneaks up on all of us!

When you talk about late season turkey hunting, it tends to become an extreme case of all of the above. By now, the birds know most of our tricks and will continue to avoid us despite our best efforts. And yet, when you do manage to find success with a late season gobbler, you’ve definitely earned it. And the good news is, there’s still plenty of time for you to pull it off, if you haven’t already.

All that said, time has become a factor now, and you need to start making the days you have left count. Start by thinking about the past three weeks. Maybe you’ve only been able to hunt a small portion of the season, maybe turkeys in your area have been exposed to heavy hunting pressure, and if you hunt turkeys on public land, by now they’ve seen a thing or two, which definitely complicates your life. But don’t worry about any of that, because as long as the season is still in swing, there’s still a chance of filling that tag. Here’s some late-season tactics that have worked for me in the past, and could definitely work for you right up to the last hour of the season.

When it comes to specific techniques, late season turkey hunting usually comes down to maximum concealment in the best places you can find, limited calling, and using smart decoy tactics. Let’s break this down a little. One of the best tips for hunting late season turkeys is setting up in areas where you’re still seeing turkeys, and then completely disappearing into the landscape. If you can quietly slip into an area unnoticed where you know turkeys are frequenting, like a clover or alfalfa field, you should eventually be able to surprise them. Look for travel routes into these fields, which become magnets to turkeys in the late spring, and if there are hens still around, there’s usually gobblers not far behind. By the last week of the season, most gobblers have become cautious from being harassed by all kinds of hunters. They generally won’t come running into fields or decoys as confidently as they did in the early part of the season.

They’ll hang back and make sure the path is safe before proceeding. Because of that, I want to emphasize that you need to be absolutely certain that you’re invisible from their keen eyesight – this has always been a turkey hunting 101 lesson, and remains very important. Blinds are extremely useful in accomplishing this, because even if you tuck yourself into some heavy vegetation, completely camouflaged, doing this really limits your movement and can ruin your hunt if a silent gobbler sneaks up behind you and detects even the slightest movement from your location.

Also, place some brush and branches around the blind using natural vegetation from the area you’re in, which can make you magically disappear. Then, after carefully scouting the area you want to set up in, stay patient and as movement free as possible while hunting close to these places as the season winds down.

Turkey calling in the spring can be a tricky thing because it changes so much from the beginning to the end of the season. Consequently, there are fewer hens vocalizing, and those that still are seem much more timid than in the early season. Relying more on your stealth, with very little calling during this period, is a great option for areas with late season turkey traffic. Try to keep your calling limited to soft hen yelps and clucks, followed by long pauses, and if you hear a hen responding, try to mimic her tone and cadence in response. If you hear a gobble, stay calm and call back while trying to read his excitement level.

Finally, whether you should use decoys or not during a late-season turkey hunt is a tricky question. In some cases, even the best decoys just aren’t good enough. But if you want to use them, avoid using the Jake decoy, because it’s just a little too risky during the late portion of the season. The best approach would be to use a single hen about 15 to 20 yards to the left or right of your ground blind. If a lonely gobbler stumbles on it, he’ll usually want to check it out. And that’s always a good thing when it comes to filling that late season tag!

Joe Judd is a lifelong hunter and sportsman. He is an outdoor writer, seminar speaker, member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association, and a 2019 inductee into the N.E. Turkey Hunting Hall of Fame. Joe is also on the Quaker Boy Game Calls and Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Pro-Staff. He can be reached at jjontheridge@comcast.net

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