LATE SEASON BRINGS THE HEAT

Written by: Mike Mancl (@mjmancl)

April is in the rear view and May has officially arrived. For many, turkey hunting is already fading off the radar.  With warmer weather and summer in sight it has cued the fishing boats, campers, and other recreational vehicles to begin coming out in full force.  If you are a die-hard turkey hunter however, you know that this is the best time of the year to cash in on a late spring gobbler.

I love to hunt the spring green up for several reasons.  Unlike the earlier seasons in April, the birds have finally begun to split from their winter flocks.  With the exception of hunting off the roost, you can quite often strike a gobbler on the move in search of the next hen he is wanting to breed. This time of the year is also productive because many, if not all of the hens have laid eggs at this point. Therefore a large portion of their day is spent on their nest.  This often leaves the gobblers alone, which can make those midday birds much easier to work up. 

The green up poses other benefits as well. With foliage beginning to leaf out, and alfalfa fields growing rapidly, many would look at this as a disadvantage.  What I discovered over the past several years, to the aggressive turkey hunter, this is the perfect scenario.  The green up allows for very favorable stalking conditions to close the distance through either the timber or fields.  Having foliage on the trees is great for minimizing noise as well allowing you to close the distance even closer than you could in previous weeks.  We have found to have had far greater success with fanning birds during this period as well.  My only real conclusion I’ve come up with is our success is due to the fact that we can get closer than normal while still remaining hidden.

My final reason for considering this my favorite time of the year is simply because the turkey woods have now become a ghost town.  There are so many other activities people are starting to take part in this time of year that turkey hunting becomes the last thing on their minds.  What I’ve come to notice over the past 23 seasons spent in the turkey woods is, the early seasons get all the attention. People hunt for a week or two, get their turkey fix for the year and move on when the weather gets warmer.  This leaves the door wide open for those who simply can’t get enough of chasing these birds.  Private land access can become quite easy to obtain this time of year also.  We have several farms we hunt where access isn’t permitted the first few weeks of the spring, but once family and friends are done hunting we are given the run of the mill to the place.  Our property we can hunt nearly triples this time of year and opens up many more options for us.  You toss public land access into the mix as well, and it allows a large area of ground to chase birds on.

So before you begin planting those food plots, hanging tree stands, or going to the lake on the weekends, maybe hit the turkey woods one last time before it’s too late.  You may find the later weeks to be more fruitful than you previously thought.  Side note: Don’t forget the thermacell and a 5 gallon bucket of mosquito spray!

7 DEADLY SINS OF TURKEY HUNTING

Written by:  Mike Mancl (@mjmancl)

Every turkey hunter whether novice or expert has experienced this moment.  It is a beautiful spring morning.  You are working a bird off in the distance and it would appear he is coming in on a string.  Then, like a light switch the gig is up and the gobbler is nowhere to be found.  You leave the woods scratching your head as to what went wrong.  I’ve personally experienced this feeling oh so many times as a turkey hunter over the last 20+ seasons.  There is a plethora of mishaps that can determine the success of a hunt.  I’m here to tell you by preventing a few of these mistakes you can dramatically increase your odds and make almost any bird killable.

Sin #1: Calling & Locating Without Set Up

I’ve seen myself along with countless seasoned turkey hunters make this mistake time and time again.  You are on a mid morning run and gun session, walking and calling through the timber every 125 yards.  All of a sudden a bird hammers and you are flat out caught off guard with your pants at your ankles.  You go into a panic, where do you put the decoys?  Where should I sit?  There is not a tree or reasonable place to put a decoy in sight.  The bird is coming in hot and it’s too late by the time you are ready.  The bird has either lost interest in your previous call or he picks you off and is already in the next county.  Don’t allow this to happen to you.

When you are in run and gun mode, consider your set up prior to ever firing off a call.  If it means walking another 50-100 yards further than you’d like to, do it! You can’t kill a bird if you don’t have the proper set up.  Even if it means inching into the hardwoods further than you’d like, so be it.  I would personally rather risk bumping a bird in a spot I can set up, then locate a bird from a position where I don’t have a chance in hell.

Sin #2:  Failure to Create A Turkey Friendly Set Up

Turkeys are a very visual bird.  More often than not they need to see what they are getting themselves into before they will commit to any set up.  It puts a bird at ease when they can see your set and determine what they want to do.  Even the slightest change in terrain can prevent a bird from working to your decoys causing them to hang up or skirt your set just out of gun or bow range.

How do you prevent this from happening?  Utilize flat ridge tops or open bottoms for your set ups. This will allow the bird to either approach on the same playing field as you or come down to your decoys while they are in plain view.  Set up in as much open cover as possible to prevent a hang up.  Many times hunters set up in thick vegetation.  They get a bird to work to them and then it decides to hang up out of range.  If he can’t see your set up in the approach, most birds will hang back naturally wanting the hen, or in this case the hunter to close the distance.  When setting up on a field edge, I try to utilize the corners and the ends of a field. Why?  By forcing the bird to the corner it does two things:  One, it prevents them from trying to circle around your backside. And two, it draws them into a killable range the majority of the time from the moment they hit the field.  The sooner you can kill a bird when he hits the field the better.  The more you allow a bird to work a field you risk the odds of him either working out of range or getting picked up by ensuing hens.  If that happens it turns in to a waiting game that quite often doesn’t bode for you.  Hit up the corners and you’ll kill them much quicker.

Sin #3:  You Call Too Much or You Didn’t Call Enough

We all love to call and work a bird into range.  The rush you get when you hit your favorite mouth or friction call and a gobbler cuts you off is hard to beat.  But throwing everything but the kitchen sink at them will 75% percent of the time end up with an unfilled tag.  Calling is a vocalization mind game between two birds of the opposite sex.  How you manipulate that game can drive a bird bonkers if done correctly.

One of my favorite calling tactics I like to use, I call the “give and take method.”  If you can strike the interest of a bird, work him up, and then cut him off.  It will drive him wild almost every time, and you will get him coming in on a string.  All birds have their own breaking point.  If you play the mind game with them, and keep them guessing where you are while showing slight interest, you will win.  Calling too much a lot of the times gives away your location, expresses your interest in the gobbler, so in result he waits.  He is going to always want you do all the work and come to him.  Try to flip that mindset around and turn the table.  Be sure to call enough to show your interest, however, you need to find that balance and establish that you aren’t coming to him.  If you don’t call enough he may give up on looking and search for greener pastures.

Sin #4:  Patience Kills and Doesn’t Kill

We all know the turkey hunters who go to there favorite 40 acre parcel pop up a ground blind, sit and wait. They call sparingly, spending hours on end awaiting a long beard to work into range.  It can be an effective strategy for sure, but for me personally it’s not my cup of tea.  When it comes to hunting turkeys, I enjoy the chase.  The fast pace run and gun style in my opinion is what turkey hunting is all about.

Running and gunning however requires one of two things.  Either a large amount of private parcels you have permission to hunt or public hunting access.  The squatter approach can be done on any size of property large or small.  Both methods can be very deadly, but in both cases there comes a time you need to know when your approach is not working.

When your run and gun tactics aren’t working it can often occur because the birds aren’t vocal given the time of day or they aren’t in search of a hen at that particular time.  The heat of day can often drive birds into this state.  Don’t call it quits just yet.  Turn to the squatter approach.  Find a field where birds frequent or hit up a shaded hardwoods spot.  Be patient, make a few calls and you may be rewarded when a gobbler slips into your set.

If the squatter method isn’t working put on some miles.  Walk logging roads, peak into fields, open CRP, or hop in the truck.  Whatever you need to do to find or locate another gobbler. Squatting will work but you need the birds in your location to do so. If no birds are nearby find where they are spending their day.  Most turkeys have there own daily schedule between fly down, strut zone, feeding, locating new hens, feeding, and returning to roost.  If you begin to run and gun keep in mind where you have been seeing strutters mid-day or where you’ve heard gobbles during daylight hours.

Sin #5:  Forget to Plan Your Moves

One of the biggest mistakes most turkey hunters make is they fail to make a plan of attack.  More often then not your success is already determined from the moment you leave the vehicle.  Whether you are going in for a morning roost set up or getting ready to put miles on the boots, if you don’t know your approach you are setting yourself up for disappointment.  Layout your moves in advance.  Where will we locate from?  Where will we set up if they are roosting where we expect?  Where will we go next if we don’t locate a bird?  Theses are just a few things to consider.  When you are walking and calling, plan how you will call your way through the timber.  Where will you access a field so birds wont spook?  Try to stick to the field edges where you can easily get set up on a tree row if needed, but limit your time walking in the open.  Getting caught in an open field situation will most of the time result in the gig being blown.  Utilize any contour so you can to put yourself out of sight of any birds until the time comes you wish to call or locate.  Take a few minutes to layout the foundation of your hunt.  You might be surprised how many more tags you fill.

Sin #6:  Failure to Translate

What are you trying to tell the turkeys?  I would bet many seasoned turkey hunters have failed to give any thought to the yelps and pitches that come out of their calls.  With every frequency in your call you are expressing your demeanor to the bird you are trying to attract.  Try to listen to the birds around you, “feel the room” you might say.  The other birds vocalizations often can give you a feel for their current mood or activity taking place.  Use their mood to either try and play along with the group or work the flock up and stand out as a boss bird.  If you are just pushing air through your call just for shits you aren’t sending a message to anything.  Study the birds and their vocalizations.  Learn to decipher when they are excited, dying for communication, or want their quiet time.  To talk turkey it takes many seasons of just listening and playing out situations, so begin to translate now.

Sin #7:  Know When to Fight Another Day

I’m a firm believer any bird is killable.  Whether they are henned up or reside in a heavily hunted area.  They can be killed.  There will always be sometime in that birds daily routine he is susceptible to being harvested.  The days where he is henned up, not working to a call, or in a location where a set up isn’t possible, learn to fight another day.  Go back to the drawing board. Determine where you need to be to cut him off.  Try hunting him during a different time of day when his hens are on nest and when he is all alone.  Wait again until he is in a killable spot and put a sneak on him or close in for a set up.  Don’t be afraid to pull the plug and back out.  The worst thing you can do is continue calling, risk bumping him off the property, or educate him any further with your calls or set ups. Let him go. Set the alarm clock, load up the coffee maker, and get ready to get after him tomorrow.

SOONER STATE

Late in the year, Mike and I got on some property down in Oklahoma.  Mike made a scouting trip and both of us made trips down checking trail cameras.  Mike’s first trip down to hunt brought a lot of action, but no tag punching.  He was excited to get back.  We left ATA a day early to get back to OK for one last weekend of hunting before calling it a season on the whitetail hunting.  A snow storm made for interesting travel but we arrived just in time to head to the stand.  About 45 minutes before dark, a beautiful 8 slipped up and walked past inside 20 yards and Mike let him have it.  Shortly after, Mike arrowed 2 mature does and the work began.  What a finale for the 2018-19 deer season!

LAST DAY LUCK

On December 28, I had an encounter with my target buck but he failed to present me with an ethical shot.  I elected only to hunt him when conditions were favorable from then on out.  As luck would have it, warm weather moved in and southerly winds didn’t allow me to go after him.  I spent my time on some other farms but action was slow.  This took it down to the last day I was able to hunt before hitting the road for ATA in Louisville.  Finally, some cooler weather had moved back in for the last sit of the year in Iowa.  Just before dark, my target buck didn’t show but a big 6 that I knew all too well stepped out.  With it being my last day, I didn’t hesitate to cock the hammer.

LAST MINUTE

After a slow season in Wisconsin, Chad headed to North Dakota for the final weekend of the season.  Some quick scouting and he had found a cut corn field that was getting hammered by deer.  He threw up a ground blind and crawled in.  It wasn’t long before deer started piling in, and eventually a shooter showed.  Chad 10 ringed him and watched him fall in a woodlot just across the field.  What a great way to finish out the season!

RIDING OUT THE STORM

Ryan and Dylan had plans to leave for North Dakota New Years Day due to some obligations back home.  With the forecast ideal leading up to New Years, and gradually getting warmer afterwards, Ryan changed plans.  Brandon was available to run the camera so him and Ryan hit the road early.  This move would prove to be a good one.  The first afternoon, Ryan struck well before dark. When the cold weather hits out there, you just have to be in a blind!

BLIZZARD BUCK

After Aaron had killed the night before, confidence was high.  The weather was changing for the better, a blizzard was hitting the northern plains head on.  We climbed into the blind around 2pm and waited.  The snow was coming down heavy and the north west winds were biting us good.  With temps well below 0, we stayed on high alert.  Some does and fawns fed early and then it got slow.  With about 20 minutes left, a fawn fed in front of us and coming out of the draw behind her was the “big 10” that we had on camera.  He jumped the fence and offered me a clean shot at 25 yards.  We watched him collapse in the CRP field, what an unbelievable way to spend Christmas, 2 bucks in 2 nights!

CHRISTMAS BUCK

After an early season mishap, Aaron was ready for some late season redemption up north.  After some convincing, I had talked him into (after he talked his family into it) spending the holidays in North Dakota this year.  If the weather conditions are right, generally the late season is action packed.  This year proved to be no different.  The good bucks were active on the cameras, it was just a matter of picking the right spot on the right night.  On Christmas Day, we headed into a blind that had several shooters on camera.  Movement was slow, in fact we did not see a deer until the last 15 minutes of legal shooting.  As luck would have it, 1 of the deer to appear just before dark was one of the shooters that we had hoped to see.  Aaron made a good shot and we celebrated Christmas in style in North Dakota

WISCO GRIND

Wisconsin was no walk in the park for Aaron this year.  Seeing deer at all was becoming a task, even into November.  On the morning of November 15, him and Mike sat in the vehicle before heading to the stand and couldn’t help but laugh about how poor the hunting had been.  They even admit to having had zero confidence that morning as they made all kinds of noise making their way across crunchy snow into the timber.  If the racket of their entrance wasn’t enough, they persisted to get up the tree in their climbers.  A slow morning as expected, and then it all changed on a dime.  Mike picked up movement heading their way.  Aaron didn’t think twice to grab the bow and go to work.  Finding success on a nice Wisconsin public land buck is no easy task, the hard work had finally culminated for Aaron.

PUBLIC STUD

Chad and Heather made a trip to Kansas to scout a lot of public hunting ground this past summer.  They felt like they had some good options for the fall.  Little did they know, they would return in late October and find almost every area they had scouted to be under water.  Crazy amounts of rain had fallen and forced them to find new areas to hunt.  The first trip was unsuccessful but Chad made it back in mid November for round 2.  After a couple of close calls, November 14th proved to be a good one.  2 fully mature bucks had a doe pinned down and this guy came too close to the tree that Chad was sitting in.  Heck of a buck for Chad on public ground in Kansas.

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