Afternoon Spring Gobbler Hunting
Pennsylvania’s first spring gobbler season was in 1967. Until 2011 we could hunt only in the morning. That year the Pennsylvania Game Commission approved all-day turkey hunting after the first two weeks (beginning on the third Saturday).
When all-day hunting was first proposed, many turkey hunters objected. They said it wouldn’t be fair to the turkeys. They said it would make killing gobblers too easy. They said hunters would simply go to a known roosting site, wait for the gobblers to show up, and shoot one before they fly up to roost. It wouldn’t require calling and it would amount to nothing more than an ambush. And it would make other gobblers more vulnerable because they'd scatter at sundown and be forced to roost in unfamiliar places.
Despite the PGC expanding hunting hours to all day in 2011, I had never hunted gobblers in the afternoon until last Thursday (May 20). Most spring gobblers I’ve taken have either been off the roost at fly-down, or around mid-morning when the gobblers were searching for the companionship of hens.
I had been to this piece of woods only once, the day before. I had hunted the west side of a hill Monday (when I had one going for a buddy but the bird never presented for a shot), Tuesday (when everything was silent), and Wednesday (more silence). Late Wednesday morning I took a walk to the east side of the hill. I discovered where turkeys had been feeding, and saw a gobbler track in some dried mud.
On Thursday around 6:00 PM, I headed to this spot. Was it a roosting area? I have no way to know. A lifetime of experience here in Pennsylvania taught me that turkeys have so many places to roost that it’s almost impossible to predict where they’ll fly up on any given day. The woods had no distinguishing feature in any direction closer than 250 yards other than an old, dim logging road, so even if I knew turkeys did roost there at times, they could easily fly up 100 yards, 200 yards, or more from any set-up I would choose, or walk by out of range. Certainly there was no roost-site advantage to be had.
I settled in and allowed the woods to settle down for about a half-hour. Then I issued some soft yelps on the custom Northern Scratchbox call I make. I’ve made more than a thousand of these calls, and have used it to call in many hens and gobblers. I called softly every five to ten minutes and my fourth call got a response from a gobbler downhill and to my right, probably not more than 150 yards away. From there I simply made quiet purrs and he kept answering, a little closer each time. Then he went silent, and minute or two later I could see him working his way toward me.
He fanned out after every few steps, expecting the hen he heard to spot his royal magnificence and come running. She didn’t, of course, and he slowly worked closer. He finally crossed the logging trail to my extreme right and stood fanned out at 40 yards. I could see his beard clearly and I hoped he’d turn and use that skid trail to close the distance. He didn’t. Instead he folded his feathers and gave out one hard cluck, a message that says, “I’m right here. Where are you?” The second cluck usually means, “I’ve waited long enough. I’m leaving.” I didn’t let him make that second cluck.
This seems to me to be the classic evening spring gobbler hunt. Whatever advantage I gained came from the scouting I had done the morning before. I chose this spot because:
1. I observed that turkeys had been feeding in the area in recent days.
2. I noticed a nice gobbler track in some mud.
3. I reasoned that on a hot day turkeys might be on the east side of the hill away from the hot afternoon sun, and low enough on the hillside that I could get in, get settled, and do some calling.
4. It was conducive to a calling style I find very effective — soft yelps and purrs that mimic a single contented hen, safe, relaxed, and alone.
So here's an opportunity to discuss afternoon hunting around the following questions, or others you may pose.
>>· On the question of fairness: Do you think gobblers are too easily killed as they come to roost, as many hunters believed 10 years ago? (I haven’t seen many reports of successful afternoon hunts, and I’ve heard of none that amount to ambushes at a roost site.)
>>· On the question of textbook afternoon hunts: Is this typical for an afternoon/evening hunt? Or are gobblers more likely to be with hens and less likely to come to a call? Are there other common patterns typical of afternoon hunts?
>>· On the comparisons between morning and afternoon hunts: Do you hunt afternoons/evenings? Is it easier? Harder? Are turkeys more predictable late in the day? Less predictable? Have you found other late-day strategies that have been successful?