Early Season Lessons Learned

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If you are like us, you probably have the opening day of turkey season in your home state circled for the next five years.  “The opener” seems to become an unwritten holiday amongst us gobbler chasers, and we begin the countdown for the next season on the last day of the previous one.  The opener is the day in which all the months of anticipation are culminated into that magical morning in which the woods are alive with gobbling and the turkeys we hear can actually be legally killed.  It’s finally game time.

I don’t know if I have been more anxious for an opening day in my home state of Alabama than I was this year.  Turkey fever seems to build inside of me with each passing year, and next year I will probably been exponentially more anxious than this year, and so forth.  At some point I worry I will simply overdose on anticipation and kill over; until then, I won’t do anything to curb my enthusiasm for the sport.

We opened on Saturday, March 15 here in Alabama.  Like most of the country, we had experienced a brutal winter, and spring seemed to be a little late.  However, because we raised a great crop of turkeys two years ago, I was hopeful that opening day would bring lots of gobbling and a dead turkey by 8 o’clock.  That was certainly not the case.

Not to bore you with the details, but the first few days of our season were pretty terrible.  Bad weather, not a lot of gobbling, and very henned up gobblers seemed to be the common lament from not only myself, but the vast majority of my buddies.  Towards the end of the first week, the ground gobbling began to improve and turkeys were starting to gobble better up in the morning.  Still, turkeys weren’t dying in droves and the numbers of “dead turkey” texts from my buddies were way down.

I finally broke the ice on the morning of March 25th.  I found a two year old by himself that wanted to play the game, and heard several other turkeys gobbling great throughout the morning.  As I stood over that turkey, I took time to reflect not only on the blessing of this great sport, but also the lessons I had learned since opening day.  Allow me a few minutes to share those thoughts with you all.

Turkeys aren’t always ready to die 

One of the hardest truths to accept in the turkey woods is that when we step into the woods and hear a turkey, we really have a low percentage of actually killing that turkey that morning.  Early season can be some of the toughest hunting because a) turkeys are very bunched up b) the woods are pretty bare and getting tight with turkeys is tough and c) the weather can be poor because winter’s erractic moods haven’t left quite yet.  When turkeys get into what I call “super groups,” which is where your typical group will be 4-5 longbeards, a few jakes, and 10-plus hens, they are very, very difficult to kill, unless you manage to either get in front of them if they travel, or get in their face and hope one of the longbeards breaks off from the pack. 

Thus, if I know there is a super group of turkeys in an area, I will typically try to find a smaller group somewhere else and let that super group do their thing over a few days, hoping that a few longbeards will break off and fly solo.  You really don’t start seeing killing sprees until the number of available hens diminishes and gobblers have to move around to find company.  Granted, there is no scientific way to know when this occurs, so you have to keep getting up in the mornings to find out.

Late springs aren’t all that bad

We all want turkey season to start off with a bang and stay hot until the season closes.  But the reality is that throughout the course of the season there will be peaks and valleys in the quality of the hunting-or gobbling and dead turkeys-based on a combination of the breeding cycle and the weather.  Mother Nature could care less when turkey season starts; she has a mind of her own and will allow spring to come as soon or late as she pleases.  One silver lining to a later spring (and breeding cycle) is that the “headache season,” as Col. Tom Kelly refers to the April lull in action in his home state of Alabama, will either be delayed or missed altogether.  Because of the strong number of two year olds we have, the hunting in my home state should stay strong until our season closes at the end of April.

Great hatches have a downside (or plus, depending on how you look at it)

As I mentioned earlier, we were fortunate (thanks to Mother Nature and an aggressive trapping program) to have a superb hatch out in the summer of 2012, meaning we have a strong group of two year gobblers this spring.  The only downside with a strong group of two year old turkeys?  A strong group of two year old hens. 

While I have no way of knowing the age classes of my hen population, and don’t care because as of this writing they’re an annoyance to me, I do know that young hens tend to cycle sporadically, thus prolonging the breeding season.

Wait a second, couldn’t that be a good thing?  In theory, if you have enough receptive hens cruising around to ensure the gobblers are still interested, you can prolong the hot action because there really is never a peak and sharp decline in the breeding, more of a slow and lengthy decline until the hens that didn’t catch the first time cycle back through (this usually happens for us the last few days of April and continues into May when we’re catching up on sleep).

Be patient at daybreak

This may come as a shock, but as of March 26th I still had yet to sit down to a roosted turkey.  Every turkey I hunted had already hit the ground by the time I got to them, both a by-product of wrong place-wrong time and the fact that many of our turkeys have been gobbling better on the ground than on the limb.  Early in the season, that may be a blessing in disguise, because with the woods so bare sometimes it’s easier to use the terrain to get closer than it is to use the foliage.

Next few weeks should be electric

With relatively few gobblers being killed over the first week and a half of the season across Alabama and Mississippi (based on our reports), April should be our best in recent memory.  All we need are a few stretches of good weather to commence the flop fest. 
Wild Turkey Report Staff
Wild Turkey Report is the internet's new destination for information on the sport of turkey hunting. Follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wildturkeyreport and on Twitter @wildturkeyreprt!
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