Late-Season Longbeards

Given a choice, I'll always take the early turkey season, particularly if my goal is to bag any longbeard. But things don't always work out as planned, and I've often found myself hunting during the late season, more by circumstance than by choice. I know doing so won't be easy, but I comfort myself with the knowledge that trophy toms sometimes come easier at the end of the season.

Pursuing turkeys during late season is a lot like hunting the tail end of the whitetail rut, and older toms are like mature bucks. They've been through a few hunting seasons—and as such, they've learned how to avoid hunters—so they don't come easily to the call. And like dominant bucks, they're also typically the dominant birds in the flock, and do most of the breeding, as long as hens are still available.

By late season, however, most of the hens are sitting on clutches nearly full time. Those dominant toms are still in the mood, and finding themselves suddenly alone they sometimes re-double their efforts.

Another factor working in your favor is there's less hunting pressure later during late season. Most folks have either tagged out or given up. This gives you a chance to take your time and work birds more subtly, which is sometimes what it takes to coax in a wary old gobbler.

One of my best late-season birds came off a heavily hunted state management area in Massachusetts. I was doing a little windshield scouting one afternoon when I spotted him strutting for a single hen. How the old boy had made it through nearly 3 weeks of hunting was beyond me, but there he was, and I quickly formulated a plan.

The next morning, I found the bird roosted by himself in a big oak tree. Normally I carry three decoys, but this time I had only one, which I propped out in an open field. Then I nestled in to what little cover there was available along the field edge. For the next 20 minutes or so, I called and he gobbled.

Things were looking good until he pitched out of the oak. Instead of coming straight to me, he glided uphill to the other end of the field. He hesitated for a moment, but the decoy was too tempting. He puffed up, then slowly made his way down the field. I had one big tree in front of me for cover and when he disappeared behind it, I drew my bow. Leaning around the other side of the tree, I spied him in full strut. I squeezed my release and T-boned him at 25 yards.

If you still have a turkey tag in your pocket, don't give up hope. There are still plenty of birds out there. You might have to modify your hunting technique a little, by sticking it out and hunting those tardy toms.


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