By Darron McDougal
If you’re completely new to turkey hunting, then you likely have questions such as, “When is turkey season?” In this article, we’ll discuss the different seasons for spring and fall turkey hunting and how birds behave during them. Let’s review.
Spring Is King for Turkey Season
Spring is king if you crave an action-packed hunt. In several far southern states, spring turkey season opens in March, with southern Florida opening the first Saturday in March. Other states like Texas and Nebraska (archery only) also have March seasons. Most other states open in April and close in mid-May or even later. For a better idea of spring turkey seasons on a state by state basis, click here.
While birds begin gobbling and strutting when winter is on its way out, hens aren’t usually ready to breed just yet, so it can be difficult to call a gobbler in. Why? Many toms are guarding large flocks of hens until mid-April. The hens aren’t ready, but they will be, and the toms know it. Pulling them away from those hen flocks is unlikely.
Thus, you’ll most likely have to pattern the flock by scouting before you hunt. I like to watch a roosting area from a distance. My goal is to watch the turkeys fly down to learn their routine. If setting up close to the roost will require excessive commotion, I’ll opt for another ambush along their route.
Early April is when winter flocks in my area begin to scatter and go their own ways. Subordinate toms get kicked out first, and they’re often out roving around looking for another flock of hens. Calling can be pretty deadly on these toms. However, they’ll usually become henned-up and difficult to call in early May, which is when most of the breeding unfolds in my part of the country.
When toms are henned-up, I get as close to the roost as possible, plug a hen and aggressive jake decoy in the ground, and then do little, if any, calling.
By mid-May once most of the breeding is done, many gobblers are out roving once again for any unbred hens that haven’t gone to nest. I’ve found this a great time to call them in, even in areas where they’ve seen high pressure. And this trend carries through to the end of the month.
Spring is obviously the most popular time to hunt turkeys, and it’s because nothing beats the rush of hunting them when they gobble, strut and spit and drum. Plus, when they respond to your calling, there’s just something special about the exchange between bird and hunter that makes it a thrill all its own. But, spring isn’t the only time to hunt turkeys.
Fall is Also Turkey Season
Fall brings a different dimension to turkey hunting. Except on mornings when the stars align just right, you won’t hear toms gobbling or see them strutting.
Many fall turkey seasons open in September or October and run through the end of the year, with some states/hunting areas ending as late as Jan. 31 (Nebraska) or even into February (Texas). To determine when fall season opens and closes in your hunting grounds, click here.
In fall and winter, hens which were bred in the spring hatch out chicks that become poults by early fall, some growing to nearly the size of an adult hen. These hen/poult groups can be hunted several ways.
Since I mostly hunt with a bow, I like to determine their daily feeding area, then pop a ground blind there and wait. I don’t hunt without first seeing birds in a given food source.
Other hunters use dogs (where legal) to scatter these hen/poult flocks. This might initially seem counterproductive, but it’s important to note that, when scattered, hens and poults will reunite at or near the place where the disruption occurred. A while after the scatter, poult whistling and hen yelping can coax birds in for a shot.
Now, if toms are what you want, you’ll need to scout an area specifically for them. In winter, toms will begin to move into the hen/poult flocks when deep snow and cold weather make survival difficult. However, hunting them earlier in the fall requires some scouting.
Prior to cornfields being harvested, toms will feed mostly in the timber and occasionally in hayfields during warmer temperatures when they can pick crickets and other bugs from the dew-coated stalks. They can be very difficult to pattern.
Nearly a decade ago, I’d seen a group of 10 toms in a hayfield on several occasions. I called the landowner and gained permission to hunt the field. I’d seen the toms in multiple locations within the field, so I knew getting one with my bow could be difficult.
After contemplating my options, I decided to take an off-the-wall spring approach to hunting these birds. Yep, I positioned my strutting jake decoy on the highest point in the field, then backed up 18 steps, popped open my Double Bull blind and hopped in.
Not long into the morning, all 10 toms appeared hundreds of yards away, milling around and picking at crickets. I threw some tom clucks their way, and they all perked up and looked my way. They quickly returned to feeding, but now were angling in my direction. Soon, they were out of sight at the base of the hill, and when they reappeared, it looked like they were going to skirt my blind and fade into the woods. As they filed by 100 yards away, I quit watching them out the blind window. I was sure my morning was nearly over.
Suddenly, I heard aggressive purring and quickly peered out the window. You guessed it! All 10 toms were beelining toward my decoy. As the lead bird postured by my decoy with several others, I thumped him through the lungs with a large expandable broadhead, and he ran 15 yards before toppling over. The excitement was comparable to a spring hunt.
Winter turkey season in the north can bring even the most dedicated turkey hunters to question whether it’s worth hunting in subzero temperatures. Personally, I love it. The large flocks — sometimes 100 birds or more — keep me coming back annually. I’ve successfully stalked birds in the winter multiple times with both bow and gun, but my more common ploy is to sit where turkey sign is everywhere in a picked cornfield. I pack a propane heater and hand and foot warmers to combat the cold. If I can withstand the cold, I know I’ll get my bird(s).
No Time Like Turkey Time
Whether you choose to hunt turkeys in the spring, fall or both, every successful turkey hunt, regardless of the experience, results in a fine-eating bird for the table. If you’ve heard that wild turkey is like eating boot leather, don’t buy it. If you learn how to cook them properly, wild turkey can be swapped for chicken in some of your favorite dishes.
Now that you know more about turkey season, will you be in the woods hunting them this year? Comment below and let us know if you’ll be hunting in the spring, fall or both.