Reaching the Middle of Midwest Turkey Mania

We’re in the middle of Midwestern turkey mania. A lot of birds have been tagged, meaning there might not be as many gobblers in your woodlot as there were a couple of weeks ago, but those birds still left are busy. They’re covering a lot of ground in search of receptive hens. This is the time of the season when you need to have a backup plan, and you must be ready to use it. 

“You need to be mobile now,” Shawn Jenkins said. “If you had a bird figured out, but now he doesn’t seem to be there, then there is a good chance he’s not. He could have moved off in search of hens elsewhere, or another lucky hunter may have wrapped their tag on him already,” 

In Central Iowa where Jenkins hunts, there is a ton of open farm ground with sporadic wood lots. Not many of them are bigger than 20-acres. 

“We’re hitting multiple spots per day,” Jenkins said. “We try not to waste time where there might not be a bird. Even if we saw or heard him there recently we know the game is changing daily, so we keep moving until we strike a bird we know we can work. I think being willing to move this time of year is very important.”

The season is now open in the Black Hills of South Dakota, which could be argued as the most scenic of all Midwest turkey hunting destinations. Birds are abundant in the Hills, but hunters often must work for them miles from the nearest road. The easy birds are killed quick, leaving a hike for those determined to tag out. 

“What I’m seeing birds doing right now in the Hills is pitching off the roost into open spaces in large groups. The gobblers are still coming down with a lot of hens. It’s hard to pull them away early. Pretty quickly though, the flocks begin to disperse and head into the forest. That’s where I want to be waiting to see if I can call a Tom to me after the hens have left him,” said Nathaniel Maddox, a regular Black Hills hunter. 

In the land of Lincoln, everything has gotten green quick in the woods, and the recent rains have flooded out many river bottom areas. Leaving both turkeys and hunters heading to higher ground. 

“My go to spots are underwater right now,” said Jeff Lampe. “I’ve had to retreat to higher ground. The good news is, so have the birds. I’m still seeing a lot of birds in the agriculture fields without cover crops. Those planted in rye or other grasses, are so tall now, they’re too thick to hunt. You may not have any activity close to you. The bare picked corn and bean fields that haven’t been plowed are where I’m seeing the largest groups of birds.” 

Afternoon hunting isn’t the same as listening to gobblers on the roost, but it sure can be successful. Hunters have the benefit of glassing for turkeys in some locations. Gobblers are on the move later in the day, so if you can find a high vantage point, where you can sit and watch large swaths of land, you might be able to spot a bird in the distance that you can maneuver close to before beginning to call. Much like you would do elk hunting.

“Later in the day a bird could start gobbling just about anywhere at any time, so you need to be able to move to that bird,” Justin O’Riley said. “I’ve killed a number of gobblers moving between different blocks of timber over the years, and right now is the time to be looking for them to do this. I think the best advice right now is to just be out there. You never know when you may spot one you can put the sneak and call on.”

Hunting with Dad is a Trophy at any Age 

To hunt with your father is always a blessing. To hunt with him when he is 85-years old, still in great health and helping you while you are on crutches, well, that’s simply amazing. The Ray’s are a special family, with a special piece of property. They have cultivated a family belief that the true trophy of the hunt is sharing the experience with people you care about it. 

“I hunt with my 85-year-old dad as often as I can, but this was the first year I’ve ever hunted on crutches. Due to the forestry accident, I am temporarily mobility impaired, but it wasn’t about to keep me out of the turkey woods,” said David Ray.

David was able to get to his blind with the help of his dad and their side-by-side on the opener.  They called in a tom and hen to 50 yards. When they saw the decoys the paused.  Th hen went into the woods and Tom followed. The next day they called in two tom’s.  

“They strutted and gobbled at 60 yards for over half an hour. They would double gobble at every purr, cluck or yelp.  My dad has poor vision and needs them in close to shoot. Since they wouldn’t come into the decoys so my dad and I could double, I just ended up shooting a tom,” Ray said.

It was the first bird Ray ever shot while sitting beside his dad. They didn’t have youth seasons in the 1970s. At 24 pounds, was also Ray’s largest bird ever.  

See you down the trail….
Brandon Butler

Pic: Brandon Butler and Captain Frank Campbell with a Niagara River Smallmouth Bass.

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