Turkey guides talk May gobblers.
By Terry Otto
May toms are a tough bird, right? They’ve been hunted hard for two weeks, and there are less receptive hens around as most head to the nest. They have heard a lot of calls, maybe tussled with a decoy too, and seen their buddies get shot.
Yet there are some advantages to hunting May. Most turkey gunners disappear after the second weekend, seriously reducing pressure through the 25th, when Idaho’s spring season ends, and the 31st, when Oregon and Washington’s wrap up (if only the deer woods could be so barren of competition for so long!). The toms have to travel farther to locate the remaining receptive hens, making them vulnerable, and once April’s big pressure passes, the birds relax a little. In short, May is a good investment for turkey hunters.
However, the toms are jumpy and educated, so while you might have gotten away with mistakes early, that won’t cut it late. Bring your best game, or stick to hunting toms in April.
Expert hunters and guides know how to adapt to the changing behaviors of turkeys over the course of the full season, and they continue to collect quality toms. Here are a few tips gleaned from some of Oregon’s best turkey hunting guides. Take these tips to heart, and you might lure that May longbeard into range this month.
1 COVER GROUND
The late season is golden for Eric Strand of Strand Outdoors. He’s the owner of S2 Calls, a premier line of professional game calls (s2calls.com), and hunts turkeys all season long.
“There are two days I hate during the season,” Strand says. “Opening day, when the woods are full of people, and the last day, because it’s over for the year.”
His first tip is to lace up those hiking boots.
“You are hunting at the end of the gobbling cycle,” says Strand. “The birds are gobbling less, so you might have to go further to find a hot tom. They are covering a lot of ground trying to find a hen, so you need to cover a lot of ground too.”
2 SKIP APRIL’S SPOTS
You will also need to get away from those early-season killing grounds. The smart, long-lived toms have moved out.
Indeed, Strand’s second tip is to not hunt where you saw birds early. He says that’s especially true if you hunt public lands.
“They will be moving up following the line of the snow melt,” he says. “They want that green-up as the snow recedes.”
Strand advises you to go in farther, and don’t go in from the same place.
“Those birds learn. They hear a hen in those areas, they figure it’s a hunter.”
3 MATCH THE FOLIAGE
Guide Jeff Miller of Field ’N Marsh Outfitters and Kennels (northwesthunting.com) will be swapping coat and pants as he puts clients onto birds on the 15 private ranches scattered across Southern Oregon he has permission to hunt in May. That’s because when it comes to hunter-wise late-season toms, he says it is important to match your camo to the conditions and area where you will be hunting.
“Later in the season it is more important to wear camo that matches the vegetation where you hunt,” says Miller. “There is more foliage that time of year, and more greens.”
He adds that the foliage closes in in the late season, and the birds are harder to see. A hunter who bumps into a tom unexpectedly will do better if he matches his surroundings.
4 EASE OFF THE CALLS
Every guide interviewed for this article talked about the importance of calling less.
“Less calling is always better,” says Miller.
Strand agrees. He adds that most hens are on the nest in the last weeks of the season, and the woods are naturally quieter.
“Call a lot less,” he says, “and try not to sound like a hunter!”
Not only should hunters back off on their calling, but Craig “Gus” Augustynovich of Fins and Feathers Guide Service (finsandfeathersguides.com), who manages over 25,000 acres for turkey and has guided in Douglas County since 1994, suggests you should also tone down your audibles.
“You want to use soft, quiet calls,” he says.
Augustynovich also warns against using shock calls.
“Don’t use owl calls or predator calls,” he says. “It’s not usual, and it makes the birds suspicious.”
It may not sound as sexy as calling a tom from position, but patterning the toms will give you a decided advantage.
“Try to find out where they want to go, and get in front of them,” says Augustynovich.
Strand also stresses the need to figure out the birds’ regular travels and intercept them.
“Try to get around them or get above them,” he suggests.
5 DECOY SPARINGLY
Early-season toms are suckers for decoys, but for this phase of the hunt not so much.
“I use decoys some, but you have to know the bird you are targeting. You can end up chasing them away,” Strand advises.
Smaller toms or jakes that have been beat up all season will often turn and run upon seeing another tom. However, if you know there’s an alpha tom around, they can work.
Augustynovich was not a fan of decoys until he discovered Dave Smith’s line, including a strutting tom which he uses to attract older, mature toms.
“They work great,” he says, “but I wouldn’t use them on public land.”
Miller says that size matters with faux birds in May.
“Smaller decoys can be more effective late,” he says.
He says a small decoy is less threatening to smaller toms and jakes.
Editor’s note: Terry Otto’s above article first appeared in the May 2014 issue of Northwest Sportsman magazine.