How to Hunt Early Season Turkeys

By author of Turkey Blog with Steve Hickoff

7 Tips for Tagging a Bird Early

Editor's note: This revamp post is from the classic Team Realtree Turkey Hunting Fieldbook  (2001)Written by the late Aaron Pass, the printed book still contains solid advice for hunting turkeys in the early season. We honor his memory here with this click-through blog post. 

– Steve Hickoff

Don't waste the lead-off spot. © John Hafner photo

In today's hard-hunted turkey woods, the early part of the spring season – opening day and the first week – is a prime time to score. The gobbler population is at its peak, not yet thinned by other hunters, or made excessively wary by heavy hunting pressure. Don't waste the lead-off spot. Getting ahead of the game is what early spring gobbler hunting is all about.

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1 | Early Season Calling

If you favor lots of looking and loud and aggressive calling, early season is your prime time. If you don't find or can't entice a gobbler from his roost, cover lots of ground and call often. Aggressive calls such as cutts, cackles and fighting purrs simulate both the sexual and territorial impulses of early season gobblers. However, when actually working a bird, particularly when it gets close, subdued calling is generally better. This avoids the "over-call" situation that can cause a gobbler to hang up. Play it the gobbler's way and give the bird just enough to keep it coming.

"Hung Up" Gobblers"Hung Up" Gobblers"Hung Up" Gobblers"Hung Up" Gobblers"Hung Up" Gobblers

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2 | "Hung Up" Gobblers

A "hung up" gobbler is one that answers your call but refuses to come all the way. Most often this happens where there is a creek, ravine or other natural barrier between you and the bird. Know your hunting territory well enough so this doesn't happen. Sometimes a gobbler hangs up because it finds a great strutting ground. The bird may wait there if your aggressive calling makes it seem that the hen is coming to its location . . . Stay alert. Often another gobbler will be attracted by the uproar and walk right in. However, the commotion may attract other hunters, so pay attention. 

"Henned Up" Gobblers"Henned Up" Gobblers"Henned Up" Gobblers"Henned Up" Gobblers"Henned Up" Gobblers

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3 | "Henned Up" Gobblers

At some point in the spring, turkey hens get in the breeding mood. This causes hunters some problems because a gobbler with a harem of hens is less inclined to go looking for more. Also, hens sometimes actually lead the gobbler away from your calling. The gobbler will often answer your calls, but will not come. 

Get Between Gobblers and HensGet Between Gobblers and HensGet Between Gobblers and HensGet Between Gobblers and HensGet Between Gobblers and Hens

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4 | Get Between Gobblers and Hens

Dealing with a harem boss can be difficult. A tip-off as to whether a gobbler and hens are roosting together is when it [the gobbler] leaves in the same direction every morning to meet them [the hens]. Forget the roost area; set up along the gobbler's line of travel. Sometimes you can find the hen roost and scatter them early [typically a fall hunting tactic]. Now you are the only "hen" waiting for the gobbler.

Calling HensCalling HensCalling HensCalling HensCalling Hens

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5 | Calling Hens

If hens stay close to the gobbler, you sometimes can call them. They maintain a well-established pecking order all year. If there is a boss hen with the flock, challenge it. Loud and aggressive calling, or imitating the hen, may cause it to come looking. The rest of the flock, and usually the gobbler, will follow. However, the hens will be in the lead. To make this work, you must have your gun [or bow] up and ready, be well-camouflaged and sit absolutely still. If the hens see you before the gobbler gets in range, it's all over.

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6 | Mid-Morning Strategy

When the hens begin to lay [eggs], they will start drifting off after the early hours with the gobbler. If they have been out-competing you for the gobbler's attention so far, this works in your favor. Simply ease into the gobbler's territory, set up and start calling lightly late in the morning. If the gobbler is alone, it may start gobbling. Then again, it may come in quietly, so pay attention.

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7 | Attitude

Easing into the spring season with the complacent attitude that you have plenty of time to iron out the kinks is unwise. Opening day, and the first few days of the season, offer opportunities that won't be duplicated later on. You should have a "ready-to-go" attitude at the outset. "Hit the ground running" in the predawn of opening day, and stay with it as long as you can legally hunt. Know where you are going and what to do when you get there. Have confidence in your gun (from patterning) and in your calling (from practice). In short, be ready to hunt at your best from the opening gun. Quick success is sweet . . .

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(Number stick photos © Bill Konway)