3 Must-Know Turkey Behaviors To Help You Fill Your Tag

May 9, 2022 | Tips & Tricks, Turkey Hunting | 0 comments

Springtime is when songbirds are singing, bees are buzzing, and love hangs over dew-soaked valleys like a wet blanket. Hunting turkeys during this time of year is all about adapting your hunting behavior to turkey behavior, more specifically their reproductive behavior. Male turkeys practically lose their minds as portrayed by their swollen heads and forest-piercing gobbles. This vocalistic spring symphony is what makes turkey hunting one of America’s favorite hunts. It’s an opportunity to both witness and engage in wild turkey behavior.

The 3 Daily Behavioral Phases of Spring Turkeys

Each day a turkey goes through an instinctual pattern of behavior. For this article, we’ll take you through this behavior starting at sun-up and ending at sun-down. Knowing a turkey’s behavioral patterns will help you know where to find them, how to call them, and eventually how to tag a big ‘ole tom.

Mornings

What Turkeys Do

A turkey’s day starts early, like really early. Even as the faintest light starts to emerge from its midnight cocoon, turkeys are up and taking roll call from the roost. Soft muffled yelps, purrs, and even gobbles become increasingly louder and more frequent as darkness turns to light. This turkey talk from the roost is a way of communicating with each other and other flocks within earshot. When it becomes light enough to see, the flock will fly down to the ground in pre-selected areas.

Turkeys will spend spring mornings in open areas for three main purposes; feeding, strutting, and for females to select mates. This will go on for a couple of hours with birds possibly visiting more than one site within close proximity, often referred to as strutting zones.

What You Should Do

More turkeys are killed during the first couple hours of daylight than any other time. This doesn’t mean it’s easy, but mornings are a time of day a hunter can use a lot of advantages they have.

Whether or not you know where birds are roosted, if you plan to hunt in the morning, get in there early, like really really early. Be where you want to hunt at least one hour before the first signs of light. This means complete darkness to hide your movements rather than risk being seen in gray light. If you don’t have roosted birds, get into an area in the dark and listen.

If you have roosted birds, get in as close as you feel comfortable. Keep in mind it’s easier to get a tom to come a few yards further to you when undetected than try to talk a bird back after bumping him. Where you set up can be determined in two ways. 1) If you’ve pre-scouted and know where birds fly down, then set up a few yards out of sight. 2) If unsure where they will fly down, determine your setup by taking inventory of topography, vegetation, open areas, and the general makeup of the habitat and structure. Your gut will tell you where to be, trust it.

With calling to roosted birds, less is more. Wait until they start calling and don’t be the first to strike up a conversation. As they increase in talking you can too, but still don’t overdo it. You’ll want to wait until birds hit the ground before joining the conversation as a full participant.

Don’t beat yourself up though if unsuccessful in the morning. Although many toms are killed in the morning it is difficult to draw a mature tom from a group of known hens to your location for a rendezvous with you, an unknown hen. Stick with it through the afternoon and even into the evening.

Midday

What Turkeys Do

As morning turns into early afternoon large mating groups will break up. How a turkey spends its afternoon kind of depends on who they are. Hens will head to areas with more cover for protection and to loaf and feed. Some jakes and even a tom or two might hang around these hen groups as well but more mature toms still have love on their minds.

With the excitement of breeding still coursing through their veins, many toms start cruising routes in their territory to find those few hens still interested in mating during the day. While cruising, these toms listen closely for hens to call so they can meet up in hopes of a midday mating session.

What You Should Do

As a turkey hunter, you need to hunt in the afternoon. Many mature toms end up tagged during the afternoon when hunters head for a lunch or nap break. By understanding toms are still cruising for the chance to breed a hen, you can take advantage of the situation. As a midday turkey hunter you need to be that hen he is looking for.

We like to do what coyote hunters call “making stands.” As you hunt in the afternoon, move around the landscape and call from the edges of open areas. Stay in your stand for a significant amount of time, maybe 30 minutes or more. Use your eyes as much as your ears hunting these afternoon birds; they can come in gobbling, or they may come in silent so always be ready. If nothing happens in one stand, move around the landscape, and repeat throughout the afternoon until you cross paths with a midday cruising tom.

Evenings

What Turkeys Do

Many turkey hunters overlook the evening as a good time to hunt turkeys. As shadows elongate and the sun approaches the western horizon, turkeys begin moving back in the direction of their roost, completing a daily loop. Although the most important thing to a tom this time of year is sex, he needs to take a timeout for some fuel to sustain that drive. In the evening turkeys will take time to load up on some calories before heading to bed. Birds will start to reappear in openings and along edges as they move increasingly closer to their roost site. We’ve found turkeys will be a little more vocal in the evening again but still subdued compared to the morning. Gobbles this time of day are even less common but not completely unheard of.

What You Should Do

If you were into turkeys in the morning, end your day not far from where you began because turkeys are making their way back. Hunt the openings and edges again nearer the roost then you did in the afternoon.

With calling, in the morning the goal was to bring a gobbler to you and away from his hens. During the evening use those same hens to bring the toms to you. Do this by using a hen’s territorial behavior to your advantage. Imitate a dominant hen and flock of hens with your calling. Doing this in the evening may bring in another dominant hen to investigate, and with her will come the rest of the flock and possibly a longbeard or two. This strategy works well in the evening particularly because of the need to feed before roosting. By imitating hens, another flock may believe they are missing out on some valuable resources at your location.

While not a common occurrence, you may elicit a gobble in the evening. If you do, be ready as you likely have a receptive, ready-to-breed tom headed your way for a pre-roost hook-up. Be certain though he’s on the ground and not already in the roost as some birds hit the roost well before dark. You don’t want to bump him off the roost because if he is in the roost, now you have a bird to hunt the following morning.

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