Yamaha Outdoors Tips — Early Birds

Photo by Bob Humphrey

Photo by Bob Humphrey

By Bob Humphrey

There’s an old saying that the early bird catches the worm.  But who catches the early bird?  The answer is: the hunter best prepared to deal with early-season turkeys.  Here are a few tips on how to bring a bird to the bag right off the bat. 


As winter gradually yields to spring, winter turkey flocks are breaking up.  Males separate from females, and for a brief time, will form smaller aggregations of longbeards and jakes.  They’re still sorting out dominance and there’s a lot of pushing and shoving.  The gobblers are ready to breed; but the hens are largely indifferent to their advances.

In order to get the attention of these very early season birds you may have to call loudly and frequently.  Loud, aggressive hen calling is one option as the randy males may jump on anything that sounds like an opportunity.  Like rutting bucks, spring gobblers are hopped up on testosterone and ready to breed.  But they’re also aching for a fight.  Gobbler calls, particularly fighting purrs, might just do the trick.

If you get a response you’ll want to be ready.  A fired up early-season gobbler is likely to come fast, and more often than not he won’t be alone.  This is a great time to tag multiple birds, or hunt with a partner so you can double up.

Once the hens start showing interest, the strategy changes a little.  Gobblers are less interested in fighting and more interested in members of the opposite sex.  But as soon as the hens start showing interest, the gobblers get tough to call.  The hens go to them and they’re reluctant to leave a sure thing for a perceived bird in the bush.  You may pull a subordinate satellite tom away, but you won’t get the boss without some more strategizing. 

To get the tom, forget the tom.  Call to his hens.  They’re the ones who rule the roost now.  If you can get a jealous hen fired up she’ll likely do one of two things.  Either she’ll pull her man away from you, or come over to kick your butt.  If it’s the latter, you’re back in business.  Like my old pal Steve Hickoff, I’ll try to mimic whatever the hen does.  If she clucks, I cluck.  If she cutts, I cutt, matching her note for note. 

Through all of this, bear in mind that you’re not after a trophy bird right now - though you may get lucky.  Early in the season you’re much more likely to call in one (or more) of those naive two-year-olds -- the ones that make you feel like a turkey hunter.  Don’t look a gift gobbler in the beak.  Take the first good shot you get.  You’ll have plenty of time later on to mess with the boss bird.  And with a bird in the freezer the pressure’s off.