Beat the Mid-May Turkey Blues
The middle part of May is upon us, and if you're yet to run carbon through a black butterball, frustration is starting to set it. Don't panic, though, and don't get lackluster with your turkey pursuits. Stay the course and change your tactics to score on a fourth-quarter tom.
What's Going On?
One of the best ways to boost success is to grasp what's going on in the turkey woods during this phase of the turkey rut:
- Many two-year-old birds have been shish-kabobbed by other bowhunters.
- Regardless of age, birds have likely been pressured by bowhunters and shotgun hunters.
- Two-year-old birds and other sub-dominate gobblers have been spurred and beaten with heavy wings.
It doesn't sound like the best news but stay with me. Here are three things you have working in your favor:
- Most hens leave the roost and head directly to their nests.
- Toms without hens are walking and gobbling, trying to find a girlfriend.
- Toms with hens are boss toms and will fight to protect them.
Now that we've covered the going's on in the turkey woods, let's tackle what you need to do to send a sharp stick through a big strutter.
When it comes to blind and decoy hunting, you need to know your area's current turkey structure. If you've been pounding the turkey woods, you know the turkey 411. You know if there's a lone tom that will tuck tail and run from a full-strut decoy and skirt a 1/4-strut jake imposter at 70 yards. You know if there is a small boy band of two-year-olds that have re-united and have a bully attitude. You know where boss toms are keeping their girls. Take what you know and apply it, and if you don't know, you need to, which will require some scouting time.
If you're trying to decoy in a single tom afraid of his own shadow, pull any boy decoys out of your set. Go with a laydown hen and a feeder hen. Another tactic to get a has-been-whooped-on bird killed is elk calling tactics. Have a buddy call from a distance and intercept the bird as he comes to investigate the calling. When doing this, go without a decoy, and don't be afraid to use the terrain and pinch points much like you would for whitetails to funnel his movement and kill him from a blind or a natural hide.
Take advantage if you're after a group of two-year-old toms that have united because they feel more assertive in numbers. One mid-May two-year-old is a sissy, but two or three of them start being bullies.
If you go with a blind set, I like a 1/4- or 3/4-strut jake set in breeding position over a laydown hen. If the birds have been pressured, you'll need to do something to your spread to give it a more realistic look. I like Dave Smith's Mating Motion Jake, which comes with a tug cord you can run to the blind, and I add some Wind Drifter hen decoys from Ultimate Predator Gear. These decoys will dance in the slightest breeze, and the movement is very realistic.
If you have a boss tom or two, pick a fight, especially if you can locate them, and they seem to be guarding a few hens that haven't let them climb on top of them yet. Attach a bow-mounted decoy — Ultimate Predator's Stalker Tom is my go-to — and go after them.
The process is simple:
- Stuff the fold-up decoy in your pack or vest.
- Find a strutter with hens.
- Attach the decoy to your bow via Velcro or sold-separately Spider Straps.
- Get within 150 yards of the tom and show him the decoy.
When using the bow-mounted decoy, be sure you're on private property and be certain there are no shotgun hunters in the woods. This decoy is very lifelike.
Before showing the decoy to the tom, position yourself behind a hill, creek bank, or vegetation. Doing so allows you to show bits and pieces of the decoy and not the whole thing. This tactic paints a picture of a tom that doesn't want to step out in the open but is trying to toy with hens from a distance.
Once the live tom sees the decoy, his reaction is typically immediate. A ready-to-work bird will start walking toward the decoy, and one that doesn't want to work will walk away. You don't need to call or do anything if the bird starts coming as long as he's walking toward you. Some birds will come on a string and even break into a run, and others will walk a bit, stop and strut, and then walk some more. If a bird hangs up, use your bow hand to manipulate the riser and create some movement. Encounters can be three or four yards when the bird is close and when they are fooled and fired up. Draw your bow back in one smooth motion and kill him.
Stop The Routine
Another tip for mid-May success is to stop you're calling routine. Too many turkey hunters get used to a purr, yelp, yelp, and cut pattern. Of course, this pattern is just one of many examples, but you get the idea — that hunters do the same calling sequence every time. Don't do this. I love single, soft yelps. Two-note yelps are also great, and sometimes, I will stay on my slate and do nothing but feed clucks and soft purrs. At this point, birds have had the kitchen sink thrown at them. Adjust your calling tactics and let the vocality of the birds in your area dictate how and when you call.
Take a deep breath, forget about the turkey butt-kicking you've received over the past few months, and get back after it. There's still time to fill that tag, and if you utilize some of the tips and tactics in this article, I believe you'll be successful.