Five 'Heartland Bowhunter' Tips for Last-Gasp Gobblers
In case you didn't know it, the end is near – for spring turkey hunters, that is.
Truth be told, in a number of states like Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Oklahoma and South Texas, the harsh reality is that the 2015 season has already come and gone.
In places like Georgia, North Texas, Montana and Ohio, to name a few, the annual campaign to affix a tag to Johnny Gobbler is down to its last few days as this is being written.
In a handful of other places like Kansas, Maine, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Idaho there's still a week or two left if an unfilled turkey tag is gathering dust in a hunter's back pocket.
So what's a gobbler-getter to do if the latter is true with the season still open but winding down as a hunter continues to carry around the primary ingredient to tag soup?
Simple – quit feeling sorry for yourself, ignore the weather forecast and get up and go turkey hunting says Outdoor Channel television personality Michael Hunsucker, one of the hosts of the very popular Heartland Bowhunter series.
"The last week (or two) of the season can be literally awesome," said Hunsucker, who loves to spring turkey hunt almost as much as he enjoys chasing giant Midwestern whitetails around each fall.
"In fact, the last week of the Missouri season a few days ago, both myself and my cameraman killed good birds with our bows."
Of course, there also is the other side to this game of springtime hunting madness too.
"Yeah, on the flip side we also had a couple of other hunts before that where we set up on birds, called to them and they went the other way," laughed Hunsucker.
Like many spring turkey hunters this year, Hunsucker describes the 2015 campaign, in his neck of the woods, at least, as a strange year given winter weather that held on forever during the early days of the season, not to mention rainy, gloomy weather that has held on as of late.
"Yeah, it's been a weird year for us," he said. "In most years, it seems like that later in the season, on up into the late morning hours, the hens will often move off from the gobblers and go to their nests. But this year, that hasn't been the case as much and we haven't found the late morning success that we typically enjoy (late in the season)."
(Photos courtesy of Heartland Bowhunter/Mike Hunsucker)
Even so, be willing to hunt on up into the late morning hours is still the first tip for last-gasp success that Hunsucker gives spring turkey hunters looking for a longbeard as the season's final bell rings.
"Birds that you do get to call to later in the morning, they just seem to be in the right mood more often than not," said Hunsucker. "And really, in my mind, that's what it all boils down to is finding a bird that is in the right mood. Because if you do, there's a pretty good chance you can call him in and you can kill him."
Which leads to a second key, using the right late season decoy set-up to help get a gobbler into the right mood to waltz on in to shotgun or bow range.
"It's a constant battle for us, which decoys to use (on a given day) and how to put them out," said Hunsucker.
While many turkey hunters who use the bow will opt for a ground blind like a Primos Double Bull, Hunsucker and his turkey hunting pals like to remain more out in the open so that they can "run-and-gun" birds that are actively gobbling.
"We don't use blinds a lot, but using a decoy helps us know where the bird will tend to be if he comes in," said Hunsucker.
"And if a gobbler comes in, he'll often come to a decoy really mad, strutting around, hitting the decoy with his wings and spurs, and generally being focused on the decoy. When he does that, it helps us come to full draw for a shot."
While a lot of hunters like to use a full-strut decoy these days, Hunsucker has another idea in mind.
"I've recently become a big proponent of the half-strut decoy. We like to use the Primos Gobbstopper, especially for what we do in filming shows where we're bowhunting turkeys," he said.
Why is that?
"Sometimes, birds that might otherwise commit can shy off from a big strutting decoy," said Hunsucker. "And a lot of times, we end up hunting the same birds throughout a season, so it helps to give them a different look (from what they have been seeing)."
A third tip that Hunsucker gives late season hunters is to produce movement of some sort in the turkey decoys.
"Movement is a huge key for us," he said. "We like to use the Primos Killer B decoy a lot and to raise and lower the tail fan or to use it on a motion stake with a string tied to it to help produce movement.
"We've had many birds that hang up, you give the decoy a little movement and that works wonders and brings the bird on in to shooting range."
(Photos courtesy of Heartland Bowhunter/Mike Hunsucker)
A fourth tip that Hunsucker offers up for late season gobbler success is to become a bit more aggressive with calling activities.
"This depends on the situation, of course, and you always need to base your calling on the behavior of the bird," he said. "But on our last hunt of the current season, we had to figure a way to call a big bird across a large creek and we had to really get aggressive on him."
Hunsucker indicated that early on in the encounter, he played his calling routine a bit more conservatively as the bird responded to his coy hen imitations. But a half-hour into the encounter, Hunsucker realized that while the bird was still gobbling and showing interest, he wasn't coming any closer either.
Why? Because of a small river that served as a natural barrier, along with the enticing presence of a real live hen that was keeping the love-sick gobbler close at hand.
"That's when I decided to get real aggressive, to call really hard and to try and make the hen mad," said Hunsucker. "I'd call, she'd call, I'd call, she'd call and finally she just left.
"When she did that, the gobbler came to the river, looked for a place to cross, came on over and we were able to kill him."
A fifth and final tip for late season success on a longbeard is to know a property well. Usually that means that a hunter will have their property well scouted, knowing where the birds like to roost, travel and feed.
Armed with such knowledge, a hunter is then able to slip in quietly the evening before a hunt and put a bird to bed as the sun sinks below the horizon.
"In Missouri, we can only hunt until 1:00 p.m., so the late afternoon is a prime time to get out, listen for birds flying up to roost and gobbling while noting their location for the following morning's hunt," said Hunsucker.
The next morning, Hunsucker likes to sneak in close to the spot where a bird is roosted, setting up a decoy quietly in the darkness so that a gobbler will hopefully fly down and see the fake almost immediately.
When the tom does that, the bird can typically be lured in a few more yards into bow range – or into shotgun range if that's a hunter's weapon choice – and it's checkmate, game over for Johnny Gobbler.
All the while, as a hunter exercises a mixture of persistence, skill and patience right up until the very end.
"I'm usually the worst when it comes to patience in turkey hunting," said Hunsucker. "But patience can really pay off, especially later in the season."
Because the truth is that last gasp or not, spring turkey hunting is almost always worth the effort even to the season's last drop.