April 13, 2016
In the early days of my spring turkey hunting career, I used to think the best odds of success were always centered on the first hour or two of daylight.
After all, that's when I heard the most turkeys gobbling – on the roost and off – and saw the most birds moving around on the ground.
Problem was, I rarely harvested a bird in the early stages of the day thanks to the malady of the gobblers being henned up, surrounded by their lady friends who were quite literally ruling early morning turkey flock activities.
As a result – and living about an hour away from my North Texas turkey hunting ground – I was often packing up and hitting the road around mid-morning.
Just as the hunting was getting good.
But that was then and this is now when I'm a veteran turkey hunter with more than 20 years of experience under my belt.
And while I still get excited about standing in the early morning darkness as a hoot owl sounds off and causes a creek bottom to light up with gobbles, I'm even more excited as the morning matures and gets on up into the 9 o'clock hour.
Why? Because I know something now in my turkey hunting maturity I never knew in my youth and that is this: Mid-morning turkey hunting can sometimes provide the best action of the day.
Kenny Klug, a longtime Lone Star State turkey hunter who helped mentor me early on in my career, agrees.
"It can be pretty tough around sunrise," said Klug. "A lot of times, the gobblers wait for the hens to fly down and then they fly down straight to them."
Meaning a hunter has got to be fairly close to the landing-zone bull's eye where the gobblers will swoop down from a tree and begin their daily courtship of a hen to breed.
You know the drill: hens on the ground, mature gobblers dancing there with them in full strut while a whole lot of barnyard noise is taking place.
But with very little real movement happening and certainly not in the direction of your camouflaged form.
This isn't to say going at first light is a bad idea because I've proven otherwise, and so has Klug.
But what it is to say is that much like bowhunting whitetails in the fall, you don't have to play all of your cards on the very first hand.
Get there early while it is still plenty dark and before the birds fully wake up. Then go through the owl hooting routine and find out for sure where the birds are roosted.
Sneak in towards your chosen hunting spot at O' Dark Thirty – but not too close, mind you – and prepare to play the sunrise game again as you wait and see what happens.
Just remember that you can get too close to a roost in the dim light of dawn, spooking turkeys and ruining your hunting prospects for some time to come.
And you also can be too aggressive during the early morning action, especially since there are so many active hens around.
"(A gobbler) will often hang up at 50 yards (or more) because he has hens with him," said Klug.
"A lot of things you'll hear and read tell you to call and cut aggressively. I disagree.
"If you call aggressively (in that situation), you'll drive the hens away and they'll take the gobbler with them. He's not going to leave those hens."
What can a hunter do in such an early morning hunting scenario?
Exercise a little patience, that's what.
Because I can't tell you how many times over the years that I've had success on a boss tom on up in the morning.
And Klug was the one that taught me, helping me bag a big North Texas tom one fine April morning.
At 9 a.m. in the morning, no less.
So what can you do when you don't bag a gobbler first thing and he wanders off with hens?
The same thing we did that particular morning.
"Stay in touch with that gobbler because sooner or later, the hens will leave him for their nests around 8:30 or 9 a.m.," said Klug.
And when the hens leave big boy all by his lonesome, he won't be able to stand it. Meaning he'll soon be on the march again, looking for wild turkey love.
"Out of all of the turkeys I've taken, I'd bet as many as half have come in the 8 o'clock to 9 o'clock time period," said Klug.
Why is that?
Because the spring turkey hunting game is one about the annual wild turkey breeding cycle, not what time it happens to be on your wristwatch or smartphone.
So if at first you don't succeed on an early morning turkey hunt, then exercise a little bit of camouflaged patience and wait.
Because odds are, a little later in the morning, you'll suddenly hear a gobble from Daddy Longbeard shatter the stillness of a warm spring day.
As he searches for another winsome hen to dance with and breed.
A hen you'll be more than happy to imitate as his noisy gobbles light up the mid-morning hours with raucous desires.
All the while as you smile, thumb your shotgun off of safety and think that this mid-morning turkey hunting thing isn't such a bad idea after all.