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Regional Strut Update: Mid-April Turkey Activity Reports from the Field

The peak time for tagging a tom is approaching; our experts offer tips to help you to zero in on the action.

Regional Strut Update: Mid-April Turkey Activity Reports from the Field

With spring feeling more like spring across much of turkey country, gobbler activity is on the rise. (Shutterstock image)

This is the fourth installment of the Regional Strut Update, our weekly report on turkey activity and hunter success across the country (see last week's report). This week's report includes:

  • In the East, Doug Howlett says the weather is trending for the better at a good time as many states open their seasons.
  • In the South, Josh Honeycutt reports turkeys are acting as expected across the region—some are gobbling and strutting; others remain tight-lipped.
  • In the Midwest, Brandon Butler predicts turkey hunting in the region should catch fire this week, especially if results from recent youth hunts are any indication. 
  • In the West, Andrew McKean reports weather will be an important factor as seasons continue to open in the region; turkeys are still being seen in their winter flocks despite the mild spring.

EAST REPORT

Weather Change Brings Gobbling and Strutting
  • As spring weather moderates, it’s time to get back in action—whether hunting or scouting.

By Doug Howlett

What a difference a few days—and better weather—make. As the first regular seasons of the region opened in Delaware and Virginia last Saturday, the weather throughout the East couldn’t have made a pivot at a better time. Mild February and early March weather had promised to usher in an early spring with turkey hunters worried that things were going to happen early and gobblers wouldn’t be doing, well, gobbler things, by the time the season opened. (I’ve never really felt that was the case. The more likely scenario virtually everywhere is that toms are still typically henned up at the beginning of the season and not gobbling as much on the ground, simply because they don’t need to—they’re occupied.) That mild weather gave way to plummeting late-winter temps, rain, snow and for at least four days last week, consistently high winds. The turkeys that people had been seeing and hearing suddenly got scarce.

In Virginia, those high winds were still steady on Friday but abated overnight to a mild breeze. The table was set for an opener that was phenomenal for many hunters. My daughter, who just last year showed an interest in joining her dad and brother hunting, and I began the day with three gobblers hammering from the roost. We set up perfectly—or so I thought—a mere 100 yards from the closest one in the group under the cover of early morning darkness. I offered up a few soft tree calls and, as light emerged, a solid fly-down call. I hadn’t heard any hens, so I felt I was in the driver’s seat.

Oh, those silent hens! The toms flew down, gobbled a few times and began slowly working toward us until suddenly they headed for a field and angled away from us. It was a clear sign that a hen or hens were leading them away. We played cat and mouse with them the rest of the morning, even getting one just in range of my 12-gauge Winchester Long Beard XR loads but not close enough for Zenna to take her first shot with a lighter 20 gauge. Time ran out on us and we left the turkeys loafing in the middle of the field. My inbox and phone, however, were flooded with pics from friends sharing photos of success.

The next morning, Zenna’s brother Cade and I heard no fewer than 12 gobblers in every direction. Again, we got close but couldn’t seal the deal thanks to hens. On Monday, with both kids out of school, we went in as a team and this time finally scored when I called in seven swinging beards to 35 yards. Zenna couldn’t get lined up on one, but Cade downed a nice tom. I had an open shot at one as well but never picked my gun up; I was more interested in watching the kids.

In West Virginia, fellow outdoor writer and avid turkey man Larry Case reports that scouting hunters were hearing some gobbling and spotting strutters in fields just prior to the season opening. However, on opening day (Monday) he didn’t hear a peep.

Farther north across Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Connecticut and Maine, word is sightings were scarce during the nasty stretch of cold and wind, but with the sudden change last week, gobbling and strutting have exploded across the region. Hunters in some of these states with youth seasons open, such as Connecticut, are finding ready birds for young hunters. Overall, prospects look fair to excellent across many of the Eastern states yet to begin their regular seasons, so hunters should be ready to rock ‘n’ roll. If you’re not hunting yet, it’s a great time to double-check the pattern on your gun, get your camo together and maybe even start practicing with your calls a little. Calling, believe it or not, is a perishable skill.

TAGGED OUT

turkey hunting success
Chris Barham killed this big Virginia gobbler on April 14, but his hunt was special for other reasons.. (Photo courtesy of Chris Barham)
A Emotional Hunt in Virginia
  • Hunter: Chris Barham
  • Date: April 14
  • Location: Virginia
  • Method: Shotgun
  • Stats: 10 1/2-inch beard; 1 1/16-inch spurs

It was an emotional start to the 2024 hunting season for Virginia’s Chris Barham, who lost his father, Tommy Barham, a great friend of mine and former Primos pro staffer, last September after complications from a heart attack. Chris couldn’t make it out on opening day due to work but went out the next morning before church. It was his first hunt for spring turkeys since he had joined his dad on a hunt at the end of last season.



The unexpected loss left a hole in many of the lives touched by Tommy, but in his last spring of hunting turkeys, Tommy had also suffered a loss that left him distraught. He had dropped his favorite box call somewhere in the woods while turkey hunting. It was a special inscribed box call that had been given to him as a gift from a good friend.

Let’s just say spirituality and divine providence take on many forms. Chris, entering the woods with memories of his father and the times they had shared very much on his mind, started the morning with a short prayer. He then wrestled with which birds to go after because he heard multiple gobbles. One bird was gobbling almost nonstop. Chris decided that was the one to set up on.

"He must be alone," Chris reasoned. As he scrambled to get in position, he was cutting through a thick stretch of forest when his eyes spotted a plastic call case lying on the ground.

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Chris thought it must've come from a trespasser since he knew no one else was supposed to be hunting there. He set up on the chatty gobbler and, with a few calls of his own and a little patience, was soon able to squeeze the trigger on the bird as it worked its way through the trees. Sitting there feeling thankful for the blessings of the morning, Chris pulled the case he had found from his pocket to take a closer look at it. When he opened it, there was the call his dad had lost the previous season.

“I cried for 10 minutes,” Chris said. “What are the odds of me just walking up on that call in the middle of the woods, not even along a trail or anything?”

It was as if his father had guided him to it using the gobbling turkey. The feeling of the moment wasn’t lost on Chris.

“It was like he was … right here with me all along.”

The bird had a nice beard and spurs, but the success of this day cannot be measured in numbers. For Chris, it is determined by the strength of the bond he still shares with his late father. Even after his passing, Tommy Barham is still making turkey-hunting memories for those he loved.

VIDEO

Minnesota Double Down: First Visit to New Farm Goes Perfectly

  • Game & Fish turkey fanatic Thomas Allen invited long-time friend and Wisconsin native Travis on his first out-of-state hunt. The morning started out with some song-dog drama, but after a quick adjustment, things happened fast.

SOUTH REPORT

You Should Be in the Wood this Weekend
  • Birds are reliably gobbling and strutting throughout the South.

By Josh Honeycutt

As expected in mid-April, turkeys in Southern states are gobbling, strutting and doing all the things we hunters love. Of course, the action is better in certain locations, and folks intent on bagging a gobbler should determine where the birds have been most active lately to make a plan for the coming days.

Bart Shirley with X3 Land Group reports that in Louisiana, turkeys have been difficult to hunt during the past week, but he remains optimistic. “They [have been] very quiet,” he says. “I saw three hens, so hopefully the action will pick up with this warm weather.”

Hayden Outdoors’ Heath Thompson has been looking for toms in Georgia and South Carolina. He says last week’s storms and high winds shut down the action. On Saturday, Sunday and Monday, he hunted about an hour north of Savannah and didn’t hear any gobbling on either side of the Savannah River, the Georgia-South Carolina line. He notes that the temperatures dropped after the storms passed, which might have caused the suppressed gobbling. Like Shirley, Thompson believes that rising temperatures—expected the second half of the week—will increase bird activity.

Realtree United Country’s Slade Priest has been after Mississippi turkeys recently and says the birds there are still very killable. Most longbeards are henned up, but they are gobbling pretty good on the limb and right after flying down. However, once the hens reach the toms, the turkeys go silent quickly. Fortunately, as toms lose their hens around midday and early afternoon, many become good targets.

Ron Jolly of Turkeys for Tomorrow sends intel from east-central Alabama and says there is total flock dispersal in the area.

“There’s some gobbling on the roost and shortly after fly down, and I think toms are adjusting to the new norm,” he explains. “Everything has changed. The hens are laying and some are or soon will be incubating. Gobbling should increase as toms lose touch with hens focused on nesting.”

Nate Hosie of HeadHunters TV was recently in North Carolina. He reports the longbeards there gobbled well, and both he and his friend Hunter Wallis bagged turkeys. Hosie then headed to Tennessee, where he called up a bird for his friend Jason Nickerson on the first day of the trip.

“Turkeys are gobbling decent, but I think they are a little behind here in Tennessee,” he says.

For the most part, turkeys across the South are acting as expected this time of year. Some are gobbling and strutting well while others remain tight-lipped. The former actions tend to occur on good weather days and the latter behavior coincides with poor conditions. There’s no reason to get discouraged. Just keep going after them. The weekend ahead should prove to be a positive time in the turkey woods.

TAGGED OUT

hunter with tagged turkey
HeadHunters TV host Nate Hosie tagged this 19-pound North Carolina turkey on April 13. (Photo courtesy of Nate Hosie)
TV Host Tags a North Carolina Gobbler
  • Hunter: Nate Hosie
  • Date: April 13
  • Location: North Carolina
  • Method: Shotgun
  • Stats: 11-inch beard; 1 1/8-inch spurs; 19 pounds

Nate Hosie, host of HeadHunters TV, travels the country in search of wild game. On a recent trip to North Carolina, he tagged a big bird while hunting with his friend Hunter Wallis, and both enjoyed a lot of action.

“The turkeys worked great,” Hosie said, adding that the birds gobbled, strutted, spitted-and-drummed and did just about everything else a hunter could hope for. Ultimately, the pursuit ended with a 19-pound longbeard for Hosie.

GOBBLER GEAR

8 Best Turkey Shotshell Loads for 2024
turkey hunting theme
Winchester's Long Beard XR is a proven gobbler-getter at extended ranges. (Photo courtesy of Winchester)

Shotshell loads for turkey hunting have seen major upgrades in recent years. In the modern era of turkey loads, all kinds of gobbler-thumping ability can be packed into a 3-inch load, especially if it’s got the word tungsten on the box. Here are eight loads, including Winchester Long Beard XR, that can help you bring home the turkey bacon in 2024.—Lynn Burkhead

Click to read "8 Best Turkey Shotshell Loads for 2024"

MIDWEST REPORT

There Are Good Reasons to Get 'Pumped Up'
  • Plenty of birds and more season openings bode well for eager turkey hunters.

By Brandon Butler

A magical time continues for turkey hunters In Kansas, the Land of Oz. In the Southeast corner of the state, Jim Zaleski, executive director for the City of Parsons and Labette County Economic Development and Tourism, reports archery hunters got the first crack at this year’s flock and many have experienced success.

“The season here kicks off with an archery-only portion, and I’ve talked to quite a few out-of-staters who came to take advantage of the early season. A number of them bagged gobblers, and all have reported seeing plenty of birds. It seems the guys coming to bowhunt for turkeys from Missouri and other nearby states are really good at it, and we appreciate the economic impact they have in our county,” Zaleski says.

The regular season in Kansas, one of the longest in the Midwest, runs from April 17 through May 31. If you haven’t hunted Kansas yet, this state needs to be on your radar in the future.

John Wallace, the man behind the online hunting, fishing and outdoor-cooking platform Wild Game Cook, relocated his family to Ohio after years of living in Missouri. He recently brought his three children back to the Show-Me State for youth season, and all of them scored. Now back home in Ohio, the Wallace family is preparing for the Buckeye State opener.

“I’m pumped up,” Wallace says. “After a Missouri youth season like the one we had, I can’t wait to get after the gobblers here in Ohio. I’ve been scouting quite a bit and have a few birds located. By the looks of things here in the central part of the state, I think we are going to have a successful season.”

Spring turkey season runs from April 20 through May 26 in Ohio, where hunters took 15,673 bearded turkeys last spring. The limit is one bearded bird. Biologists predict gobbling to peak toward the end of April.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, Capt. Pat Kalmerton of Wolfpack Adventures is fired up and ready for regular turkey season to open on April 17.

“Youth season was awesome,” he reports. “I know of a lot of kids who knocked down beautiful birds over the weekend [April 13 and 14], but now it’s time for us big kids to play. I’ve got a lot of clients coming to my area in southwest Wisconsin, and I’m telling them this year looks like it’s going to be special. We have a lot of birds, and the bigger flocks are breaking up right now as the boss gobblers are running off the competition. This is leaving a lot of subordinate gobblers on the hunt for hens.”

Kalmerton recommends taking advantage of the midday hours, because it’s taking a while each morning for the flocks to break up. Once the gobblers lose their hens, they are roaming in search of more. Staying in the woods a little longer increases your chances of tagging a gobbler.

In the farther reaches of the Midwest region, North Dakota’s turkey season is finally underway. It opened April 13 and runs until May 19. Although wild turkeys are not native to North Dakota, hunters in the Peace Garden State now have two subspecies to target, the Eastern and the Merriam’s. Gobbler populations are condensed into areas with suitable habitat, much of it in riparian areas. The stretch along the Missouri River north of Bismarck is widely considered a top turkey destination. By the way, spring turkey hunting is reserved for state residents in North Dakota. Indian reservations—where tribes set the rules and welcome traveling turkey chasers—are the only exception.

TAGGED OUT

gaf-auratrapper
Aura and Trapper Hoffman each bagged a gobbler on the same morning while hunting with their father. (Photo courtesy of Tim Hoffman)
A Dynamic Duo in Wisconsin
  • Hunters: Aura and Trapper Hoffman
  • Date: April 13
  • Location: Iowa County, Wisconsin
  • Method: Shotgun
  • Stats: 11 1/2” and 10 1/2” beards; 1 1/8” spurs; 22 1/2 and 25 1/4 pounds

Wisconsin’s youth season was extra special for the Hoffman family. Trapper and Aura, a dynamic brother-and-sister hunting duo, tagged adult gobblers with their father, Tim Hoffman, in Iowa County on April 13. The southwestern portion of the Badger State is known as a top-notch turkey-hunting region, and this pair of youngsters proved it lives up to the reputation.

“This is what youth seasons are all about,” said Wolfpack Adventures’ Capt. Pat Kalmerton, a longtime outdoor-brand ambassador. “I know how excited Tim was about his kids’ success, but nothing compares to the smiles on their faces. They are going to remember the morning they doubled up on a couple of longbeards for the rest of their lives.”

WEST REPORT

Post-Tax-Day Tips for Tagging a Western Gobbler
  • The first week of the season in much of the West has been characterized by flocked-up longbeards and eager jakes.

By Andrew McKean

With the exceptions of youth seasons and a few early general-season openers, most Western states just kicked off their spring turkey seasons on Tax Day, April 15. So instead of looking back at the past several days, we’re going to look ahead to what most of us can expect by the end of this week, as we start to hit the field and get fresh reminders why we hate to love turkey hunting. Or is it that we love to hate turkey hunting?

Whichever is the case for you, weather will be the biggest wild card, say sources across the region. The common denominator appears to be turkeys that are still generally in their winter flocks despite an earlier-than-normal spring.

“We didn’t have nearly the late March and early April snow events this year that defined last year,” says Joe Sandrini, a Wyoming Game and Fish biologist out of Sundance, in the state's extreme northeastern corner. “But nights are still chilly, and we have had only a few warm and mild days, so turkeys haven’t really moved out of larger river and stream valleys into the public land. Give it a week or 10 days after our [April 20] opener and I’d expect to see a lot more turkeys available to hunters.”

Gobblers will still sound off and may try to break out of the larger flocks to respond to calls, say sources, but we’re still in the “henned-up” portion of the season. Expect to encounter possessive hens that quickly steer toms away from the sound of a rival hen.

“It’s my least-favorite part of the season,” admits longtime California hunter Toby Steen. “All the responses from gobblers make you sure they’re going to come in, but just when you’re sure it’s going to happen, you see and hear the hens say, ‘Oh, no you don’t.’ Hens have probably saved more early season gobblers than anything.”

You can try calling in hens, responding to every yelp and cutt they make in the hopes that a gobbler will come in with them, but it’s not a consistent strategy. If gobblers suddenly go silent and get led away by hens, you can also back out of your setup, make a big loop and try to intercept the flock. That’s a strategy that puts emphasis not on calling, but instead on moving carefully and deftly to ambush an oblivious tom.

But there are some regions in the West where warm, sunny weather has accelerated the arrival of what I’ll call gobbler-vulnerability season. This is when hens break from flocks to incubate their eggs, leaving gobblers alone to respond to hunters’ calls. One of those hot spots is southern Oregon.

“We’re definitely earlier than normal,” says Jody Smith at Jody Smith Guide Service in Elkton, Ore., on the banks of the Umpqua River. “I’ve been seeing hens on their nests for a week now, and we had a lot of gobbling and strutting starting the second week of March.

“We had a very good hatch last year, and bird numbers are very high,” he reports. “Unfortunately, in our area turkeys migrate to river-bottom fields, which are private property, by mid-season and access is not easy. But with as many hens sitting on nests, do not discount noon to 3 p.m. as a very good time to call in a mature tom.”

Watch the forecast and plan a trip after a stretch of three or four balmy April days and warmer nights, suggest sources. Last year’s wet and generally later spring created good cover that boosted poult survival. Last year’s poults are this season’s jakes, and combined with a good number of 2-year-old birds and a higher-than-normal amount of 3-year-olds, the region’s turkey populations have managers expecting that gobbling will intensify as the weather warms.

“I think we’re set up for a good season, with lots of birds in various age classes,” says Mikal Cline, upland bird manager for Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Good weather not only makes gobblers more active, but also allows for better hunter access to public land.”

TAGGED OUT

turkey hunter
Chrissy Franchini hefts her massive and hard-won California turkey. (Photo courtesy of Chrissy Franchini)
California Public-Land Ambush
  • Hunter: Chrissy Franchini
  • Date: April 7
  • Location: Yuba County, California
  • Method: Shotgun
  • Stats: 10 1/2-inch beard; 1-1/4-inch spurs; 22 pounds

Chrissy Franchini knew where this gobbler roosted, but for two straight mornings he flew down in the opposite direction and stayed flocked up with hens. On the second morning, the California public-land hunter moved to where she thought the flock had headed.

“I didn’t see or hear anything there, so I decided to pack up around 2 p.m.,” she said. “The second I got up to grab the decoys he was standing maybe 100 to 150 yards away, staring at me. He walked into thick trees, and I ended up cutting him off and closing the gap to about 40 yards. I shot him with my Franchi 12 gauge. He ended up weighing 22 pounds and sported the longest spurs of any bird I’ve shot.”

WHEN TO HUNT TURKEYS THIS SPRING

Game & Fish Best Hunt Times
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