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Regional Strut Update: Early-May Reports on Turkey Hunting Near You

The latest info on turkey activity to help you tag a tom in the East, South, Midwest and West.

Regional Strut Update: Early-May Reports on Turkey Hunting Near You

Where is the best turkey hunting in the country? Find out in this week's Regional Strut Update. (Shutterstock image)

This is the sixth 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 with nearly all seasons open and favorable weather forecasts, the coming week looks prime to tag a longbeard. As hens leave to nest, mid-morning calling can draw in desirous toms.
  • In the South, Josh Honeycutt reports there’s been a decrease in gobbler activity, though some strutting has continued. With some patience, there’s plenty of good hunting opportunities. Perhaps now is the time for a calling change-up, too.
  • In the Midwest, Brandon Butler says the region is in the middle of "turkey mania," with breeding activity at a fever pitch and plenty of gobblers tagged. Move and adjust to find responsive toms.
  • In the West, Andrew McKean says hunters should keep at it if they get shut out in the morning. There should be another chance at midday. "Ambushing a longbeard" could be the best tactic for the next week or two, he adds.
Tennessee hunters Vincent Lenning and TJ Diffenderfer had the rare experience of doubling on two banded turkeys on the same hunt. (Read more in the South "Tagged Out" feature below).


All Seasons Open this Weekend; Gobbler Action Heating Up
  • With warmer weather and hunters in the woods in every state, the coming week should see lots of turkeys fall across the region.

By Doug Howlett

Every season is open across the region now with the exception of Pennsylvania, which opens Saturday and runs through May 31. Meanwhile, Virginia is already into the second part of its season, during which all-day hunting is permitted. Maine, which enjoys the latest open season of any state in region with a June 1 final day, and Massachusetts opened Monday. Meanwhile New Hampshire, New York and Vermont hunters all got in the game on Wednesday.

Word throughout the East is that the birds are gobbling, and while many are still henned-up upon fly down, some lucky hunters are striking fast right after first light. Patient hunters are catching eager toms ready to come to the call during midmorning as the hens leave them to nest.

Mason Kemp in Delaware has had a frustrating start to the season. “The struggle is real,” he says. Like other hunters, he’s experienced lots of gobbling on the roost with fewer gobbles once the birds hit the ground, as well as lots of encounters with hens and jake. The big boys should break free of the hens more this coming week as more of them are being seen on their own later in the day.

Kemp enjoyed once such encounter, calling a “rope dragger” from more than 200 yards away across the property line and to within 35 yards … only to have his phone go off and vibrate so loud against another phone he carries for work that the gobbler heard the sound and slipped away before he could get a clear shot. Ironically, it was his buddy texting him to aks if he had killed anything yet! It’s a lesson learned and one Kemp wanted to share with other hunters.

“While phones may help pass the time in the woods and help with being patient, they can also blow close encounters. Learn from my mistake,” he says. Unless it's absolutely critical, turn off ringers and alerts that can cause any noise. And if your phone’s on vibrate, at least make sure there is nothing in the pocket with it that it can vibrate against.

Across New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, hunters are seeing strutters in fields (along with droves of mingling hens) as spring is coming on strong. Next week’s overall projected warmer daytime temps should kick the gobbling action into overdrive. In the southern part of the region, including Maryland and West Virginia, look for longbeards to increasingly be on their own. Get one to gobble midmorning or early in the afternoon, and odds are good you will kill it. As temps in some states cross into the 80s later in the week, use binos to scan the shadows along field edges as strutters move to the cover of shade to stay visible to hens but out of the direct, hot sunlight.

Vermont’s Michael Wheeler says flocks are still fairly large, but he anticipates they will start breaking up some over the next week. Turkeys are strutting everywhere, including one he has on video strutting in the middle of a country highway.

“I’m finally seeing birds moving up into the mountains from the river bottoms and farmland here in Vermont, so they’re starting to cover some ground and spread out,” Wheeler says.

Farther North in Maine, hunting guide John LeMarca, says the warm weather after last week’s last gasp of winter cold has birds out strutting in open fields as well. Expect it to only pick up in the coming week, he says.

“I saw multiple strutters in fields; only one of my spots didn’t have visible turkeys this morning,” he says of last Saturday’s scouting session. “I think they were so stir-crazy from all the weather, and now that it’s nice, they’re making up for lost time. It should make for a good season!”



youth hunter
Nine-year-old Brantley Parah tagged his first gobbler during Vermont's youth hunt April 27. (Photo courtesy of Michael Wheeler)
Vermont Youth Tags First Tom
  • Hunter: Brantley Parah
  • Date: April 27
  • Location: Vermont
  • Method: Shotgun
  • Stats: 9-inch beard; 5/8-inch spurs; 19 pounds

Nine-year-old Brantley Parah, stepson of Vermont hunter and Strut Update intel provider Michael Wheeler, scouted a farm they got permission to hunt the night before last weekend’s youth hunt and roosted three birds right at dark. The young hunter, along with his stepdad and uncle, set up in a fresh timber cut last Saturday close to where they saw the birds fly up the evening before. At sunrise, the three birds—a tom and two jakes—flew down and started gobbling, even coming in close to Brantley. But he wasn’t comfortable with the shot, and when he tried to reposition himself the turkeys got uneasy and began to walk away.

Brantley’s Uncle Jake hit his slate call 5 minutes later and the tom came running back up the valley, splitting away from the jakes and running to within 20 yards of the young hunter, gobbling and fanned out. This time, Brantley took the shot, dropping the gobbler right in his tracks. It marked his very first bird, and the hunt lasted all of 45 minutes.


Incredible Video & Audio: He Punches his Minnesota Tag In the Snow

  • It's not often we get to hunt turkeys in the snow, but when winter won't let go, you gotta be out there anyways. Thomas Allen takes his son and a buddy out for a rare opportunity, and the audio on this fine morning was second to none. A perfect hunt on four camera angles.


Gobbling Wanes But Strutting Continues Across the South
  • Good hunting opportunities remain despite the slowdown.

By Josh Honeycutt

This week’s South update brings news of decreased bird activity across the region. It’s likely a product of weather and turkeys that seem to be a few days ahead of the typical breeding-cycle schedule.

Legends of the Outdoors host Phillip Vanderpool has been hunting all over the country and weighed in with impressions of his latest outing.

“In Arkansas, it seems like the turkeys are quite a bit further ahead than normal, but my wife Rhonda shot a great one there,” he says. “I think most of the hens are either laying or sitting, but there are a few that haven’t bred yet.”

Down in southern Georgia, Heath Thompson with Hayden Outdoors hasn’t been seeing much action.

“Birds are not gobbling much on the roost,” he says. “I’m hunting in the early mornings, but there isn’t much gobbling on the ground. It’s almost like a lull. There have been 10 days like this. Last week’s storm—where strong winds were followed by colder weather—might be the problem.”

Josh Raley, with the How to Hunt Deer podcast, hunted in South Carolina last week and saw some potential.

“Birds were hot on the roost, but with hens immediately,” he says. “We managed to get a few going midday, only to get cutoff by hens again. Seems like it’s the year of the hen.”

HuntStand’s Will Cooper is in Texas, and he’s still finding some gobbling in the North Zone.

“The season recently closed in the South Zone, but some gobblers that broke off are still searching for hens,” he says. “I’ve been a part of five successful hunts the past few weeks, and I’m hoping to get one more bird here in central Texas before the season closes on Mother’s Day weekend.”

Overall, most hunters concur that this doesn’t seem like a normal year for turkeys in the South. It seems most birds are farther along in their breeding cycle than expected, requiring specialized tactics tailored to the situation.

“Guys need to have patience and give the turkeys a little time to know where you are,” Vanderpool says. “Things are greening up, so look for your greens and water sources. I’ve also learned that even if turkeys weren’t somewhere before, they still might start to show up.” Consider checking any places that look right even if you haven’t heard or seen signs yet.

“I’ve been pretty aggressive on the calling, and it seemed to really work,” Vanderpool adds. “Don’t be afraid to do some calling, but the main thing is having patience. Unless you’re just running and gunning all over the place, I highly suggest hanging tight. Things will happen.”

Vanderpool also suggests trying a different call when the one you’ve been using for a while isn’t working.

“Try a box call, slate or a glass call. It’s like fishing, you don’t just settle on one lure or, in this case, one call. Get loud, be aggressive and sit there. When the gobblers respond and start to come, tone down your calling and let them look for you,” he says.


Turkey hunter
Tennesseee hunter Jarred Shelton's first turkey weighed 22 pounds and sported an 11 1/2-inch beard. (Photo courtesy of Jarred Shelton)
Giant First Turkey
  • Hunter: Jarred Shelton
  • Date: April 19
  • Location: Tennessee
  • Method: Shotgun
  • Stats: 11 1/2-inch beard; 1 1/4-inch spurs; 22 pounds

Jarred Shelton isn’t new to hunting, but this spring he bagged his first turkey. Given the spur length of the great Tennessee longbeard, it’s likely a 3- or 4-year-old bird. It’s no small feat to kill a turkey in that age class.


turkey hunters
Tennessee hunters Vincent Lenning and TJ Diffenderfer scored a rare double on April 28; these big gobblers had been banded as jakes in 2023 by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. (Photo courtesy of TJ Diffenderfer).
Epic Tennessee Double
  • Hunters: Vincent Lenning and TJ Diffenderfer
  • Date: April 28
  • Location: Tennessee
  • Method: Shotgun
  • Stats (both birds): 9 1/2-inch beards; 1-inch spurs; 20 pounds

Hunters Vincent Lenning and TJ Diffenderfer recently experienced the turkey hunt of their lives: They doubled on two banded turkeys. Incredibly, the turkeys were miles from where they were banded more than a year prior.

“My father-in-law, Vincent Lenning, and I were able to call in four longbeards,” Lenning says. “After working them for a couple hours, we got all four to commit [and shot two of them]. While we were celebrating, we noticed they were banded. To top it off, the band numbers were in numerical order. TWRA sent us certificates that said they were banded as jakes in Trousdale County in February of 2023. We harvested these birds in Wilson County, and the closest point in Trousdale County from where we harvested them is 1.4 miles. They flew the Cumberland River and somehow ended up in our laps a year later.”


10 Decoy Options for Spring Turkey Hunting
turkey decoys
The best turkey decoys on the market sport realistic detail, like like this Avian-X LCD Breeder Hen decoy, one of 10 new decoys featured in this article. (Photo courtesy of Avian-X)

If a turkey decoy is indispensable on your hunting-gear checklist, here are some great options to consider before heading into the woods this spring.—Lynn Burkhead

Click to read "10 Decoy Options for Spring Turkey Hunting"


Spring Breeding Fully Underway; Move and Adapt to Find Responsive Birds
  • Field reports indicate breeding activity is at a fever pitch. Hunters may need to move and adjust their game plan to find gobblers that will actively work to them.

By Brandon Butler

We’re in the middle of Midwestern turkey mania. While many birds have been tagged, there may still be almost as many gobblers in your woodlot as there were a couple of weeks ago. However, those birds still left are busy covering a lot of ground in search of receptive hens. This time of the season you need to have a backup plan, and you must be ready to employ it.

“You need to be mobile now,” says Iowa hunter Shawn Jenkins. “If you had a bird figured out, but now he doesn’t seem to be there, then there is a good chance he’s not. He could have moved off in search of hens elsewhere, or another lucky hunter may have wrapped their tag on him already.”

Where Jenkins hunts in central Iowa, there is a ton of open farm ground with sporadic wood lots. Not many of them are bigger than 20 acres.

“We’re hitting multiple spots per day,” Jenkins says. “We try not to waste time where there might not be a bird. Even if we saw or heard him there recently, we know the game is changing daily, so we keep moving until we strike a bird we know we can work. I think being willing to move this time of year is very important.”

The season is now open in the Black Hills of South Dakota, arguably the most scenic of all Midwest turkey hunting destinations. Birds are abundant in the Hills, but hunters often must work for them miles from the nearest road. The easy birds are killed quickly, leaving a hike for those determined to tag out.

“What I’m seeing birds doing right now in the Hills is pitching off the roost into open spaces in large groups,” says Nathaniel Maddux, a regular Black Hills hunter. “The gobblers are still coming down with a lot of hens. It’s hard to pull them away early. Pretty quickly though, the flocks begin to disperse and head into the forest. That’s where I want to be waiting to see if I can call a tom to me after the hens have left him.”

In the Land of Lincoln, everything has gotten green quick in the woods, and the recent rains have flooded out many river bottom areas. This has left both turkeys and hunters heading to higher ground.

“My go-to spots are underwater right now,” says Illinois outdoor writer and hunter Jeff Lampe. “I’ve had to retreat to higher ground. The good news is, so have the birds. I’m still seeing a lot of birds in the agriculture fields without cover crops. Those planted in rye or other grasses, are so tall now, they’re too thick to hunt. You may not have any activity close to you. The bare picked corn and bean fields that haven’t been plowed are where I’m seeing the largest groups of birds.”

Afternoon hunting isn’t the same as listening to gobblers on the roost, but it sure can be productive. Out in Nebraska, hunters have the ability to glass for turkeys in most locations. Gobblers are on the move later in the day, so if you find a high vantage point to sit and watch large swaths of land, you might be able to spot a bird in the distance. Then you can maneuver close to it before beginning to call, much like you would do elk hunting.

“Later in the day a bird could start gobbling just about anywhere at any time, so you need to be able to move to that bird,” says Justin O’Riley, a longtime outdoor industry veteran who hunts the Cornhusker State each year. “I’ve killed a number of gobblers moving between different blocks of timber over the years, and right now is the time to be looking for them to do this. I think the best advice right now is to just be out there. You never know when you may spot one you can put the sneak and call on.”


Turkey hunters
Indiana hunter David Ray killed this 23.5-pound gobbler on a hunt with his 85-year-old father. (Photo courtesy of David Ray)
Father-Son Duo Bag Beautiful Hoosier State Tom
  • Hunters: David Ray
  • Date: April 25
  • Location: Jackson County, Indiana
  • Method: Shotgun
  • Stats: 10-inch beard; 1 1/4-inch spurs; 23.5 pounds

Hunting with your father is always a blessing. However, hunting with him when he is 85 years old, still in great health and helping you while you are on crutches is simply amazing. The Rays are a special family, with a special piece of property—400 acres of forested land in southern Indiana. They’ve cultivated a family belief that the true trophy of the hunt is sharing the experience with people you care about.

“I hunt with my 85-year-old dad as often as I can, but this was the first year I’ve ever hunted on crutches,” says David Ray, a lifelong hunter and conservationist who manages the property for wildlife. “Due to a forestry accident, I am temporarily mobility impaired, but it wasn’t about to keep me out of the turkey woods.”

On Indiana’s opener, David was able to get to his blind with the help of his dad and their UTV. That day, they called a tom and a hen in to 50 yards. However, when the birds saw the decoys, they paused. The hen went into the woods and the tom followed. The next day, the duo called in two toms.

“They strutted and gobbled at 60 yards for over half an hour,” David says. “They would double-gobble at every purr, cluck or yelp. My dad has poor vision and needs them in close to shoot. Since they wouldn't come into the decoys so my dad and I could double, I just ended up shooting a tom.”

It was the first bird David ever shot while sitting beside his dad (he says they didn’t have youth seasons in the 1970s). It was also David’s largest bird ever.


Go East at Dawn; Get After Them During Midday
  • Restrained roost calling, mid-afternoon ambushes are best for early May longbeards.

By Andrew McKean

I have two first-person experiences from last weekend in eastern Montana that can help inform your own success in this first week of May anywhere throughout the West’s turkey country. The first is that overcalling is a recipe for disappointment. The second is that if you strike out at first light, keep at it. You’ll probably get a second chance at mid-day.

Let’s look at that roost action first.

There’s no substitute for knowing precisely where to hunt at first light. That means roosting birds the evening prior to your hunt when you can. When you can’t, it means an especially early wake-up call to get in the field just as the first light of dawn starts to color the sky. Get to a spot—a high ridge or the middle of a wide basin—where you can hear gobbles from every direction, then blow a coyote call.

In my experience last weekend, I had two encounters that started with responses to a high-pitched coyote locator howl. In the first instance, at least three gobblers responded from a lone cottonwood tree, and by glassing the tree against the lightening sky, I saw it was full of turkeys. Target confirmed, I set up on a grassy flat where gobblers often head to right off the roost to strut and display.

It didn’t exactly work out that way. Instead, I waited for turkeys that never showed up; after half an hour I went looking for them. I spotted a lone longbeard strutting on a nearby ridge and was able to wait for him to strut out of sight. Then, my buddies and I made a beeline for that ridge. After a few yelps, the gobbler came to investigate. My buddy shot him at 18 yards.

There are two lessons here. First is that lone gobblers this week will be especially vulnerable. Maybe they’re boss toms that are looking for more female conquests. Or maybe they’re birds that were on the losing end of fights with more dominant gobblers and are looking for encounters. Either way, they’re searching and will often respond to calls.

The next day, hunting a different spot, at least four different gobblers in different areas responded to my daylight coyote howl. I set up on the nearest one but the gobbler pitched down, threw me a few charity gobbles, then marched off with some very possessive hens. I never saw him.

Looking back on it, I think I called too much and too aggressively when he was on the roost.

We’re at that place in the season when hens still hold sway over gobblers, at least through the mid-morning. If you overcall from fly-down through about 10 a.m., you risk repelling hens that pull gobblers away from what they think is female competition. Instead of throwing out an unrelenting chorus of yelps and clucks, try restrained calling until you get a feel for whether a henned-up gobbler will peel away from the flock and come to your calls. Or, as I experienced, spend your time looking for lone gobblers.


While we all strive for that classic called-in gobbler, there’s no shame in ambushing a longbeard, and that is likely to be the most successful tactic for the next week or two.

If you get shut out in the morning, pull out and get to a high spot where you can glass the surrounding country. Or get in your vehicle and drive through hunting areas. Both are tactics to find gobblers that are roaming after the hens go to lay on their incubating eggs. Whether you call in that gobbler or resort to simply getting in his way and bushwhacking him will depend on the circumstances.

I had great luck with the former response over the weekend. After my buddy tagged the first gobbler, we hiked several miles in an attempt to strike another hot tom. When that didn’t work, we jumped in the pickup and drove a county road through an area we had permission to hunt. I spotted a lone gobbler along a prairie stream, and we drove past, parked and dropped into the drainage, out of sight of the gobbler. When we figured we were 100 yards from him, we set up, and after about 5 minutes of loud yelping, I called that tom over the stream bank and I killed him at 30 yards, waiting until he came out of full strut to deliver the payload.

But ambushing also had its place in my weekend hunt. Later on the day that I shot my called-in bird, we spotted a pair of lone gobblers working their way along an open ridge. We got in their way, waited for them to drop into a deep ravine, and my buddy crept over the rim and shot a nice tom at about 15 yards. The gobbler was facing away and never knew what hit him.

The only problem with ambushing birds is that you can’t always select for the longest-bearded bird in the line. You’re often faced with taking the first legal bird that gives you a shot before the flock spies you and flushes.

Sources around the West are reporting the same situations that I experienced.

“Midday hunting is heating up,” says Brad Campbell, a northern Idaho turkey slayer. “Hens are definitely out of the equation by 10 a.m. or noon, depending on the day.”

To the south, spring weather is slowing the hunt.

“It’s a tale of two seasons,” say sources at Native by Carlton, legendary wildlife caller Wayne Carlton’s company in southwest Colorado. “Gobbling heats up, then we get a snow squall and things shut down until it warms back up. But if you hunt the first sunny days after a snow, it can be hot hunting.”


turkey hunter
Dale Manning killed this Eastern Montana Merriam's turkey on April 26. (Photo courtesy of Dale Manning)
Eastern Montana Prairie Success
  • Hunter: Dale Manning
  • Date: April 26
  • Location: Custer County, Montana
  • Method: Shotgun
  • Stats: 8 1/2-inch beard; 1/2-inch spurs; 17 pounds

Dale Manning traveled from Missoula, Mont., to the state’s eastern plains and river breaks for this Merriam’s gobbler. He spotted it about an hour after it flew down from its roost and called it inside 20 yards. Interestingly, the gobbler had feather tips that appeared to have been broken off, possibly by wet snow or brittle cold. The bird had an 8-1/2-inch beard and, typical of eastern Montana’s Merriam’s, very short spurs.


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