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Regional Strut Update: Late-Season Intel on Where and How to Tag a Mid-May Longbeard

Here's what you need to do if your season is open and you're still looking to fill your turkey tag.

Regional Strut Update: Late-Season Intel on Where and How to Tag a Mid-May Longbeard

Mid-May turkey hunting reports from every region. (Photo courtesy of Honeycutt Creative)

This is the seventh 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 mid-season has been a mixed bag for turkey hunters across the region; some have tagged out, while others are still trying to figure some things out. With rainy weather ahead and the number of hunting days dwindling, the right setup will be the key to success.
  • In the South, Josh Honeycutt says turkey season remains open in only seven Southern states, and those will close soon. There’s still time to tag a gobbler, but you’ve got to get out there and make the most of it.
  • In the Midwest, Brandon Butler reports turkey activity is quieting down as hunters face the final days and weeks of the season. There are plenty of birds out there but they’re getting tougher to find. Try setting up blinds along scouted travel routes.
  • In the West, Andrew McKean says turkey activity has been high in many locales as the region hits arguably its most productive week of spring hunting. The problem is hunters are mostly finding eager jakes and 2-year-olds instead of mature toms. So, where are the 3-year-old and older gobblers hanging out?
father and two sons turkey hunting
Oliver Lilly (right), 11, was hunting with his father Ryan and brother Bronson when he bagged his first turkey. The Maine youth, who also is recovering from a broken arm, killed the bird with a new over-under 20-gauge shotgun given to him by his grandfather. Read more below in "Tagged Out." (Photo courtesy of Ryan Lilly)


Gobblers Working Right in the North, Becoming Tougher to the South
  • Sources report both elation and frustration as mid-season conditions hit the Northeast.

By Doug Howlett

This is the time of the season when turkey hunting is a completely mixed bag. I’ve talked to a few hunters who have seen action on most of their hunts, either tagging out or team-calling gobblers to the gun with a buddy. Meanwhile, others have been left scratching their heads and wondering what the heck is going on.

Many seasons throughout the northern half of the East region opened last week, and some hunters, like Maine hunting guide John LaMarca, wasted no time taking advantage of the action (see “Tagged Out” below). He then put three clients, including his father, who had never turkey hunted, in position to tag longbeards.

A little farther south, hunters in Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts have all been reporting successful hunts with plenty of gobblers, though a good number of them are still henned up.

Reports from outfitter David Sichik in New Jersey are that toms were coming into decoys readily in the opening week, but then kind of shut down. In fact, hunters across much of the region have observed that on the cooler, rainy days last week, the birds didn’t gobble as much, but once the weather turned nice and warmed up, they cranked right back up, hens or no hens.

In Virginia this past weekend, my son and a friend had birds gobbling at mid-afternoon, a rarity in my experience where we hunt. Meanwhile, over in the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia, reports are that toms are gobbling from the roost then shutting up as soon as they hit the ground.

“It’s about the worst no-gobbling spell I can remember,” says West Virginia’s Larry Case. Case has a little over a week to catch a break and fill a tag as the Mountain State’s season closes on May 19. Delaware’s spring season expires this Saturday, so hunters there are in do-or-die mode.

Conditions across much of the region this weekend and maybe into next week call for rain. That will douse some of the gobbling but will also push birds toward fields where they will be visible, if hard to kill. It’s going to take figuring out which way they are going, then setting up and deer-hunting them with patience. If you catch a lone gobbler in the open, particularly mid-morning or in the afternoon (where legal), you should be able to kill that tom.

Leaf-out is still sparse in much of the northern and mountainous areas of the region, which means hunters need to be careful running and gunning, lest they get busted in the open woods. Use terrain and move wisely when trying to set up tight to a gobbler.

Meanwhile, coastal and mid-state counties in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and even up into New Jersey are seeing plenty of green on trees and lower brush, making repositioning much easier. Toms are also more on their own in these areas, so get out there and make the most of your hunts with just days or a week or so remaining.


turkey hunter
John LaMarca, a Maine hunting guide, took down these two gobblers on April 29. (Photo courtesy of John LaMarca)
Opening-Day Double
  • Hunter: John LaMarca
  • Date: April 29
  • Location: Sagadahoc County, Maine
  • Method: Shotgun
  • Stats: 10 1/2- and 9 3/4-inch beards; 7/8- and 1-inch spurs; 20 pounds each

Maine guide John LaMarca has several properties where he has permission to take clients and a few where the landowners are fine with him hunting, just not guiding. Waiting for some out-of-state hunters to arrive on opening day, LaMarca stopped by one of those hunt-only properties and found two toms eager to come to his calls. He didn’t turn the opportunity down, and his season ended almost as quickly as it began—with a heavy bird in each hand.



young turkey hunter
Eleven-year-old Oliver Lilly killed his first turkey on May 4 in Waldo County, Maine. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Lilly)
Young Hunter Gets Early Bird in Maine
  • Hunter: Oliver Lilly
  • Date: May 4
  • Location: Waldo County, Maine
  • Method: Shotgun
  • Stats: 8.5-inch beard; 1-inch spurs; 17 1/2 pounds

It had been a rough spring for Oliver Lilly, age 11, who broke his arm earlier in the year and could not play baseball. His spirits were elevated, however, when he received a 20-gauge over-under for his birthday from his grandfather. Oliver was determined to hunt turkeys with his new shotgun, and his father, Ryan, helped him pattern it in preparation for the upcoming season.

Oliver and his brother, Bronson, camped out with their father the night before the opener, sleeping in a tent about 200 yards from the blind they had set up on a friend’s farm. With Maine’s early sunrise, legal shooting time began before 5 a.m. on May 4, and the boys and their dad didn’t want to be a minute late.

The trio of hunters were in the blind by 4 o’clock the next morning with a jake and a breeding hen decoy placed 15 yards in front them. Several gobblers sounded off as it got light, and one pitched down in the large field about a quarter-mile from the blind. For the next 20 minutes, the bird strutted and gobbled to Ryan’s soft calling, slowly making its way toward the blind. When the bird was a mere 10 yards from him, Oliver put his new shotgun to good use and dropped the tom beside the decoys. Oliver’s first gobbler came early; the time was just 5:35 a.m.


10 Great Turkey Calls for 2024
Hunter Brandon Peavy uses the Roberts Turkey Calls Hunter Model 100, a unique two-sided friction call with glass on the front, a slate sweet spot on the back and a pot made of a special green-camo wood composite. (Photo by Lynn Burkhead)
  • If you're in the market for a new turkey call, you can't go wrong with these this spring.—Lynn Burkhead

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


Cash in on End-of-Season Opportunities
  • There’s still time to bag a gobbler in seven Southern states.

By Josh Honeycutt

Hunters can continue to get after birds in more than half of the states in the South region, but the season has come to an end in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.

First, we remind those hoping to take advantage of the remaining opportunities that you have until May 10 to seal the deal in two of South Carolina’s four zones, May 11 in North Carolina, May 15 in Georgia, May 16 in Oklahoma and May 26 in Tennessee. Meanwhile, Texas gives hunters until May 14 to shoot Eastern turkeys.

Ron Jolly with Turkeys for Tomorrow has been hunting in Alabama and tells us that hens there are on the nest and gobblers are acting weird.

“Hens are very quiet and invisible for the most part, occasionally emerging from nest sites to feed and dust. Gobblers are somewhat vocal on the roost in the mornings but go quiet shortly after fly-down,” he says. “At midday, it’s not difficult to strike a tom and [hear] a lot of gobbling. Strange behavior in my experience, but turkeys will do what they do.”

In Georgia, Michael Lee with Backwoods Life reflects on a great season. “Birds were on fire early on,” he says, “but they cooled down as the season progressed. I think the end of April should be the end of our season here. It was fun, though. Turkey numbers look decent for next season.”

Kyle Barefield with All Things Hunting shares his experience in Oklahoma, where he hunted last weekend with his wife.

“The birds were quiet and did not gobble much or come to calls,” he says. “But my wife was in the right place at the right time to kill a 21-pound tom with an 11-inch beard and spurs just over one inch in length.”

Barefield adds that the bagged bird and another longbeard had been following three hens and a jake down a dirt road leading into an alfalfa field after an afternoon rain. Additionally, he reports a heavy jake crop that appeared to impact how responsive gobblers were. “It made the hunting more difficult due to the toms constantly being run off by groups of eight to 15 jakes,” Barefield says. “But I’m not complaining. I hope we have as good of a hatch this year.”

Barefield also hunted turkeys in Alabama and Louisiana, where he believes pushing the season dates back negatively impacted the hunting. Even so, he maintains it’s a good thing that should help more turkeys thrive and survive.

Barefield hunted gobblers in Texas, too. This was his second year in a row without bagging a bird there.

Will Cooper with HuntStand has also been hunting in Texas, looking for toms in the North Zone despite the less-than-favorable conditions lately.

“Recent rains and soggy weather had birds locked down and beaks zipped,” he says. “After a recent break, and weather in the month of May finally feeling like May, birds are fired up and responding well to calls. I found multiple strutters in a field but couldn’t get them to break away from hens. The season here closes May 11, and I’m hoping to give it one last try before it’s over.”

Finally, renowned huntress Brenda Valentine sends her recent assessment from Tennessee, where she says that most hens are on the nest now.

“Turkeys here are unusually unpredictable. I had two pitch off the roost over my head without so much as a weak cackle,” she says. “Gobblers might or might not sound off before fly-down, but they become deaf and dumb once their feet touch dirt. I took a nice one this week by getting in close to his roost tree and barely calling. The lush vegetation only adds to the difficulty.”

Overall, this seems to have been an unusual turkey season for Southern hunters, with mixed results reported across the region. That said, if you have a few more days before curtain call in your home state, get out there and make the most of it.


turkey hunter
Scott Easley tagged this late-season Tennessee turkey on May 2. (Photo courtesy of Scott Easley)
Rocky Top Rope
  • Hunter: Scott Easley
  • Date: May 2
  • Location: Tennessee
  • Method: Shotgun
  • Stats: 10 1/2-inch beard; 3/4-inch spurs; 17.9 pounds

Tennessee hunter Scott Easley didn’t let late-season challenges get in the way of bagging a nice Volunteer State gobbler.

“I got on this bird on the roost and killed him at 11:15 a.m.,” Easley says. “He couldn’t have cared less about anything but feeding. So, I spent that whole time walking and crawling to get ahead of him. When I finally did, he had joined up with five jakes. They got within 50 yards, and I shot as soon as he walked away from them.”


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turkey hunter
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  • From now until May 31, you can get cash back for buying Winchester turkey ammo.

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Birds Quieter but Still Active; Place Blinds in Well-Traveled Areas
  • Hunters around the region say gobblers are growing quieter but still roaming in search of hens. Scout and roost birds, then sit in blinds along travel routes.

By Brandon Butler

Most Midwest states’ turkey seasons close in May, and while we may be nearing the end of the game, there are still plenty of birds left to chase across the region. You may have to work harder to find a bird, though, as many have already ended up in a deep fryer. However, fewer birds left should also mean fewer hunters in the woods.

Indiana is a state of two topographies: agriculture up north and forested hills down south. If you’re looking to tag a bird late in the season, you need to know where a few are hanging out. My cousin, Derek Butler, is still trying to tag a bird in a picked cornfield along the Kankakee River.

“I’ve spent a lot of time glassing over the last week, trying to pattern a gobbler or two, but it seems impossible,” Butler says. “One morning they fly down on my place; the next day, they’re two fields away on a neighbor’s [property]. If I had one piece of advice to give right now, I’d say to spend time in the evening trying to roost a bird. Even if that means scouting from the truck with binoculars. These remaining gobblers are covering a lot of ground. I think if you want to be successful, you should, too.

Kansas never disappoints, no matter how deep we are into the season. Heath Hazen of Wichita is one of those hunters who seems to find success no matter what species he’s hunting. It’s no different with turkeys.

“It’s always exciting to find a bird gobbling on the roost, but right now, I think you’re just as likely to be successful hunting around water in the middle of the day or in the evening,” he says. “I’ll hunt turkeys like antelope late in the season. That is, I’ll pop up a blind where I expect they’re going to travel through and wait. Of course, I call throughout the hunt, but mostly I just hold tight, fully expecting if there’s a gobbler left around, he’s going to make his way through where I’m sitting.”

Hazen likes to run decoys this time of year. He says early in the season he’s more mobile, but now that he’s focused more on the waiting game, he usually sets out a couple of hens and a jake or two. His theory is that with gobblers looking for hens, why not give them what they’re looking for? And jakes just make gobblers mad, so they’re even more likely to approach to run off the juveniles.

Ohio hunters have seen an uptick in harvest this spring, with 10,574 birds checked in through the end of April. The brood surveys conducted the past few summers pointed to increased poult survival. It appears those predictions were correct.

“You can just tell we have more turkeys out there this year,” says Ohio hunter John Wallace. “From my own observations and what I’m hearing from other hunters, the consensus is we’re experiencing a special season. Numbers haven’t been great in the recent past, so I think some hunters have decided not to go. This is leaving a lot of turkeys out there for hunters to chase. There are still birds strutting in fields all over the place. There’s still plenty of time to get out there.”

Much like with Indiana, agriculture dominates the landscape in northern Ohio, where Wallace hunts. He prefers hunting out of a ground blind and says his goal is to find a point where a gobbler might pop out to survey as much ground as he can see. Wallace likes to place his blind just inside the woods for added concealment.

“I tell people all the time to not overcomplicate turkey hunting,” he says. “There are a lot of similarities with deer hunting. Gobblers are moving around looking for hens. Be where they are moving through and where you would expect to see hens. It’s really that simple. Especially right now, because after weeks of Ohio birds being more vocal than ever, things have really gotten quiet. The early warm weather had many veteran turkey hunters saying that many birds got their fill of gobbling early and many had gone quiet. So, finding a good travel spot and sitting still is where it’s at right now.”

Missouri’s season just ended, but it’s worth noting the future looks bright there. For the third consecutive year, the Show Me State has had an increase in harvest. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), hunters this year bagged a total of 47,119 birds. This represents a 6-percent increase in total harvest from 2023 (44,543) and a 20-percent increase in total harvest compared to the previous 5-year average.

“The ability to hunt all day on private land may have had a role in this increase,” says MDC wild turkey biologist Nick Oakley. “Successively better hatches starting in 2021 meant there were also likely more turkeys on the landscape as well. We are still looking at the data to see how much of the increase in harvest can be attributed to the new regulation, as well as how many new hunters the regulation change helped to get into the field.”

Lauren Plunkett, a resident of Howard County, Mo., and the hunt/fish community manager for Sawyer Products, feels all-day turkey hunting made a big difference for her this season. She was able to hunt after work, which greatly increased her time spent in the woods. In fact, she killed her first gobbler on an afternoon hunt early in the season.


turkey and hunter
This Ohio turkey tagged by John Wallace weighed 21 pounds. (Photo courtesy of John Wallace)
Buckeye Hunter Bags Big Tom
  • Hunter: John Wallace
  • Date: May 5
  • Location: Highland County, Ohio
  • Method: Shotgun
  • Stats: 11-inch beard; 1 5/16-inch spurs; 21 pounds

John Wallace is one of the most giving hunters I know. The father of three always puts his kids first when it comes to hunting. Then, even when it’s not his own children, he still often devotes his time to help introduce others to hunting, no matter how old they are. On those rare occasions when he does find time to hunt himself, he tries to make the most of it.

“I hunted hard this past week,” Wallace says. “I first got on this bird Thursday, May 2nd. I set up within 100 yards of him on the roost, and to my surprise, he was pretty fired up on the roost. Things have been quiet lately. After fly down, he went the opposite direction and gave a couple more gobbles before going quiet.”

Wallace is a hunting industry influencer who runs the website and its corresponding social channels. It may sound like all fun and games, but he has many deadlines to meet, especially during the prime hunting seasons. Work kept him out of the woods for a couple days, but he made it back out on Saturday and heard the gobbler only once—a shock gobble after a rumble of thunder. That was enough to convince him to give the bird another shot on Sunday afternoon.

“I got to the parking lot just before 5 p.m.,” he says. “As luck would have it, I found the bird I had been after for three days in full strut about 70 yards away. All I could see was the top of his fan. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I immediately sat down and gave just a quick, soft yelp, and he hammered back. After just a few seconds, I could see him coming my way in full strut. Next thing I knew, he was in range. I clicked off my safety and let it rip.”


Work and Play: Merriam's Turkeys in Wyoming

  • It's work and play as ALPS OutdoorZ celebrates its 30-year anniversary.


Action High Across the Region, Especially for Young Birds
  • Reports of jakes and 2-year-old gobblers abound, but where are the older longbeards?

By Andrew McKean

As we move into the most productive week of spring turkey season in the West, a number of sources are reporting abundant bird populations. Maybe too abundant in some areas.

“Based on the number of jakes I’m seeing, it looks like we had a very good hatch last spring,” says Wade Compton, a northern California public-land hunter. “Pretty much every drainage has a flock or two, and I’d say the gobbling from the roost is more consistent this year.”

But Compton says he doesn’t routinely work—or even see—3-year-old boss gobblers.

“Maybe it’s because those 2-year-old toms are so responsive, they’re coming in before those older birds commit, but I haven’t seen a lot of really mature, trophy birds.”

Same in southeastern Montana, where I hunted last week. I had multiple opportunities on mature birds, but they weren’t that next older age-class of gobblers with thick beards and long, hooked spurs. I’d age them uniformly as 2-year-olds. And, if the number of jakes in the population is an indication, we can expect a similar abundance of young gobblers next year.

Far to the south, in northern Arizona, Rick Langley with Arizona Game and Fish says, “Birds are gobbling really well and there are still a fair number of hens with toms.”

Langley reports Arizona’s youth hunt was widely successful, and this Friday the youth and first-season hunters can once again hit the woods.

“They should find some lonely gobblers willing to come to calls,” he says, but notes that roadside birds are getting wise. “With most of our turkey hunting happening on public lands, it’s best to get as far away from the roads as possible.”

In Oregon’s best turkey zone, the southwestern counties, outfitter Jody Smith says toms are turning “very quiet after fly-down and are not very interested in decoys. Light calling and patience has been the key.”

Smith noted that his clients had harvested a couple dozen gobblers by early May, but he also said the number of clean misses has been mind-blowing. “Please, please, please, pattern your gun before hunting,” he urges.

So, where are those mature 3-year-old and older trophy gobblers hanging out?

It’s possible they’re still locked up with hens. The eager jakes and 2-year-olds that come to your call are attentive because they are solo and primed to breed what sounds to them like a receptive hen. If you want to tag a trophy tom, first use your eyes to locate older birds. That may mean covering a lot of ground and glassing from vantage points until you find a target tom, then figuring out how to call him without attracting the attention of young birds. It might also mean getting in his way and ambushing him without scratching out a single yelp or cluck.


man and woman turkey hunters
Washington hunters Sherry (left) and Scott Haeger traveled to Oregon to tag these Rio Grande turkeys. (Photo courtesy of the Haegers)
Oregon Double Take
  • Hunters: Scott and Sherry Haeger
  • Date: May 3
  • Location: Douglas County, Oregon
  • Method: Shotgun
  • Stats: 10 1/2-inch beard, 1-inch spurs (Sherry); 10-inch double beard, 1 ¼-inch spurs (Scott)

Scott and Sherry Haeger traveled to southwest Oregon from their home in Snohomish, Wash., to hunt with Jody Smith of Jody Smith Guide Service. The couple took this brace of trophy Rio Grande gobblers from a ground blind while hunting over a jake-and-hen decoy combo.


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