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Late Season Turkey Tips: Gettin’ That Gobbler

We are in the latter part of the season for spring wild turkey hunting in Nebraska. Using a baseball analogy, it is the bottom of the 9th inning, your team is behind, the bases are loaded, there two outs and you are up to bat!

I don’t think there is any doubt about it, spring wild turkey hunting late in the season is challenging. However, there are still plenty of gobbles to be heard and birds to be worked plus amazing experiences to be had and indelible memories to be made in the Nebraska countryside.

A tom turkey displays its fan in a full strut near a hen turkey in an attempt to get her attention during a May spring wild turkey hunt in rural northern Douglas County, NE. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Look, I’ve been hunting these male wild turkeys in the back portion of the season for over 3 ½ decades and some of my best hunts have occurred then. But be mindful that the last few weeks of the season mean different thinking, strategies, tactics and adaptability.

Your blogger displays an adult male wild turkey harvested during a May spring shotgun wild turkey hunting in rural western Douglas County, NE. Photo by T. Andre Shousha of Waterloo, NE.

Yeah, I fully realize that there’s ticks, mosquitoes, stinging nettles and poison ivy that make May turkey hunting a bit more difficult, but we can take preventative measures for those things. Nevertheless, there are some key things to understand when it comes to pursuing wary gobblers/toms (adult male wild turkeys) and apprehensive jakes (young male wild turkeys) later in the season.

A lone jake gives pause to the hunter’s calls during a May turkey hunting expedition in rural southern Sarpy County, NE. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

So, I reached out to two of the best turkey hunters I know for some tips and tricks on bagging bearded birds with just weeks left in the season. These individuals are Jeff Rawlinson (a.k.a. “Rawly”)  and Aaron Hershberger (a.k.a. “Hershy”), both longtime outdoor education specialists with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission based in Lincoln, NE. Each has been hunting turkeys for more than 30 springs. These guys conduct our popular Game and Parks turkey hunting workshops.

Following are their thoughts/notes on how to help you improve the odds for cancelling your turkey tag in the final month of Nebraska’s spring wild turkey hunting season.  Collectively, here’s what they had to say:

The month of May can be great for some of the most exciting turkey hunts of the spring season. Many hens are starting to nest full time now. Amorous gobblers are trolling for any and all remaining hens still interested in breeding. And all the extra greenery and lush vegetation can help you disappear from the turkey’s keen eyesight. But you must be adaptable. Gobblers and jakes are running into more hens that ignore them – those already nesting and some that won’t be nesting this year. These male birds typically don’t have time to waste on uninterested hens. Keep in mind the same growth that hides you can muffle turkey sounds and make it more challenging to zero in on them.

Decoys

Use a single decoy – if any.  And realism really helps now. More than ever, realistic decoys seem to aid the hunter greatly as that old gobbler eyeballs your setup to gauge the interest of the hen he hears. Adult male wild turkeys have little patience for hens they can see but ignore their strutting and gobbling – especially those that are statue-still.  We’ve had luck with a lone jake decoy in half strut late in the season, and possibly a feeding hen. Jealousy can be effective in luring in a gobbler willing to fight for one more hen. However, if you’ve located gobblers using areas where the cover makes seeing your decoy difficult, it’s probably best to just leave it at home.

While a low, feeding hen and a jake work well in most late season setups, Jeff Rawlinson and Aaron Herschberger recommend going with a posturing jake decoy by itself in the latter part of the season. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Calling

Let’s face it, calling in the late season can be complicated. Gobblers seem to become picky with the hen music they respond to as the season winds down. Don’t stick with a call they are ignoring. If you hear a gobbler consistently answering a real hen – try to match her cadence and sound. If he is continually answering your calls, but just not closing the distance – keep at it.  If you can’t get a read on the birds, tone down your calling to mimic what is naturally occurring with hens being less aggressive. Even on smaller parcels of land, walk and try intermittent calling in an effort to bring the hen closer to the tom. Just remember patience often tags birds as they make their way to your setup once their current engagement is over.

Get Close

Use the thicker greenery, what is called screening cover, to your advantage. Close the distance on gobbling birds before setting up. This is especially important early in the morning. The new green-growth blocks their view as much as it does yours. But it also stifles gobbles. That tom is closer than you think! If you can hear him – he can most definitely hear your calls.  And he’s listening …

Odd Spot Gobblers

Keep an eye out for gobblers just about anywhere now. A hen may pull a gobbler some distance before she slips away to her nest. That old boy will find himself all alone and often looking to head back from where he was. Get established on the most likely way back and he may just beeline to you.

Don’t Do the Dew

Dew on grass and plants is common now just about every calm morning. Turkeys don’t mind wet feet but do their darnedest to keep their feathers dry. When hunting early mornings look for spots like crop field edges and short-grass pastures where the birds can avoid brushing up against the wet foliage as they move around. Wet edges and fields can funnel birds right to you. Once the dew is gone turkeys will roam anywhere!

Make your late season spring wild turkey hunt an enjoyable one and please be safe!

“Rawly and Hershy”

A large gobbler is spotted atop a grassy hill during a late May turkey hunt in rural northern Douglas County, NE. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

About greg wagner

A native of Gretna, NE, a graduate of Gretna High School and Bellevue University, Greg Wagner currently serves as the Public Information Officer and Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Service Center in Omaha. On a weekly basis, Wagner can be heard on a number of radio stations, seen on local television in Omaha, and on social media channels, creatively conveying natural resource conservation messages as well as promoting outdoor activities and destinations in Nebraska. Wagner, whose career at Game and Parks began in 1979, walks, talks, lives, breathes and blogs about Nebraska’s outdoors. He grew up in rural Gretna, building forts in the woods, hunting, fishing, collecting leaves, and generally thriving on constant outdoor activity. One of the primary goals of his blog is to get people, especially young ones, to have fun and spend time outside!

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