Surefire Ways to Extend Your Turkey Season (and Send You Home Empty-Handed)

Surefire Ways to Extend Your Turkey Season (and Send You Home Empty-Handed)

I absolutely love to turkey hunt in the spring. After being cooped up inside during a long, cold winter, one of the greatest joys is to watch the sun rise, see the forest turning green and coming to life, and hopefully to listen to some gobbles. It is even better if you get to share it with someone. As I regularly share, I have long thought turkey hunting is one of the best ways to introduce new hunters to the wonders of hunting. I also love the commotion of getting everything ready and wondering what adventure awaits.

Waiting for dawn in the turkey woods is my absolute favorite time of the day. Nothing has gone wrong yet. Through personal experience, I have learned many of the ways to mess up a turkey hunt. Here is my list of the key reasons I have gotten to extend my turkey hunting season—or put another way, the list of mistakes that have kept me from bagging my bird.

In my experience, one of the most popular ways to extend the season and go home empty-handed is to call too much. If you listen to hens in the woods, they generally don’t call a lot once they are off the roost. There may be some soft flock talk to gather all the hens when they hit the ground, but after that, they are not always as vocal. If you call every five minutes with the same call and don’t move, I think the toms realize you are not a hen and move on to search for more girlfriends. A much better strategy to avoid overcalling is to be patient. Sit quietly and consider setting a vibrating 20-minute repeating timer on your watch (to avoid any noise in the turkey woods). Only call a few times each time the vibrating alarm goes off, so you behave more like a real turkey. Also try to be ready for birds that may come in quietly.

Another way to get to keep on hunting is to only learn to use one or two types of turkey calls. Considering that so many hunters don’t know how to use much more than a push-button call or a poorly blown diaphragm call, the birds quickly get educated to these calls. Knowing how to use multiple diaphragm calls, a box call, a pot-and-peg (slate style) call and a wingbone call can help you figure out which type of call a particular turkey likes. Rotate them into your calling cycle. A tom turkey often will respond to one call while ignoring everything else. Sometimes what works and gets a response is a call that you believe sounds awful. I have found that a wingbone works best later in the season as most birds have never heard one before—even though to me it does not sound perfect.

Next up is to be impatient. If you hear a tom turkey gobble back to you, even if it is only once, trust that he knows you are there. He may be focused on the hens he roosted and flew down with or on the ones he already has in front of him so you simply may be his Plan B. The hens he is currently interested in will ultimately return to their nests or wander off, leaving him to search again. Will you still be there? I can’t count the number of times I’ve been surprised by a quiet bird sneaking up on me when I stood up to call it quits. Usually, the bird was just as surprised as I was as he quickly turned and ran for the next county. If I had only waited another 15 minutes, I might not have lived through yet another opportunity to extend my turkey hunting season.

Another way to extend the season is to assume a bird will gobble when he is coming to your call. It seems like other than for the opening weekend and late in the season, birds often tend to come in quietly. Over half the toms my hunting partners and I have killed were seen within 50 yards or so before they were ever heard.

Of course, falling asleep while waiting is a given when looking to extend your season. Since turkey hunting involves getting up at hours generally not known to most people, it can be tempting to close your eyes for a while. Invariably, it seems like that is a good way to call turkeys in … maybe they like my snoring. If you do sleep, listen when you wake up, open your eyes slowly and observe.

Moving on, once the tom is within view, there are lots of new ways to extend your season. The best one is to get excited and forget that he can see every move you make. His eyesight is so good that he can see 270 degrees around him without turning his head. While we all know that in an ideal world we should wait until the turkey walks in front of the gun, sometimes they don’t cooperate. If you must move, only do so excruciatingly slowly—and when the bird’s head is behind his tail and he cannot see you. He will soon let you know if you moved too fast.

Plopping down anywhere and not worrying about being comfortable typically will also ensure your season will continue. You may have to sit still in that same spot for a long time. Try resting the gun on your knee. Otherwise, you soon will learn it is impossible to hold the gun still once your arm muscles become exhausted and the bird is hung up just outside of range. From experience, I can tell you that sitting on a padded cushion is also way better than sitting on the root of a tree or a sharp rock.

Another popular way to extend the season is to pick your head up and off the stock when you finally get that shot opportunity. If you do this, your shot will go high, and you have learned another way to get to keep hunting. A red dot or reflex sight on your gun that is sighted in can work wonders.

You’ll also be extending your season if you assume your shotgun shoots turkey loads to the same place it shoots the No. 8 bird shot you fired during last fall’s dove hunt. The time to pattern your gun is way before a tom sticks his head up—not afterward when you are trying to figure out why you missed.

For more advice on how to extend your season, if you are a righty, don’t bother learning to shoot left-handed. The opposite goes for lefties. While turkey hunters think they can plan exactly how the bird will come in, toms often circle around and come in the wrong way. Shooting “wrong-handed” requires much less movement on your part if the bird comes in from the wrong side. A red-dot or a reflex sight on the shotgun can help force you into a better shooting position. If you’re ambidextrous, then you’re already ahead of the game.

Trying to “outdraw” a turkey is a sure way to extend your season for another day. Turkeys are way too suspicious and fast for us mere humans to be able to outdraw them. If you try, you will be amazed at how quickly a tom can be up and flying away while you are still trying to get your gun up so don’t try it.

Coming up with excuses for not going will certainly increase the time you’ll spend in the spring turkey woods. Even though you may think it is too windy, too cold or too hot or that turkeys don’t gobble in the snow or rain, or that it is too late in the season, the only rule that we know the answer to for sure is that if we don’t go, we will not kill a bird. Over the years we have killed birds under all these circumstances. More importantly, you also will miss out on another day of great adventure. After all, being outside in the spring is the true reason we love to hunt. And, who knows? If you go anyway, you might end your season and prove to the rest of us that these rules are meant to be broken.

All things considered, the right move also involves trusting your instincts and making quick decisions. Even if you screw up, then you just earned another opportunity to enjoy the woods—and you might have even learned a new way to make mistakes. I personally think my favorite time to kill a bird is two-thirds of the way through the season. That way I get to enjoy the many adventures that come with being outdoors because the real reward is living in the moment and enjoying the spring turkey woods.

About the Author
Hunter and NRA contributor Chris Lalik has enjoyed a decades-long career in the hunting and outdoor industry. Today he serves as Sporting Goods Distribution and OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) Division Manager at the Sellmark Corporation based in Mansfield, Texas. He dedicates as much time as possible to teaching newcomers about hunting and wildlife conservation, starting with his daughter, Katie, who now joins him on many of his adventures.