Georgia Gobblers Staying Quiet This Season
Of course it depends on a bird's mood that day, but GON's Hunt Advisors are reporting more silent gobblers than usual, even when they come in strutting.
GON’s team of Hunt Advisors have been hitting the turkey woods, and we have reports from across the state, beginning with Hunt Advisor Greg Grimes, who hunted various counties and public land.
“We started off the season well as we hunted in Morgan County where there were lots of gobblers coming to chufa. The youth opener was an early washout. The rain moved on, but we struggled to find all these birds that had been coming in. We moved a few times to the success of my 12-year-old son getting one at 1:30 p.m. Never a gobble.
“That Sunday of youth opener we tried our lease in Cherokee County and again no gobbling. My employee did get a nice longbeard off the lease in the strong winds of the regular opener. Again not a single gobble. The lease shows a decent number of birds but with several hunts there by others not a single gobble. I spent the private-land opener with the oldest son in Floyd County. A few gobblers had been spotted prior to the hunt, but all was silent and we only saw one hen. Notice my theme…
“On April 16, we hunted the Fall Line-Fort Perry WMA youth hunt. We put 10 miles on our boots and never saw a track, not one poop and only a few old scratches and never heard a gobble. Other hunters did hear a couple. We only saw one hen. The morning of April 17 we started on private land in Taylor County and did hear at least three gobbles off the roost but nothing after fly-down.
“On April 22 I was scouting and calling for an upcoming hunt to introduce some kids to hunting on our land in Monroe County where my only solo hunt of the year had resulted in no gobbles but again one lone hen. After making my final call of the morning at almost 8 a.m., I had one fire off. I went and grabbed my youngest son and his buddy. We found some camo and face paint and 30 minutes later, we had him gobble 12 more times as he came to within probably 50 yards, but we never saw him. That p.m and then again the next morning the kids had high hopes. After lots of effort and wearing out some shoe leather, we didn’t hear a peep. Where did that gobbler go?”
“We are all concerned with lower populations, and as a biologist, I want to know why. Seeing how well Fort Perry habitat was with fields, mature woods and burning, it doesn’t seem to be just habitat. It does appear well-timed trapping might be helping for some clients’ properties. I found a dead gobbler last year, so I wonder if there is some kind of disease. I do support a lower harvest and later start, as we need to try something to bump up the chances. While some places have birds, other places are low for sure.
“This report might seem negative, but we have had a blast getting out in God’s creation. We have seen several hens, so that is good. We’ve enjoyed listening to the woods come alive as the sunrises as well as finding sheds. I pray more birds are showing up for others, and I’m sure the strange weather almost every weekend hasn’t helped. Here is my two cents, grab a ThermaCell and keep after it, as there are a few more weeks to enjoy the season. I usually see more action around fields in May from bugging turkeys. We suspect some early breeding took place, so maybe you can convince a gobbler you are a remaining unbred hen and get that limb-hanger before it’s over.”
Cherokee County: Tim Dangar, of Ball Ground, reports, “It’s been a hard season to try to deal with this year due to rain, storms on opening morning, and 20-degree temperature swings. Cold mornings seem to silence birds for the most part. On a brighter note, we have a large number of turkey in our area. Back during the warm days we had in early February, we saw a group of hens, around 25 birds, a group of eight jakes, and a group of six mature longbeards. We formed a community turkey watch with about a five-mile radius, which has good numbers to report. The hens are singled out now with nesting in mind, and the gobblers are still on the prowl for hens that have not been bred. One neighbor reported this week seeing a longbeard strutting and showing off for two hens who wanted nothing to do with him. Another neighbor saw two toms fighting over a hen, and the winner bred the hen.
“Now we are dealing with blackberry winter with lows here in the high 30s and wind, which is not a turkey hunter’s friend. Maybe May will bring warmer more stable temps and less wind. Don’t throw in the towel yet, there’s still some good hunting left. I’m expecting with all the jakes and mature birds we have, May will get loud with gobbling and could be a good time to harvest a longbeard. As always, stay calm and hunt on!”
Madison County: Keith Ingram, of Comer, reports, “It has definitely been a Jekyll and Hyde season so far. Opening morning, even with the rough weather coming in, you couldn’t ask for any better hunt. And it was a quick textbook, right-off-the-roost hunt. My son Zack and I got to our setup early and got settled in on our favorite spot on the property. Daylight broke cloudy, windy and warm. Crows and geese got cranked up, and there was not the first shock gobble anywhere. The first soft tree call I made, two hammered back, less than 100 yards behind us. I waited until it got light enough and did some clucking and a fly-down cackle, and those two along with two more below them cut my call. I told Zack things were about to get interesting, so be ready. I put a diaphragm in my mouth and cutt and yelped, and they answered on the ground and were directly behind us in a logging road. The first two that popped out in the food plot were two hard-gobbling jakes, followed by a nice longbeard. Zack could see a fourth bird’s head coming up the road, so he waited, and boy did it pay off. He took that one, and he was a dandy.”
“This made nine opening weekends in row that one or both of us got a bird. Now for the bad news. As of April 20, I had not heard a single gobble in 13 straight days. I did call a nice bird in on April 7, but he needed to come about 15 more yards for a comfortable shot. The gobbling has been the least this year in the 39 years I’ve hunted them. The hens are on the nest, and the gobblers are not talking much. That can make for some long, uncomfortable sits. I’ll still go as I can until it closes, and if I can’t find a gobbling bird at daybreak, I’ll just set up on one of my favorite spots and call very lightly, and very little, and be watching for one to come in quietly. If you have plots to sit on, that’s probably one of the best places to be. They still got to eat, and the plots are greened up, and also has plenty of bugs and grasshoppers on them. I still think the state of the population is in serious decline. I don’t know what the answer is, wished I did, but I hope the state figures something out in a hurry.”
Fayette & Meriwether Counties: Jeff Scurry, of Peachtree City, reports, “The season started off slow. Opening weekend was very quiet, not much activity at all. The second weekend the weather was much better, but I still only heard one gobble from a distance on adjacent property and not even a hen was seen. On April 13, things got heated up. I was able to take a nice tom in Meriwether County early right off the roost, and he came in strong. He had a 10-inch beard and 1-inch spurs. The following day I took a nice tom in Fayette County, and this one happened midday. I called him in solo across an open field.
“The turkey numbers are definitely down this year, as I have noticed a steady decline the past several years. I have only seen three hens from my sits all year. I have seen a few jakes but not like years past. I think the turkey habitat is slowly being used up, as well as an increase in predation. The number of predators has been on the rise for several years. We need to get a hold on predation and also increase the turkey habitat. If we can somehow change control burning and the early bushhogging of fields until after the hatching season, it would help. I know there have been several studies across the Southeast on the decline in turkey numbers. There is not one answer to the problem. I do think predator control is the one thing we all can join together on.”
Jasper County: Tim Zech, of Monticello, reports, “The turkey population is low in most parts of Jasper County. I hunted quite a few days and did not have the chance to harvest a bird after about six hunts. My son Luke Zech and my brother Cary Zech both had close calls on opening weekend but were unable to close the deal.
“As I work from home most of the time, I was able to sneak off at lunch one day in late April to try one of the birds that my brother had worked previously. I got lucky and had him gobble at noon, and the game was on. It was very quiet that day with little wind, so I figured he was close to 600 yards when I heard him gobble at a few loud yelps. I worked toward him and set up about 200 yards away. Fortunately some crows got him fired up, and I was able to sneak in a bit closer, setting up in a big creek bottom full of privet. He started circling around me at 150 yards, gobbling periodically, but he took the high ground on the ridge. I didn’t think he would give up the high ground but eventually with a little soft calling he continued his wide circle around me. I readjusted 180 degrees and sure enough he started working off the ridge and into the bottom with me. I avoided the strong desire to call and make him gobble more… and just waited him out. About five minutes later, he gobbled again in the bottom at less than 50 yards. I had to reposition again but dared not move in the dry leaves, so I lifted the gun up and positioned on the other side of the tree I was leaning on. Sure enough… here he came looking for the hen he knew was there. At 18 steps, he gave me the shot and I took it.
“Although we don’t have the quantity of birds we used to have, this one made up for it in quality. He was very heavy at 23 pounds, which is a good one around here. He had an 11 3/4-inch beard and 1 3/8-inch sharp spurs. I suspect this is the same bird we have hunted in the area the last couple years. His wings will be made into wingbone calls by my brother Cary.
“Fast forward to this past weekend, we traveled to south Georgia to a friend’s deer lease to try to get my youngest son a bird. They don’t turkey hunt their deer hunting properties, and it was obvious. We worked birds all day on Saturday, and it was like the good old days. We literally had toms gobbling all day long. We had hens in close and worked several good birds. It had been a long time since we had to fight henned-up toms at every turn. My son Luke commented that it was the most gobbling we have ever heard to not kill a bird. It was a memorable hunt, but we did not get him his bird. We will definitely try that place again later this season.
“I still believe that there is a major issue in the Jasper County turkey population. I would guess that there is less than 20% of the birds that were here four to five years ago. While I think hunting pressure during the pandemic played a part, I think nest predators or disease are playing a major part. We ran traps during the furbearing season on my relatively small tract of land in Jasper County and took six bobcats, two coyotes, a dozen raccoons and too many possums to count. I had a bobcat sneak in on me last week while turkey hunting the same property, and both coyotes and bobcats are still showing up on the trail cameras. I think everybody is going to have to do their part to turn the corner on nest predators.”
Rockdale County: John Stanley, of Lawrenceville, reports, “The turkey population in Rockdale County where we hunt is up from the last two or three years. We were encouraged when we saw and got pictures of more birds this past deer season, and thankfully it followed along into turkey season. The turkey numbers the last couple of years were down dramatically from its peak around 2017 or ’18. In addition to the increase in hens and gobblers, we have quite a few jakes, which should be fun and vocal 2-years-olds to hunt next season.
“I believe the later season opening date and reduction in bag limit is a good idea. Unless we have a disease outbreak or poor hatches due to weather, I expect things to get even better in the short term. Although we have more gobblers, my sons and I didn’t hear a lot of gobbling this year, not really sure why. But the birds did respond to calls, and we had some success. I know where several nests are just from watching hens enter thickets and blowdowns but am staying clear of the areas. All we can do is pray the predators don’t find them.
“My son Andrew and I had a great opening day. I killed my bird early before the rain came; he and another gobbler came right to my calls and strutted around my hen decoy. I shot him in full strut at 7 yards. Andrew persevered through a pretty good storm, and it paid off when a gobbler came to his calls and strutted and put on a show, gobbling each time it thundered. He put a perfect shot on him at 30 yards. His bird was one of the heaviest to ever come off of our club at 24 pounds! I called in another gobbler the next week along with another longbeard, two jakes and two hens. He ran to my hen and jake decoys, and I shot him at 14 yards.”
Walton County: Xane Bennett, of Monroe, reports, “Once again it’s my favorite time of the year. I hope everyone is having a great season so far. Anyone who turkey hunts as religiously as I do knows it’s not always about taking home a bird as it is feeling the woods shake after a gobbler lets loose.
“Population in my area seems pretty similar to last year after talking to different people as well as my own encounters. A couple private properties I hunt were holding some hens and a couple gobblers. Fortunate to have the opportunity to hunt these birds with some of the feedback I’ve received on properties that held them for years no longer providing that luxury. Early season the objective was to catch them right off the roost prior to them being henned up. They are beginning to cover more ground in search of my calls as the season has progressed, which makes the day a little less run-and-gun.”
“Never ceases to amaze me how these turkeys stay on a property all year until spring gears up, they breed, nest and disappear without a trace. Walton County clearly has small scattered patches of the overall population, and either your property or neighboring properties hold them, or they simply do not. Taking advantage of the ample amount of public-land opportunities in the state has really come into play here. I have a lot of friends who have nearly fully converted to public land only this time of year due to the thinly scattered population in Walton County as of late.
“I have set up traps throughout the year on private land to try to mitigate the chances of predators getting a nesting hen or the nest itself. Takes a bit of time to see any progress, but it truly takes a community to really make a marginal impact. Hopefully another season of less harvest mixed with conservation efforts and the county will start to build up a larger population. Good luck everyone, stay safe!”
Crisp County: Jodi Manders, of Cordele, reports, “It’s been a typical slow turkey season. On a few mornings I’ve heard gobbles early right after sunrise and gobbling a few times after fly-down for 20 minutes or so on the adjoining property, then silence. They are not responding to much to calls. The mature gobbler sightings have been way down again. Not very many trail-camera pictures and hardly any seen while hunting. The hen count is down also. We had pictures of some poults last year but haven’t seen them out and about this year. Hopefully they survived and just moved over to another property. I have seen a coyote three different times while hunting but not close enough to get a shot. I do believe that they are part of our problem. I do believe we have a hen nesting in one area. Sad to say it’s the same area that the coyote has been wandering around.
“We are gonna stay after them in hopes of getting one in close. Good luck to you all for the rest of the season. God bless!”
Harris County: Jimmy Harper, of Hamilton, reports, “I continue to be blessed to have turkey hunting access to multiple properties in Harris County—large, small and in between. Sadly, over the last few years, the turkey populations on all but one of these properties has dropped to a level such that I consider them to be unhuntable. While I agree completely we need to work hard to determine the reasons for the decline in our wild turkey populations so we can at least stabilize them at current levels, and hopefully increase turkey populations somewhat in suitable habitat, I don’t believe we’ll ever see turkey populations in Georgia return to the levels of a decade or two ago. Let me explain why with a couple of examples from this season in Harris County.”
“I have been a member of a Harris County hunting club on a 791-acre timber company lease for going on 40 years. My sons and I have killed quite a few turkeys on that property over the years, and it was not uncommon to limit out with three mature gobblers as recently as 10 years ago. It didn’t matter how many pines were cut, when they were cut, or where they were cut. We planted annual food plots, and the turkeys flocked to them. Then the timber company cut the hardwoods—100-year-old, creek bottom hardwoods—seven years ago. Those were acorn-producing hardwoods. Roost trees. I don’t blame the timber company; they’re in the business of making money, and they do that by cutting trees. But the turkeys on our lease disappeared almost overnight. We had a few stragglers that remained, but over the last couple of years, we haven’t even heard a gobble from that property. It has been too degraded, at least as far as turkey habitat goes, to sustain a solid turkey population. And there is no amount of research or restocking that will fix a habitat issue like this property currently has. Not in my lifetime, anyway.
“In contract, my family owns a 16-acre tract that routinely has good numbers of turkeys on it. The difference? Though very small, this property has ideal wild turkey habitat. It’s largely comprised of mature hardwoods, but there are also areas of mixed hardwoods and pine, a small field on top of a hill, and a small creek that bisects the property. A thick, grown-up clearcut for hens to nest in is adjacent to this tract. Turkeys regularly roost on this property, but they also pass through it feeding, strutting and breeding. Turkeys obviously have large home ranges, so they won’t spend all of their time on a property this small, but they don’t roam as much or as far when the habitat such as this meets most of their needs. My youngest son, Jake, killed his first wild turkey on this property while hunting with me early on the morning of April 9. We called in three mature gobblers, strutting and gobbling together, and he dropped the lead tom with one shot. Jake’s Easter Sunday longbeard weighed 17 3/4 pounds, had a 10-inch beard, and carried thick 1-inch spurs. I don’t know who was more excited when that bird flopped, my son or me!”
Muscogee County: Jimmy Harper reports, “The property I hunt in Muscogee, while being relatively small for turkey hunting at approximately 180 acres, continues to be intensively managed year-round, and that has paid off in a relatively stable turkey population at ‘new normal’ levels. Instead of having double-digit mature gobblers to hunt every year like we did 10 and 20 years ago, we now regularly have anywhere from three to six mature gobblers frequenting the property. We use trail cameras during the pre-season to determine the mature gobbler population, then set a maximum harvest goal of no more that 50% of the mature gobblers visiting the property. On top of that self-imposed restriction, we’ve also made jakes off-limits. This season, we determined that we had four mature gobblers to hunt, and that we would kill a maximum of two of those. I was lucky enough to put a crossbow bolt through one of those toms about an hour into the season.
“The turkey hunting future continues to look bright on this Muscogee County farm, although we’ve had to accept that the turkey hunting will never return to the level of the good old days. In addition to the solid number of mature gobblers we’ve observed this year, we’ve seen at least eight jakes. So it appears reproduction last year was up, and the turkey hunting will likely be even better on this farm next season. The only concern we have at this point is the number of hens we’ve observed—or rather, the lack of them. Our gobbler sightings during this hunting season thus far have outpaced our hen observations by a 4:1 margin. Given that we hunt fields almost exclusively when hens are usually very visible, that is somewhat concerning, especially since we’ve seen much higher hen numbers in past years. However, it’s possible the hens just nested a little earlier than usual, so we aren’t seeing them out feeding and dusting as often as we have grown accustomed to. It’s likely we won’t get an answer to this question until next spring, but we have our fingers crossed that it’s not an issue of hen numbers being significantly reduced.”
Twiggs County: Richie Green, of Jeffersonville, reports, “I hope everyone is getting used to these new rules and I hope they work. My season has been OK. Opening day I had four birds gobbling but none were very close, so I just set up on a powerline that we planted for deer last year. After about 30 minutes of calling, a bird gobbled close. A few minutes later, he stuck his head over the broom straw and saw my decoy, then turned around and walked off gobbling all the way. I couldn’t see his beard, so I didn’t shoot, thinking he would keep coming.”
“I’ve carried my daughter Laci with me several times and we had a bird gobbling, but the hen was with him both times. Then on April 15, she smoked a bird that had beaten us three times this year. He was always roosted beside a field on the hillside, and there was no way to get to him and set up without busting him. Trust me we tried, but he would not budge from the field. The night of April 14, I got a picture of him on my trail cam on my back plot at fly-up time, so we set up on the field because we knew he wanted to be there. At 8 a.m., he finally gave her a shot to kill her first longbeard and not a jake. It was awesome for this dad, I tell you.”
“I think maybe the birds will make a good comeback if things go good with the weather the next few years. At least I hope so. I didn’t get drawn for any public hunts this year, so my hunts are limited till the end of the month. I hope everyone is enjoying this life we live as much as I do. Good hunting.”
Other Articles You Might Enjoy