Georgia Turkey Hunters Hit The Woods For 2020 Opener
GON Hunt Advisors report from opening weekend of the 2020 season.
By most accounts, there’s been quite a bit of social distancing by means of getting outdoors. Turkey hunters have been busy at it, and based on early reports it was a good opening weekend that followed a good youth weekend.
Here are reports from GON’s team of Hunt Advisors across the state.
Cherokee County: Tim Dangar, of Ball Ground, reports, “Opening morning here in north Cherokee was big fun! I got on my ridge about 7 a.m.. It was mostly cloudy, with temp at 62. As I was putting out decoys, I heard a gobble. From 7:10 a.m. until 7:40 a.m., for 30 minutes it was dueling gobblers. Along with that came the hens joining the band, and all together it was amazing. But things changed after a few fly-down cackles. It got real quiet after the birds hit the ground.
“After a few soft calls, about 8 a.m. two young hens came up and checked out my decoys. As I looked down in the hollow in front of me, I saw the rest of the flock, and it seemed the attention was geared toward two certain hens. With the young hens right in front of me, I decided not to call, as it would probably put them in spook mode. As they moved out a ways I did call, but I think the rest of the birds were gone at that point. I went out again about an hour before dark to listen for fly-up gobbles, but I did not hear anything.
“The next morning, a front came through over night and dropped the temp to 45. Again, it was cloudy with a light breeze out of the north. The birds roosted a little farther away. First gobble came at 7:22 a.m. and gobbling only lasted until 7:36 a.m. I did not hear any hens the second morning.
“Here in north Cherokee, the turkey population is very strong with a good mix of young and old birds. With birds lighting up the woods on opening morning, it should be real interesting when the dogwoods bloom! Until next time, get out and hunt. The air is much cleaner in God’s great outdoors, if you know what I mean.”
Madison County: Keith Ingram, of Comer, reports, “I did not get out to do very much preseason scouting this year, mainly because of the weather. I knew if the birds we had during deer season were still around, it would be a good season. I did get out to listen on the two Saturday mornings before the opener, and I only heard one gobbler each morning, and each time he only gobbled once.
“Opening morning brought warm temps and on and off light rain. It was a very quiet daybreak as my son Zack and I set up on one of our biggest food plots where I had been successful on opening days in the past. I did some light calling about every 10 to 15 minutes with no response from anything.
“About 8:45 a gobbler fired off one time at a crow a ways away from our setup. At around 9:30 a gobbler started some intermittent gobbling at what sounded to be 250 to 300 yards from us but would not answer a call. We decided to go to him, and as we approached the end of the food plot he sounded off about 100 yards down the logging road from us. We eased off the left side of the road and set up, and I sent him a few yelps and got an instant response. I waited a couple of minutes to see what he was going to do, and he gobbled again in the same place. I decided to get a little aggressive and cutt at him, and we got an instant response. A couple of minutes later I gave him a short sequence of yelps with no response, and I whispered to Zack to be watching because I believed he was coming. I hadn’t got the words out of my when we saw two gobblers slipping up to the edge of the road. They stepped out in the road at what was well over 50 yards, didn’t see the hen they thought was there, and slipped on across and dropped off the ridge to our right and out of sight. I took a chance and did a few clucks and purrs on a slate, and in maybe two minutes two big red, white and blue heads popped up over the opposite side of the road, and Zack was able to take the lead bird. So grateful this hunt worked out for him. He and his wife are expecting their second child in early April, and his season is going to be very limited.
“Things seem to be a little slow right now, as I did not hear a gobbler on the Sunday morning of the opener, but I do think things will start picking up as we move into April, as that’s when I put a lot of time in the woods and have the majority of my luck. I hope everyone has a safe and successful season, and everyone stay safe during this trying time.”
Macon County: David Keene, of Oglethorpe, reports, “I have seen several nice gobblers on my property in southwest Macon County. Also seeing some nice-sized flocks of hens and young birds. I also have four or five older hens that stay together. The gobblers have been talking right at daybreak down on the creek bottom. On our lease near Ideal, I have not been seeing any gobblers on camera. Just a few hens, and also an old bearded hen that I have been getting photos of for five years. Getting a good rain now, clover has been looking good, so this should help. Hoping for a good season. Have seen several timber rattlers, so watch your step and where you sit! Good luck.”
Meriwether County: Jeff Scurry, of Fayetteville, reports, “Turkey numbers are definitely down this year in both Meriwether and Fayette counties.
“On opening day, I called in three jakes and seven hens in Meriwether County. I heard one gobble, but not until 9:45 on adjacent property across the creek.”
Editor’s Note: Jeff filed his report on Saturday, and he got a bird on Sunday. See page 34 for his picture.
“To try to help the turkeys on our hunting property, I’ve done more predator hunting to help the turkey population. Coyote sightings are at an all-time high where I live and hunt. I have also avoided cutting fields during turkey nesting period.”
Meriwether County: Jason Swindle Sr., of Carrollton, reports, “I won’t be able to hunt until next week. However, I have been monitoring the birds in Meriwether County with Spypoint cams.
“It seems that the birds are ahead of schedule. I usually see large flocks on opening day. This year, the flocks broke up three weeks ago. I would think that a warm winter was a factor.
“Now, the birds are moving into food plots at about 8 a.m., 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. daily. Based on all of this, I will be hunting out of a blind from 3:30 p.m. to dark in a large food plot planted with Alyce clover and chicory. The birds love this combination more than any vegetation this time of year.”
Crisp County: Jodi Manders, of Vienna, reports, “Hey y’all. Finally time to get in the woods and chase some long-bearded gobblers. I have been watching a group of 13 mature gobblers throughout deer season and have been able to figure out a few of their favorite roosting areas. A few days before the special youth hunt on March 14, I sat and listened as the woods came alive. The turkeys were not very vocal from the roost, but they were once they hit the ground, which was about 7:45. They hung around the immediate area where they flew down, gobbling and strutting for about an hour, and then they fed off into the pines.
“On opening day the birds didn’t gobble at all on the roost. We did not hear the first gobble until 9:30. Two mature gobblers sounded like they were having a gobbling contest for about 30 minutes and then… silence. We were able to get within 70 yards, but they didn’t want anything to do with us. They both followed a hen off in the other direction. On Sunday morning they gobbled a few times before they flew down just after 8 a.m.
“We have a good number of gobblers to hunt this year. The hen count seems to be just a little lower than the past couple of years, but there are still plenty. We will see how the season progresses. Hopefully they will cooperate and present us with some gobbling, strutting and some good shots. Hope you all have a safe and rewarding season. Hunt safe, God Bless!”
Early County: Sam Klement is a member of Realtree, Muzzy and PSE pro hunting teams. “Our turkeys appear to be right on schedule. This past week I finished my burning on my Blakely tracts and have seen some great sign—strut marks, plenty of scratching and have heard a few distant gobbles at daylight. As I was pulling out of one of my farms last Sunday, March 15, I did see my first strutting turkey and another in a three-quarter strut with a group of six to eight hens on a field edge that had not yet been broken up for planting. As I write this March 18, in a pseudo self-imposed lock-down period from my house, I am also getting extremely excited to be hunting this weekend with the twin 10-year-old boys of one of my long-time hunting buddies, country music singer AKA ‘Double Barrel Daryle’ Daryle Singletary. Daryle passed away two year ago from a heart attack, and during a highway-naming dedication for Daryle this past summer, Holly, Daryle’s wife, said there wasn’t a day that goes by that the twin boys don’t watch one of Daryle’s many hunts with me on YouTube. I told Holly that this year I wanted to take the boys along with a few of DBD’s hunting buddies and let these boys hunt the same tracts Daryle did. Joining me will be Realtree’s host of Spring Thunder Phillip Culpepper and Nate Hosie from Headhunters TV, as well as former two-time world champion turkey caller Ricky Joe Bishop and country singer Andy Griggs. Our plan will be very simple, let the hens dictate how much, how often and how loud we call. To be honest, a turkey is going to be a bonus for this hunt. We are all very excited to spend some quality time outdoors with Daryle’s twins. Should we get lucky and get the boys a bird, we will be editing out some of DBD’s old hunts and incorporating these hunts with the twins giving them an opportunity to watch themselves on the same video as their daddy!”
Editor’s Note: Sam had to file his hunting report before opening weekend, but we got a picture—see page 35.
“My tip to my fellow hunters—be safe, first and foremost. This coronavirus will pass. Take nothing for granted. Enjoy every single moment in God’s beautiful outdoors. Now more than ever I am proud to be a hunter, proud to have a freezer full of venison, fish and turkey from last year!
“Remember… Huntin is Good! In this case, to literally keep you safe and from being around large crowds and for putting meat on the table!”
Harris County: Jimmy Harper, of Hamilton, reports, “I’m very blessed to have access to hunt on three properties in Harris County—a 791-acre timber company lease, a private 16-acre tract adjacent to that lease and our 44-acre home farm. Considering all of these properties combined, we saw more turkey poults this past summer on these properties than we have in many years. This is certainly encouraging, as it appears the turkey population in Harris County is possibly rebounding, at least somewhat, from what had been a dramatic and steep decline over the last several years. I hunted both the timber company lease and the adjacent tract on the second day of this season. I heard three gobblers and saw one of the toms strutting as he walked away. What was most disconcerting to me was that I heard many more coyotes howling at dawn than I did toms gobbling, and I mean a lot more. I’m not an expert, so I can’t say for certain how much of an impact these song dogs have had, and are still having, on our wild turkey populations, but I do know they are not helping them!
“Even if the turkey population in Harris County is starting to rebound somewhat, it will take a couple of years for that to be evident in mature gobblers in the woods for us to hunt, so increased time and effort will continue to be required to sling a tom over your shoulder. One thing I can suggest, based on my scouting the week prior to the season, as well as while actually hunting on opening weekend, is to hunt late into the morning, and also in the afternoons, anytime you possibly can. I say this because I heard multiple birds fire up on their own anywhere from 10:15 a.m. until 1:45 p.m., likely because they had no hens around, and again late in the afternoon closer to roosting time. This midday period is a time when many of us die-hard turkey hunters are usually getting something to eat or taking a nap. Do you think the turkeys have figured that out?”
Muscogee County: Jimmy Harper reports, “While wild turkey numbers continue to be down across much of Georgia, including Muscogee County, the 185-acre private farm I have the privilege to hunt is testament that likely the greatest asset we as turkey hunters have to improve the hunting on individual properties is trigger control. Much like the QDM movement has transformed deer hunting, passing on jakes, or even choosing to not shoot a limit of mature gobblers each year, can have a significant, positive impact on a property’s gobbler population—and the turkey hunting experience itself—from year to year, especially in this period of overall lower turkey numbers. On this particular property, the landowner and I admittedly over-hunted and over-shot the property as total turkey numbers continued to decline, simply because we continued to hunt and kill gobblers the same way, and in the same numbers, that we had done when the turkey populations were high years ago. Then, a few years ago, we realized we couldn’t continue down that path and have a property worth turkey hunting on. We had been passing on jakes for many years, but we also started limiting the number of mature gobblers we killed based both on preseason scouting and the number of jakes observed during the prior season. As a result, while we only shot one mature gobbler off this property last season, we now have at least six mature thunder chickens to hunt this year, and our plan is to only shoot three of those toms this season, if we’re lucky enough to be able to do that.
“So, while there are likely multiple factors combining to cause a decline in the wild turkey population of our great state, we’ve been able to see a significant impact to the population on this specific property by implementing our own harvest restrictions—no jakes and fewer than the legal limit of gobblers—without waiting for a change in the hunting regulations to be made at a statewide level. This is obviously something many other turkey hunters can do to make a difference, especially since it’s not always possible for some folks to control the timber harvests on their hunting land, trap and kill nest predators, etc.
“I can’t tell you that opening day on this property resulted in a wild turkey flopping in the Georgia red clay, but it did result in 18 total turkeys seen—six mature gobblers and a dozen hens. Four of these gobblers strutted and gobbled just out of bow range for literally hours, but they were more interested in all those hens than they were in our calling. But that’s hunting, and it’s a long season. And honestly, it was just nice to get back out in God’s great outdoors once again and practice the very best kind of social distancing that I know of!”
Twiggs County: Richie Green, of Jeffersonville, reports, “I sure hope it’s not as bad as it seems in the turkey woods. I was looking for a comeback because it’s been three years, but it’s not looking too good where I hunt. Not much happening on Beaver Dam opening morning as far as gobbling, but I talked to one guy that got a bird, and I heard some more shots waiting on my buddies to come out and relocate. We did hook up with a great bird on Sunday morning gobbling good, and my buddy Tracy Andrews put the hammer down at 8 a.m. on a double-beard 20-lb. stud. One beard was 10 3/4 inches, and the other was 8 1/2 inches. Spurs were 1 3/8 inches and 1 inch. We heard six more, so let’s hope the signs are wrong.
“My cousin Blake Floyd carried his little man Coop on the youth weekend, and he smacked a good bird. He got his first turkey after hunting for three years. Turkeys were gobbling on their own around 9 a.m. when they eased into the bottom to set up. They heard three for sure, one strutting non-stop at about 150 yards, another one with him gobbling at everything, and this bird that worked his way in to them. Blake said, ‘Took an hour to call him in and took 20 minutes to get a shot once he made it within 50. For those 20 minutes he strutted non-stop and even gobbled a few times right in front of us. The Good Lord definitely blessed us with a successful hunt,’ he said. ‘We should have got busted multiple times. Coop did an awesome job sitting still for that long. I don’t know of many 9-year-old boys that could do that without a blind!’ And Blake’s brother Stephen got it all on film.
“Good luck to all this season and stay safe in this crazy time.”
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