Georgia Turkey Season Talk, Late-Season Tactics
It’s almost over, so pull out all the stops—try hunting midday and aggressive calling for your last chance at a 2021 Georgia gobbler.
There is still a final chapter to be written before we close the book on the 2021 Georgia turkey season. But with just a few weeks of hunting remaining before the season closes May 15, this is looking like another year when many hunters are scratching their heads and wondering what in the world is going on in the turkey woods.
Why are turkey populations not flourishing? How did we get here?
Of course, there are some tracts in Georgia with plenty of birds—we should be looking harder at folks who do have birds and what they are and are not doing. And even on tracts that don’t have as many turkeys as in the past, hunters are scratching out a productive hunt here and there. So there have been plenty of successful Georgia turkey hunts this season, and we highlight quite a few with pictures on the following pages.
Members of our GON Hunt Advisor Team have thrown in some late-season hunting tactics. Here are their reports:
Cherokee County: Tim Dangar, of Ball Ground, reports, “Well, just a few weeks left in the 2021 turkey season. Question is, what tactics are we going to use for getting a late-season bird? You know it’s hard not to stick with what’s worked in the past, but I have found that as we get into May, it’s time to bring out all the tricks you have stored away in your turkey vest.
“Something to consider, carry every decoy you can carry—jakes, big boy birds and hens. Pick an area that allows good visibility, and set up maybe 25 to 30 yards away from decoys. Next, if you can hear a bird on the roost gobbling, let him know your decoys are there, if you know what I mean, all kinds of calls.
“What happens at fly down will determine what to do next. If the birds come in, the hunt could be over! If everything gets quiet, I would recommend getting aggressive. Now is the time to lay it all on the table, and don’t hold nothing back. We are coming back around in the late season to hens that haven’t been bred. They will get back together, and so will the gobblers. Patience is one thing you can’t overlook in the late season.
“As far as what the birds are doing now here in Cherokee County, they are gobbling hard on the roost, and then it’s anyone’s guess from there. They are still roosting in a mix of pine and hardwood, with some green fields about 150 yards away. I’m not going to complain about the weather, but we had frost last week that killed the leaves in the tops and middle edges of the trees.
“The wind has been ripping and just yesterday we had 2 inches of rain. Needless to say, hunting has been a bit tough!
“Hope everyone gets some time in the woods, as May should bring in some warmer days and less wind. Then we will pick it back up in September with our deer season reports, until then, stay calm and hunt on.”
Madison County: Keith Ingram, of Comer, reports, “Well it’s been another pretty tough spring in the turkey woods. I don’t know if the gobblers have just been henned-up and not gobbling much, or they’re smart enough to not give their location away to predators.
“Don’t think the problem is too many hens, seeing how I’ve only seen a grand total of five as of April 20.
“After taking a nice 3-year-old gobbler on opening weekend, I didn’t hunt for two weeks. I only scouted, as I had my young buddy Heath Woodard, from the Outdoor Dream Foundation, coming back up to hunt again April 5th and 6th, and I wanted him to have the best opportunity possible to get a gobbler.
“Heath and his mom arrived late in the afternoon on the 4th, and he and I went to try and roost a bird right before dark. Now given the fact that I don’t do this very often, and the fact that in five years of hunting this property, I had never roosted one, I didn’t hold much hope that we would do so. Well, low and behold I managed to pull a few gobbles out of one with my owl hooter right before dark.
“Excited was an understatement when we headed back to the house. We made a plan to be there early the next morning, and get tight with him. The next morning came, and with all the excitement, a very important piece of equipment was forgotten, the shotgun. Totally my fault, as I should have done a checklist. Well, we had to go back to the house, which was only 6 miles away luckily, but it did cost us some time. By the time we got back, the gobbler was already rattling the woods, and we had to set up differently from our plan.”
“When he flew down, he did what I figured. He would answer, but he was headed to his strut zone in the creek bottom. I would think he was on the way to us, and then he would be going away. I told Heath that he was in his strut zone, and we would have to be patient. This went on for about an hour before he completely shut down. My plan was to just sit tight, let him romance his ladies, and hopefully he would get lonely and come back a little later.
“After about 20 minutes of him not making a sound, I decided to get aggressive with him and do some cutting. When I did, a jake answered right back to our left. I waited maybe a minute and sent out a couple clucks and series of yelps, and three jakes cut my call, and they were just over the rise in the food plot. I told Heath that I believed they were jakes, and if he wanted one of them, the chance was about to happen, so be ready. About that time, three red-and-blue heads came into view, and the lead jake was strutting and walked right up to the decoys. It was then I got to witness what a 20 gauge load of TSS No. 9s can do. Also, just to be a part of this very special young man getting his bird…
“Just so happens, the next day was Heath’s 12th birthday. No matter what happens the rest of another really tough season, my season was made that morning.
“The state of our turkey flock is terrible and getting worse every year. I hope the state takes some really drastic measures. But I don’t know if it’s going to change anything, when you see pictures of nests being burned on public lands. Starting to wonder if they even care anymore.”
Fayette and Meriwether counties: Jeff Scurry, of Fayetteville, reports, “It has been a slow year overall from where I hunt in both Fayette and Meriwether counties. After taking a nice tom the first week of the season in Meriwether, things have definitely slowed down. Overall, turkey numbers are low where I am at, including hen sightings.
“Current research by the Georgia DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division definitely shows a slow decline over the years, starting in Arkansas around 2001 and moving across the Southeast. With the increase in hunting and less harvest, it has proven the decline in numbers. Fifteen years ago the average hen had four poults survive. The average today is 1.5 poults per hen.
“I can remember in the late 90s seeing 40 to 60 turkeys in a group, but those numbers have drastically declined from what I am seeing now. Possible ways to increase the turkey population include the timing of harvest, making the season later after hens are nesting. Also, I feel like cutting down on the size of controlled burning could help, as well as not clearing land and bush-hogging fields when it might destroy nests. Predation, disease and loss of good habitat are also affecting turkey populations. Raccoons and coyotes have had a major impact on the numbers. I have been taking a few coyotes past several weeks.
“I know in some areas I’ve talked to hunters who haven’t seen a big decline in their turkey numbers. If you are fortunate to have lots of turkey activity and are trying to bag a tom during the final weeks of the season, I would suggest not only hunting morning and afternoon, but focus on midday, as well. When most hens are still nesting, toms are out searching for new ones.
“The middle of the day is always a good time to hunt a tom, especially in fields, firebreaks and logging roads where they can be seen in a large area and from a distance by hens.”
Early County: Sam Klement reports, “This past few weeks I have spent a few days chasing gobblers. The birds are working good to the calls now, especially mid-morning. I believe it’s partly due to overcast rainy conditions, as well as some early morning hen distractions. I am seeing lots of hens out bugging in pastures and food plots. The hens have been leaving the gobblers earlier in the morning to go sit or lay eggs it appears.
“I’ve been on several great gobbling hunts that my buddies ended up pulling the triggers or in one case a swing and a miss…
“My tip to fellow late-season hunters is don’t be afraid to call more and louder. I realize that goes against the grain for late-season birds, but all of the turkeys we have struck have popped on loud aggressive cutting for whatever reason. I’m normally a little more passive, but aggressive is getting better results for me this season.
“I’ve put my hands on nine gobblers this year on my hunts in southwest Georgia and southeast Alabama, all taken by others I’ve been hunting with. I personally haven’t pulled the trigger… yet! Now that I’ve helped a few buddies and children get their birds, I’ll focus more on me getting one.
“My strategy will be to put in lots of mid-morning hours. In my experience during the late season, the birds seem to work a little better to the calls mid-morning as most hens will be non-responsive.
“I’m also headed out west from May 8-13 to Washington state to chase public-land Rios and Merriams with my son and my brother. I am very pumped about this trip! Hunt safe and smart, and enjoy every moment in God’s great outdoors. Huntin is Good!”
Harris County: Jimmy Harper, of Hamilton, reports, “For the last half-decade, every new turkey season on our 790-acre timber company lease in Harris County seems to be worse than the one before it. Approximately half of this property has been clearcut over the last five years, including well over 100 acres of old-growth hardwoods. This destruction of highly favorable turkey habitat, along with a corresponding increase in the predator population over that same time period, has combined to literally decimate a once-thriving turkey population, and no amount of food plot plantings or off-season supplemental feeding is able to offset it. My sons and I have continued to hunt this property but, since the opening weekend of turkey season, we haven’t heard a single gobble on it or even seen a turkey of any kind. It’s been many weeks since we’ve even seen a turkey track there.”
“For the remainder of the season, we plan to spend some time hunting in a major creek bottom on this timber company lease in an area which hasn’t been hunted yet this year. It’s a long-shot, but it’s the best plan we have remaining for this large tract. We also have access to two smaller Harris County parcels, both of which are wooded, but the turkey populations on these farms are definitely transient. So the hunting will no doubt be hit-or-miss, but we do know turkeys occasionally visit both properties, so it’s an option certainly worth pursuing, especially in the late season.”
Muscogee County: Jimmy Harper reports, “Although relatively small as far as turkey hunting goes at 185 acres, the private farm I continue to enjoy hunting in Muscogee County is proof that a well-managed property can still support a stable wild turkey population, even in these times of overall decreasing turkey populations across Georgia and throughout the Southeast. The landowner and I have not had a hunt all season, morning or afternoon, when we’ve failed to at least see turkeys, and we’ve had vocal and receptive gobblers to work on the vast majority of our hunts.
“Going into the season, we knew from scouting that we had two mature gobblers to hunt on this property, and the outstanding habitat on this farm drew in two additional toms from surrounding properties as the season progressed.
“We continued what we started last season, which was to turkey hunt this property with only archery equipment. Vertical bows were the initial choice for both of us, which led to several somewhat frustrating hunts during which multiple longbeards hung up time after time within easy shotgun range but outside of our comfortable bow range. For some reason this season, the gobblers we’ve hunted haven’t wanted to fully commit to our decoys. It’s been little problem getting the toms to a range of 35 to 45 yards, and jakes have walked all around and even on top of our dekes, but getting the mature gobblers to cut that distance in half for us to make a confident bow shot has been close to impossible.
“So, on the morning of April 19, I decided to swap my compound bow for a crossbow before I headed to my blind. My landowner friend stuck with his vertical bow, since he was hunting a pinch-point blind between two fields where any shot he would have would be less than 25 yards. He ended up calling in three mature thunder chickens right off the roost and shooting the biggest one at 10 yards using his Mathews bow. Less than 10 minutes later, I called in a mature gobbler from a different direction and put a TenPoint crossbow bolt into him at 40 yards to quickly end a very memorable morning of turkey hunting.”
“Since we don’t kill jakes on this Muscogee County farm, we’re able to build a healthy population of 2-year-old gobblers to hunt on a year-to-year basis. However, I want to mention something we’ve noticed this year about the jakes on this property. We all know there are generally three ways to identify a jake—a tail fan with the primary/middle feathers longer than the outside feathers on each side, a beard shorter than 6 inches, and nubbins for spurs. For a reason I can’t explain, at least 75% of the jakes we’ve seen thus far this season have full tail fans. And yes, we’re certain they’re jakes, and not mature gobblers with broken beards, because we’ve seen them up close and personal, and they essentially have no spurs. I’m mentioning this because it would be easy, if someone didn’t get a clear view of one of these young gobblers to include their beard, to see a full fan and make the assumption it was a mature gobbler.
“This won’t be an issue to consider if you shoot jakes where you hunt, but it could be a problem if you’re trying to limit your turkey harvest to mature toms only. And since jakes with full fans is something I’ve only occasionally seen in years past, and it goes against one of the identifying characteristics for a mature gobbler that I’ve understood since the beginning of my turkey hunting days, I wanted to share my observation. I’ll be looking for a longer beard, and not at the tail fan, on any and all gobblers before I make a harvest decision going forward.”
Twiggs County: Richie Green, of Jeffersonville, reports, “Don’t know about the rest of y’all, but I’m ready to get the turkeys back where I hunt, at or at least try. The only turkey I’ve seen or heard on land I hunt was the one my daughter missed from last month’s article. Luckily my buddy, Pastor Bob Powell, has permission to hunt land where there are still some turkeys, and I went with him to film him hunting with his bow. We set up across a field from one on the roost and called him all the way across 300 yards of dirt, only to see him skirt around and try to get behind us. That don’t work when you have a bow, so the turkey won that one, but at least I got to see and hear one.
“My granddaughter, Shaye Grimes, is still living the dream with her boyfriend in Hancock County. She killed one with an 11-inch beard and inch spurs on the 20th of April (see picture on page 40.)
“If you’re lucky enough to have turkeys where you hunt this year take a minute to enjoy just hearing some gobble and be thankful because next year might be different.
“The DNR will help improve your land for birds and will even help you with the cost. I got them coming to help me next month so maybe I can bring birds back to my land in a few years. It didn’t happen overnight, and it won’t be fixed overnight but it’s a start.
“Fields would be the best place to be in the late season if you have access to one, or a powerline maybe. The guys are gonna be lonely and looking. The middle of the day could be awesome if you like to sit a while. Good luck to all, and hope to see y’all in the fall when we start up again with our deer hunting reports.”
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