Hunt Late-Season Gobblers
B.J. Grubbs said late turkey hunting season is a great opportunity for hunters to find a lonely gobbler searching for company.
Turkey hunting in general is tough, even for a seasoned veteran. But, turkey hunting toward the end of the season on can be down-right tough. As if turkeys aren’t hard enough to kill without a bunch of other folks educating them on what hunters sound and look like, turkeys have had all season to compare actual turkeys to the sounds of hunters and the looks of decoys, and you’ve got to be a pretty tactful hunter to bag one after all that education.
B.J. Grubbs, of Eldorendo, must be one of those hunters, because on the last week of the 2008 season, he and his grandfather Bobby Grubbs Sr. and their hunting partners killed three birds on public land, where hunting is even tougher, in southwest Georgia. That’s three birds that hundreds of other hunters tried to kill all season long to no avail, but they succeeded.
B.J., his father and his grandfather are all turkey hunters. They also all happen to be call makers. B.J. said he started making calls when he was in high school as a hobby because, “Anyone can go to the store and buy a call to call in a turkey, but I wanted something I made to be able to outwit a turkey.”
B.J. limits out almost every season, and after that he’ll usually call in birds for friends. He is also a nurse at the Memorial Hospital Emergency Room in Bainbridge, and his 12-hour work days mean he gets a lot of free time to go hunting.
“Turkey hunting is what I live for. I’d rather turkey hunt than deer hunt, dove hunt, and all that other mess combined,” he said.
B.J., at 25 years of age, has learned a lot from his family members, and all the turkeys that have fallen, and a few which have survived. He agreed to share a little of his knowledge with GON, so you might be able to bag a late-season bird yourself.
Patience Is a Virtue
Most turkey hunters are just hoping they’ve got a sexy-enough yelp to talk that granddaddy tom in to a full run to the gun. But on late-season hunts, you probably aren’t going to find many turkeys in a hurry to come to your calls. Most of the birds B.J. has killed during the late season started gobbling late in the morning.
The late season is when hunting gets tough. B.J. said he believes it takes a real dedicated turkey hunter to stick it out at the end of the season when things get tough. The best thing to have at the end of the season is patience, and a lot of it.
“You can’t go in there expecting to kill one by 8 a.m. and be at work by 9 a.m., especially not at the end of the season,” he said.
“The birds do everything later than they do early in the season. They get down later, and they don’t start talking until later,” which means you’ve got to sit and wait a long time to hear one.”
One of the three birds B.J. and his compadres killed on the last week of the season was at 12:30 p.m., and he said they didn’t hear it gobble until 10 a.m. That just goes to prove that you need some patience. The good thing about hunting late is that a lot of folks give up early, leaving you with all the land for yourself.
Tools of the Trade
B.J. always wears a turkey vest with a padded back and seat that allows him to be very patient and wait out even the most wary gobblers. He also carries a variety of calls including, boxes, slates, mouth calls and a gobble tube. He said the more calls you have to try, the more likely you are to have one gobble back. However, B.J. isn’t tearing the woods down with an excessive amount of calling. When hunting birds that late in the season, it’s a great idea to be versatile in the types of calls you have. They may not get fired up but for a particular mouth call, or it could be a certain striker on a certain slate call that gets them going. More calls mean a better chance to get one fired up.
“Some folks call it cheating, but I always hunt with someone, because with two people you’ve got twice as many calls to try on them as you do with one person. That turkey may not talk back to a single call you have in your bag, but he just might like that box call in your partner’s vest.
B.J. also said hunting with a partner gives another set of eyes to look for the quiet late-season birds that might not gobble but once or twice at a distance and then try to sneak in.
B.J. also carries a foam hen decoy and a wing from a previously harvested bird. He beats the wing in the morning to imitate the sound of a bird dropping down from the roost, and he said the decoy gives him just a little added advantage for wary toms that may have already been shot at during the year.
Where To Start
B.J. doesn’t use locator calls at all for late-season birds. No matter how much you think your call sounds exactly like an owl, crow or goose, the turkeys will notice the difference in pitch and remember other hunters’ locator calls.
Instead, he generally walks, or rides his quiet golf cart, and listens for a bird to respond to an actual crow or another tom or hen. He will have everything ready except for his facemask on. He doesn’t wear the facemask because when you have something over your ears, it affects the way you perceive the sound.
“You could hear a call behind you, and it might sound like it is to your left. I just wait until I know the direction of the turkey before I put my facemask on,” he said.
Talk the Talk
Even though things might happen later, B.J. likes to stick to the basics at the end of the season: Get a gobbler interested, and then be just talkative enough to keep him interested.
He said he’ll always start the morning with a solid walnut box call, the first one he and his grandfather ever made together. He also said no matter what he does when he is giving a yelping call to a gobbler, he starts out soft and gets louder as he ends the sequence.
“This gives the gobbler the feeling that the hen is getting excited about it,” he said.
But, he said when a bird has been hunted hard, you probably don’t need to do much besides a light yelp or cluck, or maybe a fly-down cackle early and then stick to purrs.
“He’ll know where you’re at,” he said. “If he gobbles back, you leave it alone. Give it five or 10 minutes between purrs. You don’t need to pressure him.
“A lot of folks will go out and just do the same ‘yelp, yelp, yelp’ over and over again to the turkey, and he’ll finally just shut up. When you hear a hen in the woods, it isn’t doing that. She’ll yelp once and then purr a little and just keep walking. You’ve got to imitate what a real hen would do,” he said.
He said once you get one to talk to you, you’ll be able to tell if it’s on the roost or coming your way by the sound of its gobble.
Once you’ve got him gobbling, you don’t have to pound him with calls because he knows where you’re at. If it’s been a while and the bird still hasn’t showed up, he’ll take out his wing and beat it a few times and scratch on the ground to imitate a hen coming off the roost.
“I’ve had birds gobble at me just by hearing me scratch the leaves before,” he said.
With late-season birds, B.J. said it might take a little longer to find a bird, but once you do find it you just pattern him like any other one.
“If you hunt him from one side and he goes the other direction, you know the next morning to be on the other side. Or you might need to surround the bird. You know he is going to travel that pattern. Maybe you put one guy on one side and one guy on the other, and which ever way he goes, that’s who calls to him,” he said.
Bad Weather, Fewer Hunters
Since April showers bring May flowers, you’re probably going to have to put up with a lot more rain and wind toward the end of the season than the beginning. B.J. uses those days to his advantage. He said he likes it because it usually means there won’t be as many hunters out that day competing with him for the few old toms which have made it through the gauntlet. But, he said you’ve still got to be in the right place to find them.
“If the wind is blowing 15 mph on top of the hill, it might be blowing 5 mph in a bottom, so I find a bottom to set up in. The turkeys are going to be where the wind isn’t. The only time a turkey usually deals with wind is on the roost, and he’s usually asleep when he’s there,” he said.
B.J. also said to make sure you know the landscape around where you are hunting, not just on windy days.
“A turkey is generally not going to get its feet wet, and it’s not going to cross a fence. They know where the holes in the fence are, and where there is an easy creek crossing, and there’s where that turkey is going to cross at,” he said.
The time you have at the end of the season is precious, and you don’t need to waste it setting up where a gobbler doesn’t want to be.
“You’ve got to be at the crossing and wait on him. You can’t expect him to do something different just because you’re calling to him,” he said.
A lot of guys don’t hunt in the afternoon, which gives you more land to yourself. It can still be a pretty productive strategy, but you’ve got to rely on where you’ve seen gobblers in the afternoon and start there, he said.
“One good thing about afternoon hunting is, if you get one to gobble back, you’ve got a good chance to kill it,” said B.J.
And that’s particularly true toward the end of the season because the toms are trying to find the few hens that haven’t been bred yet. Keep in mind that about 50 percent of the hens have been bred before turkey season even opens, which the DNR schedules on purpose so a good number of hens are bred before hunters flood the woods. So, by late season most of the hens are sitting on eggs, which means there’s going to be some really desperate toms out there.
Because toms aren’t normally as vocal in the afternoon as they are right off the roost, B.J. said if one does gobble in the afternoon, it’s probably really excited, and it’s going to come looking for you, fast. You better be ready.
The first turkey B.J. ever killed was in the afternoon, and he said he came in a straight run across a field after it heard one yelp.
“I called three times that day, and I killed that tom,” he said.
Though all birds won’t be as easy to get, it might be worth it to skip an afternoon of fishing, and see if maybe you can find a strutter willing to entertain your calls.
If All Else Fails
On the last week of the season last year, B.J. and his granddad set out to kill a bird that a lot of folks had tried to kill, and he’d even been shot at a couple times. He said he was a big, old bird that was smart. He was the dominant bird in the area, and they couldn’t figure out how to kill him.
So they set up two different flocks of decoys with one of them having a gobbler decoy and four separate hens right where the gobbler would see them when he came out.
B.J. said they knew where he was strutting at; he just didn’t want to answer any of their calls. That’s when they decided to fool him into thinking another gobbler had come into his territory and was courting his hens. He said the gobbler came out into the field and saw the gobbler decoy with all the hen decoys and immediately made a beeline to find out what was going on.
That’s exactly where he saw his last hen, because he was one of the three birds B.J. called or killed during the last week of the season.
Whatever tactic you might use late in the season, you’re going to need a lot of patience and some good calls to go with it. If you’d like to try out one of B.J.’s calls, he makes mouth calls and two different kinds of box calls, and he hand tunes every call he makes.
“If I wouldn’t go out and hunt with it, I wouldn’t sell it to anyone else. That’s why I hand tune every box until it sounds just the way it needs to,” he said.
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