For many years like most spring hunters, I hunted every morning religiously but by late morning, if I hadn’t worked a gobbler, the hunt ended until the next morning. Little did I realize that afternoon hunting, where legal, could be just as rewarding as morning hunting if one understands a few basic techniques and exercises a lot of patience.
The main difference between afternoon and morning hunting is where the bird is when you begin calling to him. In the morning, you locate a roosting gobbler and try to entice him with hen calls to where you are waiting. When afternoon hunting, you try to locate a gobbler that has serviced his hens and separated himself from his harem. It sounds simple, but since a gobbler does very little gobbling in the afternoon, many hunters think there is no use in afternoon hunting. Hunters usually run out of patience looking for the “tight-lipped” birds.
Heavily hunted lands are good places to hunt gobblers in the afternoon as novice turkey hunters pester the birds every morning. These gobblers soon become smart to the early morning callers, but as the day wears on and the hunters leave the gobblers to relax, they can be called.
The art to afternoon turkey hunting is locating the gobbler. One of the best afternoon gobbler callers I know is Donnie Brown, a hunting guide who lives in Alabama. Brown drives around the edges of openings, such as large pastures, at midday and uses an owl call to locate a feeding gobbler. If the owl call doesn’t get a gobbler to answer, Brown will ease along these pastures with binoculars looking far in front of him for a lone gobbler or two or three gobblers together, in a position where he can sneak around them into the woodlands and call them. If he gets a gobbler to answer or sees one, he gets as close as possible without spooking him and sets up just as he would for an early morning hunt. Often with just a few yelps or clucks, the gobbler comes in looking for the lonely hen.
Ken French, another noted turkey hunter from Maine, hunts similarly in heavily hunted areas except that he walks logging roads through the middle of woods and uses a hawk call to locate a gobbler. If a gobbler answers, French sets up the same as a morning hunt. French suggests that the midday hunter do a little research and find out what kinds of callers the other hunters in the area have been using, then use something different. This is especially important when you are hunting public lands or a public hunting area. If the gobbler has been worked every morning with a box, try a slate or mouth call. The fact that it is different sounding caller will often mean the difference between success and failure.
I like using the crow call to locate gobblers but many times, I’ve found that birds won’t gobble in the afternoon at a crow call. If I can’t get a gobble by using a crow call, I start walking along logging roads or the edge of fields, and every quarter-mile of so, I hide myself well and give a series of loud yelps. Then I listen for a few minutes. Since afternoon turkeys may come in without ever gobbling, I listen as much for footsteps in leaves as I do a gobble. A turkey walking in leaves sounds like a man walking. If nothing happens, I repeat the calls four or five more times before moving on. If I do get an answer, I call very little and let the gobbler look for me. A hen will often yelp back. If this is the case, I call her, hoping a gobbler will also be attracted to all this commotion.
On one occasion, I was becoming tired of calling with no response. I started walking back to my truck, practicing yelps with my mouth caller as I walked. Suddenly, two ridges over, I heard a hen answer with a series of yelps. I quickly got behind a log and pulled down my facemask. I called once more with some low, soft yelps. The hen yelped back, this time much closer. Soon she was out in front of me yelping her head off. I was enjoying watching her antics, when suddenly to my right there appeared an old gobbler in full strut. He never gobbled one time, but his dance soon brought him into range of my 12-gauge. What had appeared to be a very unsuccessful afternoon hunt suddenly turned into my getting a real trophy gobbler.
Where it is legal, afternoon turkey hunting can be as productive as early morning hunting. To many hunters, this is still a relatively new technique, but the more they try it, the more they realize that lonely afternoon gobblers are just as vulnerable as those sitting on the roost at the crack of dawn.