Getting deep into Kentucky’s spring turkey season, hunters may want take advantage of nesting hens making for lonesome gobblers.
Today brings the third weekend of four, Saturdays and Sundays typically bringing upsurges of hunter activity during the state’s 23-day traditional spring gobbler season. Another way to look at it is that hunters are going into the last week of the season, and the situation is changed.
Kentucky’s spring season regularly opens on the Saturday nearest to April 15 — according to this year’s calendar, April 17. Yet, the peak of our turkeys’ breeding season typically comes earlier in the month.
The hunting season comes on the back side of the hottest period of turkey mating for a reason. Alas, hunters miss what is typically the busiest period of gobbler vocalizations. But the timing also allows a great many of the hens to be bred by the dominant gobblers before the onset of hunting and the potential removal of those top toms from the genetics pool.
It is not necessarily the optimum timing for the hunting, but it helps continue the turkey population in its best form.
Now, in the latter days of the hunting period, the game has changed. Tom turkeys are losing some of their ardor and aggression with many of the hens already being bred. Add to that the results of hunting pressure thus far. Gobbling has declined, a combination of the breeding season cooling and toms being more cautious to respond to hen sounds.
At the peak of breeding, gobbling was more frequent when birds were still on the roost at dawn as well as after fly-down. By now, gobblers are apt to be tighter lipped at first light while still roosting, and when they hit the ground again, they may clam up altogether.
That can be frustrating for hunters. Not hearing gobbling and getting no answers to feigned hen calls discourages and may send would-be gobbler getters back to the truck and home for a second breakfast too soon.
During the late days of the spring season, the stereotypical hunting approach of calling to a gobbler on the roost, then having that bird flap down and come right to the waiting hunter is increasingly more difficult to bring to fruition. Those dawn patrols bring fewer and fewer bearded results.
A possible advantage of the late season comes from the reality that many of the prime hens already have been bred and are engaged in nesting. Somewhere in the morning, consequently, these hens slip away from other turkeys and go solo off to their selected nesting sites.
A gobbler may be getting no action from the already-fertilized hens, but yet when they secret themselves away to go their nests, he becomes lonely and more driven to seek the company of lady turkeys.
Hunters who play the early game find themselves stymied and soon depart, many never experiencing the mid-morning development. Those who extend their day or even some who forego first-light tactics and start later very well might.
Perhaps two to three hours after dawn, after nesting hens have left active gobblers yearning, it has proven rewarding for a mid-morning hunter to seek out an area where birds have been frequenting — where gobbling was spirited back when toms were doing that more often. A hunter should anticipate that a lonesome gobbler is there, although it may be silent. That is the hard part: unreinforced faith and the discipline to sit still and wait.
The mid-morning hunter should consider using sparse, occasional hen calls to let a listening gobbler know a “hen” is there. But silence and a motionless vigil are the best tools to intercept a lonely but cautious gobbler that is more likely to sneak in rather than approach in booming fashion.
If you can get a mid-morning tom to gobble at a few probing hen yelps, the best course might be to shut up, get ready and still because he is probably coming. But even if the gobbler will not speak up, don’t bet that he won’t come ghosting in to soothe his fancy for female companionship.
• The Land Between the Lakes’ Elk & Bison Prairie becomes a nursery for the offspring of big critters this month. That is a visual treat for visitors, but it also warrants a good deal of respect.
Resident cow bison in the drive-thru wildlife area begin calving in coming days. Elk start producing calves late in May and into June.
The 700-acre prairie is unique in that it allows visitors in vehicles to ease through the looping drive and encounter these big native quadrupeds doing what big quadrupeds do in daily life in the habitat mix of long grass range and mixed timber.
Particularly regarding the bison, it is often possible to experience close contact with animals in the resident herds. Motorists-viewers, indeed, sometimes have to yield right-of-way on the paved drive to bison crossing or lingering on the roadway. They typically seem to have no interest or care for the vehicles and humans in them that they may flank or surround.
Visitors are always cautioned, however, to stay in their vehicle anytime animals are near, the critters being wild, unpredictable and potentially dangerous. That situation is especially intensified when bison cows have calves.
Mom buffalo are highly protective of their babies. They seem to take little notice of vehicles, but humans on foot are at high risk with young bison accompanied by cows in the area. Even more so this time of year, bison and elk should be treated with the respect and caution that hair-trigger wild animals warrant.
They do not stand there because they want to be friends. They are there only because they do not fear people. Big difference.
Steve Vantreese is a freelance outdoors writer. Email outdoors news items to email@example.com or phone 270-575-8650.