By the second week of May, it can seem like turkey season has gone on forever, especially if you’ve been going at it hard in multiple states like more and more turkey nuts do. But with the next Best Day of the Strut coming up on Tuesday, this is no time to be giving up. In fact, our expert for the day, a Kansas-based guide with a killer track record of putting his clients on big toms, picked May 10 as his favorite day to hunt during his state’s six-week season.
And his favorite tactic for this stage of the strut reminds me of the similarities between the breeding cycle of turkeys and that of deer. During the fall rut, whitetail hunters focus so squarely on the activity associated with bucks finding does that we often forget that whitetails still do deer-stuff, like bedding, feeding, and traveling. Well, things are no different with turkeys, which continue to do turkey things—and they do them in fairly predictable ways. There are certain places and times where gobblers like to roost, strut, meet hens, and loaf. If you know the where and when, you’ve got a great chance to fill a tag. With spring weather stabilizing across the country, there may be no better time than right now to capitalize on a tom’s routine.
The Pro: Tim Clark, Morland, Kansas
Owner of Red Dog Outfitters, Tim Clark is best-known as one of the country’s top whitetail guides. But he is just as adept at putting his clients on spring gobblers on his properties in Kansas and Nebraska. Compared to some of the long-established southern lodges, Red Dog is a relative newbie, as Clark has only been at it for 11 seasons. But in that time, his hunters have killed over 600 longbeards, a track record that speaks for itself.
The Strut Stage: Post-Peak Breeding
By this time of the season in Clark’s region and in much of the northern half of the country, the majority of hens have started to nest and some are actively laying. But Clark says gobblers are still acting much the same as they’ve been since the season started. “Toms strut throughout the spring for a variety of reasons,” he explains. “Early on, they’re showing off for each other, then they show off for hens, and now they’re strutting because they’re getting angry. Toms are frustrated that hens are not as active and available, and they’re chippy with each other, because, well, they’re guys and that’s what guys do. But the thing to remember is that while they may be strutting for different reasons, they’re doing it in the same places they’ve been all spring. My job, as a guide, is to know where those spots are, get my hunters in them, and tell them to use the turkey hunter’s greatest and least-used tool: patience.”
Expert Tactic for May 10: Stake Out a Gobbler’s Core Area
“I’m a boring turkey guide, because I hunt them just like I hunt deer,” Clark says. “I’m lucky because I live in country where I can glass a lot of areas and see where turkeys go and how they get there. But I also read sign and listen to turkeys. And most important, I use trail-cams a lot, just like I’d do to figure out a big buck. And if a camera is just getting hen pics, it’s done its work. I don’t care if I get five days worth of nothing but hen pics, I’m putting a blind there, because the gobbler is either there already, or he’s coming. I study all that information to learn patterns and tendencies so I know where to put my hunters.” If you have trail cams out for turkeys, too, great, but even if you don’t, you probably do have a good read on a few key strutting and loafing areas by this point in the season. These are the places to focus on.
Decoys are a huge asset in Clark’s area, where turkeys live and die by their eyes. “Of course calling is important,” he says. “That’s often what gets a gobbler’s attention. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen them standing at 600 or 800 yards, just looking for the source of the yelping—sometimes for 30 minutes or more, depending on their mood. That’s when a quality decoy, like a Dave Smith or Avian X, kicks in. I want that decoy on a knoll or opening that turkeys can see from a distance. I tell my hunters that there are birds watching them, even when they don’t know it.”
The key is to let your scouting, decoys, and occasional calling do their work, says Clark. “If I have a guy who can’t sit in a blind long, I tell him to sleep in, and then I’ll take him out from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. This time of year, a hen might only be active for an hour or two in the morning, then she’s off to lay an egg or sit—and it’s off to the races for the gobbler. If you’re patient and you know where he already wants to go, it’s just a matter of time before you put a tag on him.”