Sportsmen across North Carolina flooded the woods earlier this month as the spring gobbler season opened, and many have enjoyed reasonable success. But as the season wanes, the gobblers have heard all the misplaced yelps and purrs and busted fidgety hunters, and they’re a lot more wary. It’s a time when guides like Karl Helmkamp of Albemarle Outfitters in the northeastern corner of the state really shine.
Helmkamp and his customers hunt until the final day of the season, and he’s got some tips for getting a late-season gobbler in range of the business end of your shotgun.
Hunt the middle of the day. This is when most hunters leave the woods, and turkeys can move about without being spooked and hearing multiple calls. Helmkamp likes to blind call; when he gets a response, he goes after that turkey.
Don't forget Game Lands. Helmkamp said most public hunting areas get a lot of pressure the first week to 10 days of the season, and then many hunters believe they have been "shot up" and look elsewhere. The pressure drops substantially, and near the end of the season, hunting opportunities on these areas may be almost as good as during the first week.
Don't waste time on hung-up toms. Helmkamp said sometimes a tom will just hang up and refuse to come any closer. He said you can waste hours on one of these birds and never see them. When it is obvious a bird has hung up, ease out of that area, try not to spook it and make it more wary, then go look for another turkey.
Two toms together is a jackpot. This is the time to use your strutter decoy, according to Helmkamp, who said that toms running together later in the season will be competitive for hens; seeing a new tom will make them crazy. He likes to set the strutter decoy off a point and let turkeys discover it while lightly calling from in the brush near the decoy. He said this isn't as effective with a single tom, but is deadly when two are together late in the season.
Hunt with a buddy; take turns shooting and calling. This is a really effective tactic in areas where turkeys get a lot of pressure and the toms seem to hang up just out of range while looking over every twig or blade of grass for something that isn't right. He said the shooter finds an appropriate angle or sets up a ways in front of the caller. With his superior hearing, the tom pinpoints the call and comes to within range of the shooter while staying back and looking for the hen where he heard the call.
Turn the tables and only answer calls. After a few weeks of mating, some toms develop the habit of staying in their roost tree and trying to call hens to them. When this happens, Helmkamp said to let the tom call a few times and then answer him. Then only answer the tom's call and only a couple more times. Once you have answered the tom a few times, get closer quietly and get your gun up and ready. If no hens come to the tom, he'll get jacked up and fly down looking for one. With so hens already on nests, the odds are good you might be the only hen answering him. When you go quiet, he can't stand it and will come looking.
Make the tom think his hen has stalled. Helmkamp said this is another version of getting the turkey excited and forcing him to come looking. It’s usually a good idea to try when he’s still on his roost. If you get him to answer your call from his roost, walk generally towards him for approximately 100 steps and call again. When he answers, walk at an angle, not directly toward him, for 60 or so steps and call again. Now go quiet and change the tactic and only answer when he calls. He thinks this hen was moving towards him and has suddenly stopped and he gets worried she has found something more interesting, like another gobbler. Most of the time he'll fly down to go look for her.