PRATT – The sound of a gobble will stop a turkey hunter in their tracks – anytime, anywhere. Like no other sound you’ve heard, a gobble is a high-pitched, rattling chortle that seems to erupt from a tom’s throat. It carries far on a calm spring morning, which can be good and bad for the turkey. Gobbles also signal the start of the spring turkey season.
Spring turkey hunting entails calling males, or toms, within range by imitating the call of a female, or hen. It’s both exhilarating and nerve frazzling. But be forewarned, many become hopelessly addicted to the adrenalin rush of spring turkey hunting after just one experience.
The Kansas spring turkey season opened for youth and hunters with disabilities on April 1 (During the youth season, youth 16 and younger may hunt with adult supervision). Archery hunters started hunting April 3, and the regular shotgun/archery season is April 12-May 31, 2017. All hunters need a turkey permit, as well as a hunting license, unless exempt by law. Go to www.ksoutdoors.com for all spring turkey regulations, a unit map, as well as license and permit fees. Only bearded birds may be harvested during the spring season, and hunters may take one bird per permit and one bird per game tag in designated units. Turkey permits are not available online and must be purchased at Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) offices or license vendors.
Toms may gobble throughout the year, but they are most vocal in the spring during the breeding season. They sound off to let hens know they’re available, which is the good thing. However, gobbles also let hunters know where they’re located, which is the bad thing, if you’re a turkey.
Finding turkeys is the first step of a spring turkey hunt. Our largest game bird roosts in mature trees, so any timber stand, shelterbelt, creek bottom or even old homestead can host roosting turkeys. Scout likely areas by searching for tracks on dirt roads, glassing edges of stubble and winter wheat fields or listening for gobbles just after sunset. Toms have a peculiar habit of gobbling just after they fly to roost in the evening and just before they fly down in the morning, so if you hear that, you know you’ve found a great spot.
To take some of the guesswork out, consider hunting public lands. KDWPT manages more than 500,000 acres of state and federal land for public hunting, and more than 275,000 acres of private land are enrolled in the spring Walk-in Hunting Access (WIHA) program, so there’s plenty of spots to choose from this Spring. The 2017 Spring Turkey Hunting Atlas includes maps showing all public hunting lands and is available wherever licenses are sold, so grab yours today or download a copy from www.ksoutdoors.com.
Once you’ve found birds, the next step is to set your alarm for “dark-thirty” the next morning. Under the cover of darkness, try to quietly get in position 75 to 100 yards from the roost. Sit with a tree wider than your shoulders at your back, in full camouflage and watch the woods wake up. When you hear the sound of turkeys from their roost, make some soft tree yelps on your call to convince a tom you’re a new hen roosted nearby. After the birds fly down, the calling strategy begins. A tom will often gobble in response to your calls, but it’s never a sure thing. Real live hens are tough to compete with and may lead your tom away, and turkeys have excellent vision, so one false move can send a bird off. But when it works and you call a bird within range, watching and listening as a big tom gobbles, struts and spits so close is an experience you’ll never forget – and one you’ll want to repeat again and again.
Keeping safe during the spring turkey season requires some extra precaution because hunters are dressed in full camouflage and making sounds like a turkey. Sitting against a tree wider than your shoulders protects you if an unthinking hunter stalks your call from behind. Always assume any sound you hear is another hunter, and always yell or whistle if you see another hunter. Any movement like a wave could draw fire. Always be sure of your target before you pull the trigger, and that means you have to see a beard on the bird during the spring season. Some hunters will wear an orange hat walking in and out of the woods, and they hang that hat on a limb above them while sitting. It’s also a good idea to wrap a bird you kill in florescent orange for the carry out.