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A wild turkey crosses a field in Freeport. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

 

The alarm goes off at 3:30 but you’re already wide awake, the result of a well-practiced routine. It’s been a month of early mornings preceded by several weeks of preseason scouting and the strain is starting to take a toll. Enthusiasm is replaced with determination. Sleep beckons but you persist because it will be a long wait before the next turkey season rolls around. So, you grab a quick cup of coffee, load vest and gun into the truck and head off with mixed emotions knowing that late season turkey hunting can be both a blessing and a curse.

Finding birds to hunt is now more difficult, partly because there are far fewer of them. Hunters have had a month to pursue the wily wild turkey and many of the more popular places have been picked clean. Those few remaining birds are more reticent, and the tall grass and verdant leaf cover makes them harder to see.

On the positive side, there’s less competition. A healthy proportion of hunters are tagged out and many of the remainder have shifted their attention to things like golf, fishing and gardening. The ever earlier sunrises also discourage both the casual nimrods who are less eager to rise in the wee hours, and the hard core hunters who have been doing so for several weeks.

Less hunting pressure means more opportunity to work a bird without interference, which will help because the remnant birds can be more challenging. They’ve been called to and harassed for weeks. The gullible 2-year-olds that run to a call were weeded out long ago. Meanwhile, increasing hours of daylight have a suppressing effect on the turkey’s urge to breed. Those factors all make toms much more reluctant to come to a call.

It’s time to change tactics. Abandon the aggressive yelping and cutting that fired up gobblers early in the season. A better approach is soft clucks and purrs and plenty of patience. Set up in a likely place, perhaps put out a decoy and wait… and wait… and wait, offering a few plaintive clucks every so often.

Patience is paramount but so is staying alert, a task made all the more difficult by so many early mornings. As the first hour passes without event, the sun and air temperature rise and the caffeine wears off your eyelids grow heavy. It would be tempting to nod off but if a tom is tempted by your modest calling there’s a very good chance he’ll slip in silently, and if you’re not ready you’ll miss a precious late-season opportunity.

You’ll have to redouble your scouting efforts too in order to locate a likely adversary. In between those patient vigils, scout for sign like still moist earth uncovered by fresh scratching or shallow bowl-shaped depressions in the soft, sandy soil where the turkeys come regularly to dust off parasites.

You also need to adapt to changing turkey behavior. While the turkey rut is winding down, there are still a few randy gobblers out there, and with most hens now off incubating clutches full time and some tending broods, the gobblers must work harder to find a potential mate. They travel farther and wider in their search and longbeards may suddenly show up in new or different areas.

Keep at it because too soon it will end. You’ll welcome the termination of turkey season initially. You’ll sleep a little later each day, gradually returning to a more reasonable and restful routine. You’ll hang up your vest, decoys and camo clothes and turn your attention to other pursuits. It may take a week or more to fully recover then the process begins again and you start pining for the next turkey season.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at: [email protected]


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