Looking at the benefits of primarily hunting mid to late morning turkeys and sleeping in for the dawn
Life evolves in many ways. Jobs (and bird dogs) make us wake at the crack of dawn, and maybe sleeping in is the natural result of a late night shift. And there is no doubt the guilt that follows on those turkey hunting mornings when the alarm is silenced again and again. For many of us where states end turkey hunting at noon, that sense of impending doom only increases the anxiety and guilt of not waking up early. But why do we feel that way? Is there a reason getting under a turkey roost at o-dark-thirty is so imperative to the hunt?
Is setting up in the dark the best time for turkeys?
There are plenty of traditionalists who would argue that a classic set up on a roost, with a decoy spread, waiting in ambush from a blind is the way to go. And by no means is this meant to dismiss this tactic but merely offer an alternative tactic.
Over the years of setting up on roosts I’ve found one scenario to be the most common. Birds wake up, gobbles begin, and a nearby hen begins to chatter after I sit there with full-on confidence that this was the set up. Maybe some people can out-call a living hen. I am surely not one of them. Do not get me wrong. Once in awhile I get that hen-free morning and things seem like magic, but it’s far less common.
I have often theorized on the idea that as humans we get more caught up on how we want our game to behave and a lot less on how they naturally behave. Take the turkey “hang up.” The hunter narratives point towards this call-shy bird that knows the tricks of the trade. The reality is male turkeys want a hen to come to them in those last steps we have named the “hang up” as a natural part of turkey breeding behavior. Maybe that has been a learned behavior from years of hunting. It’s possible. But that evolution happened well before I hunted them.
Some years ago I started keeping track of when I shot my turkeys. Blocking it off into early morning (before 7), mid morning (7 to 9), and late morning (9 to noon). To my surprise after years of assuming that early morning was the time, it turns out that mid morning made up the vast majority of my kills. The second best production being late morning, the window of 8 to 10 accounting for the lion’s share.
How sleeping in helps turkey hunting
Before I go to deep on how it helps with turkey hunting, I have to point out the convenience of home life. My normal routine puts me up around 6:30; by 7 the dogs are fed, breakfast is finished, and coffee is well on its way to being fully consumed. Most important for us bird dog folks is the dog’s sense of forgiveness when I depart the house with the sun up to go hunting rather than in the pitch black, which often results in a heartbroken dog keeping the rest of the house awake.
But what about those turkeys? The natural course of Tom’s day this time of year is to seek out a breeding partner. While my cold brew coffee is pleasant in pajamas, I do not find myself with cold chills under a tree watching hopelessly as a group of toms walk away with a world champion caller known as the hen wild turkey.
After not too long those toms give up on that hen that has most likely gone silent and ignored their display rituals. Sure, in some cases that hen wants to be bred, and I assure all of us that that only makes matters more impossible. But once they give up! Now that is a magical moment.
That is when my poor calling sounds a lot more appealing to those lonely groups or even better to that lone tom. Birds are spread out, contacts can happen anywhere, and running and gunning (my favorite way to hunt) is as deadly as anytime. I would go so far as to say that toms and jakes are more likely to fully commit to a mid to late morning calling sequence once they sound off. Hens are as spread out as they are, making our chances of being out called less than those hens that were immediately roosted next to them at dawn.
So effectively we have cut our the first few hours in the woods. Which in my opinion are the highest cost for the least reward situations. We pay throughout the day by being tired, warn down, and off our A game.
Now I must say for those of you who may be saying, “Well of course you kill more turkeys after 8 a.m. if you are not hunting before then.” I would like to point out last year was the first year I stopped doing early mornings. So the years of decision that went into that were very much equal opportunity. In fact I hunted more early mornings than anything as late season burn out set in and we would often not hunt right till noon.
I think there are grounds for fair debate to say that turkeys after 8 a.m. become inherently more desperate, which equates to vulnerable.
Factors that make late mornings a bad idea
Weather is without a doubt the one thing that can put a damper on those mornings of sleeping in. Hot days will often mean birds become increasingly less active as the sun warms up, making those sunrise opportunities the best chances. Things like when rains may begin, or high winds, are all things to consider when going for the lazy morning play.
Over-hunted areas are another factor that can make those late mornings a bad idea, especially on the weekends. Growing up in Boston suburbs it was often a game of who was crazy enough to park the earliest possible time to hunt a spot. And from the ethical aspect we should respect that first-come-first-serve situation on small lots of public lands. Many of these hunters have limited time to scout, so only knowing single locations can be a major hindrance to being able to move around mid to late mornings. In those cases, claim your stake early, and remember to scout new locations in the future.
A.J. DeRosa founded Project Upland in 2014 as an excuse to go hunting more often (and it worked). A New England native, he grew up hunting and has spent over 35 years in pursuit of big and small game species across three continents. He has a passion for side-by-side shotguns, inspiring him to travel the world to meet the people and places from which they come. Looking to turn his passion into inspiration for others, AJ was first published in 2004 and went on to write his first book The Urban Deer Complex in 2014. He soon discovered a love for filmmaking, particularly the challenge of capturing ruffed grouse with a camera, which led to the award-winning Project Upland film series. AJ's love for all things wild has caused him to advocate on the federal and state levels to promote and expand conservation policy, habitat funding, and upland game bird awareness. He currently serves as the Strafford County New Hampshire Fish & Game Commissioner in order to give back to his community and to further the mission of the agency. When those hunting excuses are in play, you can find him wandering behind his Wirehaired Pointing Griffon in the mountains of New England and anywhere else the birds take them.