Last week we brought you tips and tactics for hunting the second day in our Best Days of the Strut series. Our third Best Day comes from a top turkey slayer who hails from one of the country’s turkey states. Tim Herald has traveled the globe hunting game of all kinds, but he cut his hunter’s teeth yelping to the gobblers of his home state of Kentucky. With the season just getting started in the Bluegrass State, Herald is chomping at the bit get after it at home and has developed some unique strategies for wrapping his tag around the leg of a tom.
Of course, things are heating up all over turkey country. Seasons have been open for a while and breeding is may even be starting to wind down in parts of the Deep South. Midwestern states that aren’t open yet will soon, as more hens are getting receptive by the day. Northeastern hunters don’t have much longer to wait, either, and everyone can put Herald’s strategies to work in their own neck of the wood by just paying attention to the “strut stage” below and applying his tactics when local birds are behaving the same. It’s an exciting time to be a turkey nut, so let’s get a look at our next Best Day.
The Pro: Tim Herald, Lexington, Kentucky
Owner of Worldwide Trophy Adventures , Tim Herald has been hunting almost everywhere you can name for any critter you can imagine. But Herald won’t miss a turkey season near his Lexington, Kentucky, home. He is plenty serious about filling his own tag, but he also makes it a point to take out as many family members and friends as he can. Herald’s decades of experience have helped him devise some pretty clever strategies for the spring hunts, one of which he loves to put into play for this Best Day, which is right around his home opener.
The Strut Stage: Approaching Breeding Peak
Turkey hunters make a big fuss about toms being “henned up” and the challenges that the situation creates. But let’s face it, except for the very beginning and the very end of the spring hunt, toms going to hens and vice-versa is an ever-present problem. It’s only a matter of degree. The turkey strut follows a generally bell-shaped curve, just like the whitetail rut, but it’s rarely a smooth transition. There are fits and starts, and by this time in April, we’re far enough into the spring in most areas that, it’s wise to basically count on hens being an active part of any equation.
Expert Tactic for April 17: Set Up on the Assembly
One of the key ways that Herald deals with henned-up toms is to forgo the roost hunt during this part of the season. “Plenty of hunters struggle with a roost hunt, especially when it involves multiple birds roosting close together,” he said. “While the gobbling can be intense, the wheels can come off the cart in a hurry, as old hens and mature gobblers frequently seem to have a place they want to go and assemble, and those areas are predetermined before they even set their wings and fly down.”
Herald said his success rate soared when he forgot about getting tight to the roost and focused on finding these assembly areas. “I find them pre-season by simply listening to and watching birds and finding spots they favor right after fly-down; often it’s an east-facing slope or field edge that gets the first sun of the morning, or a field where hens can feed and gobblers can strut. If I can’t observe the exact spot they go, I get the general area and put out several trail cams, and that usually tips me off.”
Then it’s just a matter of setting up in that spot, ignoring the roost gobbling, and waiting, he said. “I like to set out a jake-and-hen breeding pair of dekes, and I’ll definitely call a bit to heat up the action, but for the most part it’s just a matter of patience. And to me—a born run-and-gunner—it’s like the best of both worlds; I’m either wrapping a tag on a tom within an hour or two and, if not, I grab my gear and start covering some ground.”