Last week we went to the turkey-crazy state of Pennsylvania for Day-Four tactics in our Best Days of the Strut series. Now it’s time to dive into Day Five with an expert from the other side of the country: Washington gobbler guru Garry Greenwalt.
The beginning of May is an exciting time to be hunting turkeys just about everywhere. Northeast hunters, who’ve been anxiously awaiting their May Day openers, finally have the green light. Hunters in the Midwest and prairie states may have battled dicey conditions in April, but May typically brings some of the spring’s finest weather and consequent uptick in gobbler activity. Things may be winding down in the Deep South, but there’s still some fine hunting to be had, including a shot at that dominant tom who’s suddenly lonely with so many hens tending their nests. In Greenwalt’s part of the world, it’s prime time—so much so that tomorrow, May 2, is his pick for the best day to be working a gobbler.
The Pro: Garry Greenwalt, Washington and Idaho
A noted whitetail outfitter, Washington native Garry Greenwalt has hunted all manner of big game all across the West and Alaska. Still, Greenwalt remains a hardcore turkey nut who guides turkey hunters and is also a fine call maker. Greenwalt has killed 45 gobblers with a bow, many without the use of a blind. While he focuses on the mountain birds of Washington and Idaho, Greenwalt has tagged toms across their range.
Strut Stage: Immediate Post-Peak Breeding
Many turkey nuts consider this some of the best hunting of the spring. Just past the peak of the bell-shaped curve that represents the annual breeding cycle, hens will begin nesting. This means that while they may still run to gobblers at some point in the day, hens are also busy laying their daily egg and leaving gobblers alone in the meantime. Up to this point, the oldest and most dominant toms have been able to plant their feet and wait for hens to come to them. That all starts changing now, and toms hesitant to move toward a yelping hen earlier are starting to learn that getting mobile might be the only way to find a mate.
Expert Tactic: Climb High to Tag a Mountain Tom
Topography affects the movement of all wildlife and any time that landscape is severe, it can throw a serious curveball at hunters from flatter habitats. But Greenwalt’s says the answer is simple, as long as you’re willing to work for it. “I almost never give up elevation on a gobbler,” he says. “Nine times out of ten, the best way to kill him is to get above him, so that means climbing.”
With turkey numbers not evenly distributed across the landscape, Greenwalt relies heavily on scouting to keep him into birds. “I focus a lot on south- and southwest-facing slopes, since those are the first to warm up,” he says. “This exposes food sources attractive to turkeys, like the first green grasses and forbs, as well as insect life. Gobblers are less interested in feeding than they are breeding, but hens are thinking of nesting and will always follow the food. High-protein insects like the season’s first grasshoppers, and even snails, can make all the difference. I like to scout logging roads along these slopes to find good turkey sign, and if the birds aren’t gobbling, I use a locator call to fire one up. I have a $7 goose call that’s been the best locator call I’ve ever used.”
Once he strikes a tom, Greenwalt moves to get above him before yelping him in. “One of the reasons I rarely hunt with a blind is because I need to travel light in the mountains,” he says. “I look for a pine with low-hanging branches that are in the shade, then tuck in there. I place my decoys—usually a breeding hen and a strutting jake—within 5 yards of my setup. That way, if a tom locks up outside the spread, he’s usually still within bow range. As soon as he goes into strut or moves behind a tree, I draw my bow and wait for the shot.”