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Hunting Early Season Gobblers by Grant Woods

Early season for gobblers depends on the location or latitude. For example, this year turkey season opens in Hawaii (there are lots of turkeys on the Hawaiian Islands!) March 1st and on May 4th in Maine.

Wherever you plan to hunt during the “early season” one thing is for certain, you need to be close to an opening! Almost all states set the season opening date to start while hens are still breeding and toms are still sorting out the dominance hierarchy.

Toms will be strutting trying to attract hens and often are still in gobbler groups.

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Hens are often going to open areas soon after they fly down in search of food and toms. They will likely go to the woods or shade once it warms up but openings are often the hot spots during the early morning. Toms will frequently seek the openings where hens are feeding to strut and attract hens and or prove/challenge the dominance of other toms.

It’s often difficult to call toms away from a group of hens. When hunting fields during the early season, I prefer to use a strutter decoy and two hens. This uses the dominance behavior of large toms to attract them to my setup.

I will pull the strutter if I notice lots of jakes ganging up on toms. This can be due to a recent good hatch of poults (lots of jakes) that followed a year or two of low poult survival (fewer mature toms).

Understanding the timing of mating and the associated behavior of turkeys is key to tagging mature toms during any part of the season.

Chasing toms together,


Dr. Grant Woods
Dr. Grant Woods
Raised in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, Dr. Grant Woods has consulted on wildlife research and management from Canada to New Zealand. A hunter since childhood, he not only knows how to grow big deer, but how to effectively hunt them as well. His work serves to improve deer herd quality and educate hunters about advanced management techniques.