During the early portions of the spring season, turkeys frequently travel in larger bunches than they do later in spring. Hunters often say a group is “flocked up,” and you might see two or three male turkeys (jakes or gobblers) and several female turkeys (hens) traveling together. The flocks break up as the season progresses — hens begin nesting, and gobblers establish pecking orders. But in early spring, bowhunting flocks of turkeys is both fun and challenging. You have to outsmart multiple birds, but their behavior can make them easy to predict and ambush.
Josh Nash, a Kentucky native, has bowhunted turkeys on and off for the past 24 years. He shared his knowledge and bowhunting strategies for the early season. Nash said the scenario is similar to bucks before and during the rut. Bucks hang out in bachelor groups most of the year, but they become territorial and aggressive as the rut approaches, and they ultimately separate to chase and breed does.
So how do you know if turkeys are flocked up? You’ll see fewer groups of turkeys in the woods but more turkeys per group. They’re usually very vocal too, meaning you’re likely to hear gobbling, yelping, clucking, purring and other calls as the turkeys communicate with one another, particularly at first light.
Many hunters say hunting flocked-up turkeys is difficult because gobblers don’t stray far from their hens. Although that’s true, Nash said hunters can still hunt turkey flocks successfully. Here are his favorite strategies:
Turkeys can be extremely predictable during the early season when they’re flocked up, Nash said. They’ll roost in the same trees, and they’ll fly down and travel the same path to a nearby feeding area, like a hayfield, pasture or food plot. If you can identify their travel pattern, set up an hour before daylight along their daily route to ambush them as they walk by.
Nash likes to scout for turkeys and potential ambush sites while he hunts sheds in late February and throughout March. This strategy works great for states that have early archery-only turkey seasons like Nebraska and Kansas. However, it can still work if the birds don’t start breeding right away and the flocks haven’t dispersed yet.
“If you can find and pattern birds on your scouting missions, odds are they’ll still be there opening day if no one messes with them,” Nash said. “Get between point A and B and wait for them to show up.”
If you’re unable to pattern a flock of turkeys, Nash said your second-best approach is to locate and attract birds by calling aggressively using different turkey calls. He uses every call in his vest, including mouth calls, box calls and pot-and-peg calls. Many bowhunters prefer mouth calls because they’re hands-free.
Using multiple calls mimics the sound of a large group of different birds. This strategy draws the attention of nearby hens, who also fight to determine a pecking order when they start nesting. If there’s a dominant hen in the area, she’ll be tempted to investigate your calls, and if she does, the gobblers in the flock will follow her to your setup. Use multiple decoys to further the illusion and lure the birds within bow range.
Nash said bowhunting a flock of turkeys is challenging because they have incredible eyesight and can easily spot movement. Plus, when most turkey seasons open, the forest is still barren from winter. Trees are budding and plants are growing, but thick foliage doesn’t develop until late spring. This makes it difficult for turkey hunters to hide and stay hidden as they draw their bows.
Nash recommends hunting from a blind or creating a blind from limbs and brush to conceal yourself and your movements. Otherwise, try to blend in with your surroundings. Hide among the hills, downed trees and thick evergreens (like pine and cedar trees) to increase your chances of success.
“I’d rather be in a worse spot with a better hide than in a better spot in the wide-open,” Nash said. “You can’t beat their eyes.”
If you aren’t successful, don’t give up. Remember, flocks disperse as the season progresses. Lonely males will be out searching for hens. Stick with it and you might arrow a bird!
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