There are many good reasons to hunt spring gobblers in the afternoon. Perhaps you slept in or the weather was too bad to get out in the morning. It might be that you’re still at work until late in the day. Or perhaps you’ve learned a few secrets and prefer to hunt after mid-day. I intentionally schedule a couple of late-day hunts during opening week. It helps break up the schedule and allows me to sleep in a day or two. It also permits me to hunt the same area without becoming predictable to my quarry.
There’s a saying in the southern U.S. states that decoys should be outlawed after the noon-day sun. Decoys, in the right setup, are your best friend for late-day birds. Toms have been chasing hens all morning and have likely bred one or two already. Subdominant toms are still looking for a hen, most of which are on a nest or perhaps quietly feeding somewhere, to breed with. A hen decoy with a jake alongside is enough of a visual to drive any tom crazy. Throw in a few light calls and he will come in with a vengeance.
Location choices are numerous. Start with typical morning strut zones, close to roosting areas. Toms often come back to these areas mid-day. Be cautious and slip in quietly, as toms could be close by. Stop periodically and call on the way in. Many times, you get a response before reaching your destination. Don’t despair if there’s no answer, as gobblers are often silent at this time of day.
When setting up, choose a spot facing the sun. I’ve found that turkeys prefer to walk with the sun at their back. It might be because they get a better look at the bush line on approach. However, choose a location that allows you to blend in. Any movement on your part will be more noticeable. This tactic often pays off.
As mentioned earlier, toms are quiet at this time of day, so be prepared for a silent approach. Also be ready for a loud gobble from nearby. I’ve often been startled by a gobble that sounds like the bird is perched on my shoulder. Nothing scares away a tom more than a hunter jumping out of his skin when unprepared.
My favourite afternoon tactic is to travel light and travel far. This is the time to walk the turkey woods using the run-and-gun method. I call every 50 yards or so, hoping for a response. Instead of going deep into the woods, try to stay near the edge, inside just enough to hide movement. Call from a spot suitable for a quick setup. Look for small clearings and adequate trees to sit against. You might not have time to set out a decoy. Simply sit at the closest tree and wait. Rather than time or distance being factors for when to call, the lay of the land is more important.
Calling should be light, rather than aggressive. Start with a cackle or two to simulate a hen coming off the nest and feeding. Then, progress to clucks, purrs, and soft yelps. Imitate a feeding hen. This will definitely draw the interest of a wandering tom.
Should you be unsuccessful in tempting one, turn the afternoon session into a scouting mission. Watch for distant toms and pay attention to where they’re heading. Generally, it will be toward their evening roost. This will be an indicator for your location choice the next morning.