Reading the Hatch

As my OL Strut Zone counterpart and good buddy Gerry Bethge likes to say, “There’s always a lot of talk about the previous year’s turkey hatch, but what we really need to know for the coming season, especially if we’ll try to kill a longbeard, is how the hatch went two or three years before.”

How true. I keep compulsive notes on turkey sightings in and out of season. I call landowners, fellow hunters, and talk to guys who attend my turkey seminars. I get out there with the birds. You should too. It can help you plot where to turkey hunt that spring, fall, the following spring, or years later. It can keep you in the game. Olblogstevehickoffmugsh

Last spring (2007) while turkey hunting southern Maine, I bumped into the season’s first poults and their brood hen during the last week of May. In the same area, one town over well after the season, I found a late-hatch flock the last week of July. In New England I’ve seen small poults as late as August. Some of these turkeys will be around this coming spring. The young gobblers will be legal. Some will pass on them, eyeing a longbeard—assuming they’re still around.

Turkeys move—a lot sometimes. As a result, it’s not only important to concentrate on your local flocks, but the gobblers and hens that show up between now and the start of spring seasons. Studies have shown that turkeys can move miles from where they originally hatched. That tendency has helped the restoration effort over the years. As a result, you not only need to pay attention to the turkeys you see in late winter, but the birds that leave your area, and the others that show up.

Biological diversity insists on their movements. Your ability to fill a tag might depend on how well you pay attention to the comings and goings of turkeys between now and opening day.

—Steve Hickoff