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Understanding the Turkey Rut;
Using the Right Tactics at the Right Time

By T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors

Okay, okay, I realize that the term "rut" does not apply to turkey breeding behavior, but I thought it was a good way of getting your attention. Over the years as a guide and writer I've learned that one of the best ways to hunt any animal is to use the right tactics at the right time. In order to do that we have to understand how the animal is acting at the time that we hunt it.

What causes peak breeding?

Peak breeding in many game animals is triggered by the amount of sunlight (photoperiod), which affects seasonal temperatures, which in turn affects the seasonal growth of plants, which affects how much food is available, which affects the survivability of the young of the animals. To make it simple; if it is too cold, too wet, or too dry, there may not be enough food for the young animals to eat (or their mothers to provide food, such as milk), so that the young can survive. With turkeys (which breed in the spring and have a short time between breeding and live young on the ground) this means that the young need to hatch when there is new (spring) green growth and lots of insects to eat.

Breeding Phases

When we are talking about hunting during the breeding season, we first need to realize that most animals go through several different phase during their breeding season. These different phases can probably best be described as the: 1. Pre-breeding, 2. Primary breeding, 3. Post primary breeding, 4. Supplemental/late breeding and 5. Post breeding phases. When hunters (who rely on particular breeding behaviors to hunt animals) are after animals which use calls as a major part of their breeding behavior (as in elk and turkeys) we also need to realize that the calls used by the males of the species to attract females often have semi-regular peaks during the breeding phase; and that these calling peaks usually coincide with one or more of the above mentioned breeding phases.

Peak Gobbling

Tom turkeys use gobbling as a means of attracting hens during the breeding season. And since the toms are often ready to look for and attract hens before (or when) the hens are not ready (or willing) to breed, there may be one or more gobbling peaks during the turkey breeding season. Since toms gobble to attract hens, but often reduce gobbling when hens are ready/willing to breed, these gobbling peaks generally occur prior to and after peak breeding. In other words peak turkey gobbling usually occurs just prior to and just after peak breeding, and since there is often a second breeding phase, there is often a peak in gobbling activity after the supplemental or "late" breeding phase.

Why use calls to hunt turkeys?

Since it is often easy to locate tom turkeys when they are actively gobbling, and since toms are often fairly willing to respond to both tom and hens calls during the same time frame as they are actively gobbling, hunters often choose to hunt during these gobbling peaks, and they often use calls to figure out where the toms are at, and use calls to get the toms to come in close for a shot. We can use locator calls (like owl hoots, and woodpecker, peacock and coyote calls), and hen calls and gobbles to locate toms; and we can use hen calls to bring the toms in close enough to hunt.

Can we predict peak breeding and gobbling?

Somewhere in my job description as a game researcher, and as an outdoor writer and speaker, it states that I should do some research on when peak breeding of the game occurs, and try to figure out ways to predict when peak breeding and calling occurs. I've spent four years researching turkeys to figure out the different phases of the breeding season.

When is Peak Gobbling in each State?

And, realizing that turkeys in different areas breed at different times, because spring arrives at different times in different areas, I contacted the turkey researcher or biologist from as many states as I could, and asked them when peak gobbling usually occurred in their states. To find out when peak gobbling usually occurs in your state, log on to www.TRMichels.com, and click on "Peak Turkey Gobbling Dates" on the home page, or in the index. This may help you choose the best times to hunt, or know how to expect the turkeys to act during the dates you hunt, which in turn can help you choose the best tactics to use during your hunt.

Which Tactics to use during each Breeding Phase?

Somewhere in my job description as an outfitter and guide it states that I should figure out the best techniques to use hunt turkeys during the different breeding phases. After several years researching turkeys, and several years hunting turkeys, I've devised several hunting techniques for each particular breeding phase. You can view these by logging on to www.TRMichels.com and clicking on the "Turkey Activity Graphs", "T.R.'s Tips: Turkey Hunting" on the home page, and by reading the "Turkey Articles" in Trinity Mountain Outdoor News.

If you have questions about turkey hunting, feel free to log on to the "T.R.'s Tips Talk Forum / Message Board" and ask away; either I or someone else will get back to you as soon as we can. There is a lot more information on turkey biology and behavior, and on turkey hunting tactics and techniques, in my Turkey Addict's Manual.

Be safe and have a good time turkey hunting.

If you are interested in more turkey hunting tips, or more turkey biology and behavior, click on Trinity Mountain Outdoor News and T.R.'s Hunting Tips at www.TRMichels.com. If you have questions about turkeys log on to the T.R.'s Tips message board. To find out when peak turkey gobbling can be expected in your area, click on Peak Turkey Gobbling Dates.

This article is an excerpt from the Turkey Addict's Manual ($14.95 + $5.00 S&H), by T.R. Michels, available in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products catalog.

T.R. Michels is a nationally recognized game researcher/wildlife behaviorist, outdoor writer and speaker. He is the author of the Whitetail, Elk, Duck & Goose, and Turkey Addict's Manuals. His latest products are the 2003 Revised Edition of the Whitetail Addict's Manual, the 2003 Revised Edition of the Elk Addict's Manual; and the 2003 Revised Edition of the Duck & Goose Addict's Manual. For a catalog of books and other hunting products contact: T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors, PO Box 284, Wanamingo, MN 55983, USA. Phone: 507-824-3296, E-mail: TRMichels@yahoo.com, Web Site: www.TRMichels.com

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