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Afternoon turkey hunting barely crosses the minds of some hunters, and it’s easy to understand why. For most turkey nuts, the spring gobbler hunt and early mornings just go together. We all love watching a spring morning come in to sound of turkey gobbling on the roost. But there’s a price to be paid for this mindset, and it gets steeper as the season progresses. Punching the alarm at 4 a.m. may be exciting on the opener, but by mid-season, I’m groaning and swatting at that clock like it’s a pesky fly.
If you’re looking for a respite and afternoon turkey hunting is allowed in your state, you opportunity starts one minute after noon and lasts until dusk. And while it lacks the romance of the dawn hunt, this time period can offer the best action of the day if you know how to take advantage. So, here’s your guide to afternoon turkey hunting.
Afternoon Gobblers: Case In Point
I’ve killed and called in a pile of birds after the noon bell, the latest being my dad’s 2023 turkey, which he pulled the trigger on at five minutes before 3 p.m. That turkey gobbled just as hard as any bird does at daybreak, covered 200 yards in twenty minutes, pausing only to strut and drum, and walked into the decoys trying to decide if he should breed the fake hen or thrash the pseudo jake. Dad, who is 93 by the way, dropped the hammer before the tom could make his choice.
And to make it all even better, we’d slept in that morning. The forecast accurately predicted heavy rain at dawn, and when the clouds broke about noon, we allowed some time for the birds to dry out and were all set up a little after 2 o’clock. I yelped and cutt for about 15 minutes, and when the tom sounded off, I knew we were in the game. In the end, we didn’t hear the amount of gobbling you might on a clear morning at fly-down, but I have long ago adopted the credo that one gobble from a bird that’s ready to come is far more exciting than 100 from turkeys who don’t know what the next five minutes of their day look like.
Why Afternoon Turkey Hunting Can Be So Good
Honestly, it kind of blows me away how many hunters miss out on the post-dawn gobbler action. No matter how many times expert hunters tell them “the best stuff happens after mid-morning,” if they haven’t tagged a tom by 9 a.m., they’re heading for the diner, or the trout stream or, in really sad cases, the golf course. Meanwhile, gobblers that were henned up all through the early morning are just now becoming more vulnerable. Hunts after that initial fly-down activity can be effective for the simplest of reasons—because many toms have likely lost the hens that ran to their first gobbles, and even the most dominant tom in an area might find himself without female company. This lonely-tom scenario actually becomes more and more likely as the season progresses, as hens finish laying eggs and get serious about sitting on them and hatching a brood.
If you hunt in a state that closes a noon each day, the way to take advantage is to skip the diner and stay in the woods from 9 to noon. Or sleep in, go to diner first, and start hunting at midmorning. But if you’re lucky enough to live in a state that allows afternoon turkey hunting, you’ve got hours and hours to take advantage, and as the afternoon wears on, the odds get even higher that a given gobbler is lonely.
Afternoon Turkey Hunting Hotspots and Tactics
That said, it’s a bit of a different hunt than the one that starts in the dark. In the early morning, you’re counting on birds sounding off in mostly known roosting site. But at midday or the in the afternoon, you’re looking to spot or strike a tom that could be in any number of places. There are three good ways to do this. First, if you live in big, open country or have access to lots of fields that you can see from the road or with a short hike, you can start with a milk run of spots to glass for strutters. Second, if you hunt more wooded terrain and like to be mobile, you can cover ground slowly and stealthily while trying to strike a bird with hen call or locator call. I’ve found that a boat-paddle-style box call and a crow call are tops for this. Third, you can simple setup in a good spot and wait for a tom to come around or sound off nearby, which is what my dad and I did the other day. Here are three good places to start.
1. Feeding Areas
One great place to look for afternoon turkeys is a favored food source. In the first weeks of season, that’s typically farm fields of picked corn and soybeans or, in more timbered habitat, leftover mast from last fall’s acorn crop. As the season progresses, greening clover and alfalfa fields suck in birds that are not only drawn to the green stuff itself, but the bug life that accompanies that growth.
2. Water Sources and Loafing Areas
Water sources like creeks, streams, and pond or lake shores are another favored spot for afternoon turkey hunting, especially when the weather warms. In fact, as the hunt continues into May, hot weather can really affect turkey activity; birds simply move less when the mercury soars, and loafing cover—which I usually find on north-facing slopes or expanses of shady, mature timber—becomes a favored hangout for afternoon turkeys.
3. Roosting Areas
As the shadows lengthen, I shift my attention to the roost sites where turkeys will end their day. Three seasons ago, I took one of my latest-day gobblers, a bird that was drifting toward a grove of huge oaks in the evening. I spotted the tom in an alfalfa field as I drove up to the farm and took a minute to glass from a distance. I waited until the bird disappeared into the timber, then grabbed my gear and hustled across the fields toward him. I set up on the wood line, not 100 yards from my last sighting, and yelped softly a few times over the next 10 minutes. Suddenly, a big red head popped out of the woods and headed my way. The tom did not gobble once, but couldn’t resist the urge to check out one last hen before bed time. When I wrapped my tag on his leg, my clock on my phone registered a few clicks past 7 p.m.
I’m lucky enough to live fairly close to the birds I hunt, so gathering intel can simply be a matter of spending time in the woods and paying attention. But I’m far from out there every day, so I’ve learned to rely on a scouting tool well-known to deer hunters, the trail camera. I simple move my fall whitetail cams to areas where I know, or suspect, turkeys might be hanging out. Those cams can provide clues to not only how many gobblers are in an area, but when they like to hang out there; information that can eliminate a lot of guesswork for afternoon turkey hunting.
In the end, I still love to watch a spring sunrise and hear first gobble of a morning, no matter how exhausted I am. But if, as so often happens, the roost hunt turns into a goat-roping, I know I’m far from done for the day. I might break for a nap, but then I’ll get right back out there. And as my dad’s hunt proved, some of the best hunting of the day can lie ahead.