It Only Takes One Day to Make a Season
By Alex Killman | PUBLISHED April 3rd, 2023
Of all the turkey hunters entering the woods this year, only a fraction will walk out with a bird in tow. To give you an idea of how many will leave the woods frustrated this year, let’s look at a couple of stats offered up by my home state’s Department of Natural Resources (South Carolina). In 2022, approximately 47,824 hunters participated in the sport of chasing gobblers, and approximately 13,488 turkeys were harvested. So, if every tagged turkey went to a different hunter, which is highly unlikely, that would still only account for a success rate of 28.20%. That means that over 70% or 34,336 hunters ended their seasons with no beards, no spurs, and no turkey on the table. And if only 10% of those successful hunters harvested two birds apiece, the success rate was even lower. You get the point. Killing turkeys is hard. It takes a lot of work, a lot of time, and a lot of knowledge. But it only takes one to take your season from failure to success, no matter how many tags you start with.
Last Weekend Doesn’t Matter
Because of the short timeframe in which we have to tag birds, the pressure can build with each and every unsuccessful hunt, especially if you’re like most of us and only have weekends available. If you strike out on Saturday, it may be another week before you get another chance. And if the forecast is looking bleak, your expectations probably look the same. A hopeful beginning to a 7-week season can turn into a hopeless outlook as 7 dwindles down to 6, then 5, then 4, and so on. And a lot of states offer seasons much shorter than that. But we’ve got to keep things in perspective. A short memory is essential. If we let the failure build up, we begin to rush things and make big mistakes. We begin to lose confidence in our ability to get one close and we make hunting, well, not fun anymore.
Everyone Strikes Out
I’ve killed a lot of turkeys over the past 15+ years, but I had one of my worst seasons ever in 2022 and was part of the frustrated majority that still had all three tags at the end of the last day. I scouted early, put out cameras, tracked movement, and hunted hard, but for whatever reason, the turkeys moved on and completely changed their patterns about 2 weeks before the season opened. They didn’t gobble in the mornings, and they didn’t respond to calling. It was as if they all just disappeared off the face of the Earth. Everyone strikes out. That’s turkey hunting.
Success Is One Hunt Away
At the time of this writing, I’ve turkey hunted five times this season. On opening day, I had two longbeards in range in the 11th hour (literally, the 11th hour of the hunt) through a window I couldn’t shoot through. Three days later, I had a longbeard strut by my blind at 10 yards, but I couldn’t get him to stop and made a bad shot, which left him flopping all over the ground, but ultimately running off to never be seen again. On my third hunt, I showed up to a piece of public land I had scouted hard, but other hunters had beat me to the punch, so I basically walked through an unscouted area, called a little, and left. My fourth hunt had two jakes and a hen at 12 yards for at least 20 minutes, but I passed for the population’s sake. There was a lot of discouragement after those hunts. Yes, I was seeing birds and getting opportunities, but with the amount of effort and hours poured into scouting, hanging cameras, and waking up in the middle of the night, leaving behind what precious family time I have, it all felt like such a waste walking back to truck alone. But all the failures of last year, and all the failures already seen this year, vanished just like that when I sent an arrow through the heart of a longbeard in front of a brand new turkey hunter on my fifth hunt.
Hunt Smart Through the End
Killing a turkey is a huge accomplishment and it can happen at any time. Just because you’ve still got tags burning a hole in your pocket doesn’t mean you’re any less likely to get it done. So, stick with the plan if you’re seeing birds, or change it up if you’re not. But keep learning and keep hunting smart. The season’s not over until the last legal light on the last day of the season. You’ve still got plenty of time if there’s even one day left. Go out there like it’s the first day of the season, confident that your plan is going to work. Enjoy the memories and the time afield because a season without a tagged turkey is still better than a Spring without hunting.