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Video turkeys in the snow

Some of my friends in the hunting industry travel annually to the Southeast for early — and typically fairly warm — wild turkey season openers. I’ve had the chance to pursue Osceola gobblers in southern Florida, as well as Eastern wild turkeys in many other Southeastern states, but my turkey hunting pursuits typically begin in early April in South Dakota (archery only opener).

This year (2022) the SoDak archery turkey season began on April 2, and like many previous openers in the upper Midwest, it felt more like winter than spring. As two buddies and I hiked into the river-bottom well before sunrise to set up pop-up ground blinds, the air temp was in the mid-20s. Factor in the wind, and the feel-like temp was about 10 degrees.

My mom, who isn’t a hunter, loves to ask us diehards this question on mornings such as this one: “Are we having fun yet?”

Of course, the answer is “yes,” but I’d be lying if I said it was easy or pleasant/comfortable. But it can still be fun, and even successful, if you plan accordingly and understand turkey behavior during these winterlike spring turkey hunts. Here are three keys to success.

1. Find the Birds

This might sound obvious, but when spring hasn’t really arrived yet (read winter), wild turkeys in the upper Midwest are still roosting and moving to and from feeding areas in massive winter flocks. On the river-bottom property I bowhunt in eastern South Dakota (I have permission extending for 1 mile of the river), the birds will eventually disperse along the entire river system, and good hunting can be found anywhere along it’s snaking system. That said, on April 2, 2022, every bird was roosting near the one farmyard where the owner keeps a half-dozen horses (with hay). Adjacent to his farmyard is a 40-acre picked cornfield, which wasn’t plowed after harvest last fall. All the turkeys were feeding in the field. By “all” I mean nearly 100 birds.

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After a week of warm weather, when insects begin appearing and new growth turns the landscape from brown to green, the turkeys will disperse. And that’s when “normal” turkey hunting begins. However, when turkeys are in their winter flocks, if you aren’t hunting on their winter range, you might as well be hunting on the moon.

2. Hide in a Pop-Up Blind

Even as a bowhunter, I prefer to chase wild turkeys without hauling a pop-up blind (click here to read about my unusual technique), but there are simply too many eyeballs to fool when targeting a winter flock of birds. In my experience, you also need at least three top-notch decoys to hold hens and toms at close range without them spooking, and it’s difficult to carry the blind, plus the decoys, plus a chair, plus your bow, plus other gear, any distance without help. Throw in a creek (or two) to navigate in the dark, plus a fence (or three) to cross, and hunting with a buddy makes it so much easier.

In fact, because one of my friends shoots one of my old compounds, when we pursue turkeys together, we carry only one bow to the blind. I pack my favorite mechanical release and I’m ready to roll. While it’s true his peep sight isn’t set up perfectly for me, because I limit my shooting distance to less than 10 yards, and we both use head/neck broadheads (125-grain Magnus Bullheads), I simply adjust my anchor point slightly so I can see through his peep and I’m deadly with his setup.

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Even when birds are living in a winter flock, they break up a bit when moving from roost to feed and back again, so having a handful of decoys near your blind is best. As I said, three decoys are a minimum in my opinion, and five or six fakes are better. I prefer a strutter deke standing behind a breeding hen, with one to three other upright hens scattered nearby. During this time of year, toms will often approach in pairs (or more), and they’ll almost always confront the male decoy.

Another benefit to hunting with a partner in a pop-up blind is companionship. Hour after hour waiting in a blind can be boring if birds aren’t cooperating. It’s too cold to have your hands out of pockets or a muff, so reading a paperback book is out for killing time. And the battery on your smartphone will also crash in these temps, so scrolling Facebook or playing video games is likely out, too. If someone kills a bird, you’ll also need the extra hands to get everything out of the field.

Several companies make outstanding pop-up blinds, some of which have one-way, see-through walls, meaning birds can’t see you but you can see them. Check out the Ameristep Pro Series Extreme View, Barronett Hi-Five, Primal Treestands Vision 270, Primos Smokescreen and others.

3. Dress for Winter

Pursuing winter turkeys isn’t run-and-gun hunting. This isn’t moving a lot and stopping to call occasionally in hopes of “striking a bird.” This is more like bowhunting whitetails in the upper Midwest; i.e. sit and wait.

You must forget that technically it’s spring. Check your weather app and dress appropriately.

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Do the time math in your head. For example, this past weekend in South Dakota, sunrise was 7:07 a.m. That means birds could fly down as early as 6:35-ish (first light). That means they could be gobbling from the roost at 6:10-ish. That means we need to have the pop-up blind set up and decoys in place by 5:55. That means we need to start hiking in by 5:30, which means we need to leave camp at 5:00 (about a half-hour drive). Alarm needs to be set for 4:20 a.m.

In this scenario, we were sitting quietly in the blind by 5:55 a.m., with plans on staying until 10:30 or even 11 a.m. That’s five hours with temps changing from 25 to 35 degrees during our sit. Not warm. Dress in layers. This isn’t too different than dressing for a whitetail rut hunt in mid-November.

In addition to dressing for winter, be sure to pack food to keep your body furnace running. This past weekend in South Dakota, I ate three granola bars, a peanut butter sandwich, and two deer sticks before exiting the blind to head back to camp for lunch.

Pursuing winter turkeys is a challenge, but it’s one I enjoy. After all, it won’t be long and bugs will be biting and sweat will be dripping. You can have success when snow is still present in the shade. Find the birds, hunt with a buddy in a pop-up blind, use several decoys, and dress warm. Shoot straight!

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>