The turkey rut

By Dennis Chastain
For The Courier

Just like deer, wild turkeys have a rut season fueled by testosterone. Hunters can easily turn that information to their advantage.

Just like deer, wild turkeys have a rut season fueled by testosterone. Hunters can easily turn that information to their advantage.

Nothing gets a deer hunter excited like the coming of the rut. That’s the magical time of the year when thick-necked bucks are overcome with love lust and do stupid things like standing out in the middle of a cow pasture at midday, crashing through shopping center windows and chasing does around right in front of deer stands. Well guess what — there’s a wild turkey rut too.

This has long been a pet theory of mine, and now after 30 years of chasing wild turkeys from the mountains to the sea, I can tell you that it is true. Most long-time turkey hunters are aware that there are days during the month of April when there is nothing you can do to pull in a gobbler, and there are days when all you have to do is holler “come here turkey” and they’ll come running.

It’s all about testosterone, the male hormone that is both a curse and a blessing. Whether you’re a wily white-tailed buck, a lovestruck teenage boy or a mature wild turkey gobbler, testosterone has the ability to take over your brain and make you do things that you would not ordinarily do. Testosterone can get you in trouble. More deer are taken during the rut in South Carolina than any other time of the five-month-long season. It’s testosterone that drives the rut, in both deer and turkeys. And like the deer rut, the turkey rut comes and goes in various stages.

There is the pre-rut, the rut and the post-rut. The trick to taking advantage of the turkey rut is recognizing what stage the gobblers are in where you are hunting. Here are some signs to look for.

If it’s still near April Fool’s Day and you can’t raise a gobble with an owl hoot or a crow call, it’s the pre-rut. If you’re standing out there on a fine warm spring morning at first light and there are turkeys gobbling at crows, woodpeckers and car horns, the rut is on. On the other hand, if it’s toward the end of the season and it’s a silent spring out there — in other words, you can’t buy a gobble — the turkeys are in the post-rut blues.

So, how do you turn all this to your advantage? Well, depending on which stage of rut you determine the turkeys are in, adjust your hunting strategy accordingly. During the pre-rut, the turkeys are more interested in food and security than in breeding. Set up in areas where the sign indicates they have been feeding or scratching.

If all indications are that the turkey rut is on, get ready. Never call until you are ready to set up or you have already set up in front of a big tree with your gun up. I have had turkeys during the rut fly straight from the roost to right where I was calling from. I have also had testosterone-pumped turkeys fly off the roost and literally come running in. It pays to be ready.

Finally, if all indications are that the gobblers are in the post-rut doldrums — just like cooking good barbecue, the secret to success is to take it low and slow. Don’t be aggressive. Don’t push the turkeys. Use low, soft clucks, purrs and yelps. Be patient. It may take a turkey an hour or more to amble over your way. One good strategy during the post rut is to just go to a place with lots of scratching in the leaves or in the woods adjacent to a lush green food plot, and just sit up right there until you get a response. Just be advised that sometimes lackluster gobblers will silently sneak in from behind to check things out. Keep in mind the Boy Scout motto — be prepared.