Unless you have hunted across the country you likely have a view of turkey hunting, and what it entails, that is very specific to the area you hunt. Over the years my eyes have been opened at just how starkly different turkey hunting can be depending on what part of the country you are in, in particular the difference from northern to southern turkey hunting.
I suspect the differences stem from new populations of hunters and turkeys versus old populations of hunters and turkeys and the implications these differences have on hunter, turkey behavior.
In the south turkey populations have been around far longer than in the north and so have turkey seasons. Turkey hunting has become a generational thing and is ingrained in the southern hunting culture far more than in the north. In the north, hunt-able populations of turkeys are a relatively new thing. Of course there were populations of turkeys in the north in the 1800’s but there was no regulated season and over hunting and poor habitat wiped them from the landscape. Most turkey hunters in the north are first, or second generation. Regulated turkey hunting in my home state of New Hampshire began the year before I was born. Because of this its popularity and turkey populations didn’t begin to boom until recently.
In general turkey hunting is new to the northeast. This means that hunters lack the same generational experience and understanding of the bird that southern hunters possess. I say that the wild turkey means to someone from Alabama what a whitetail means to someone in Maine. To southerners the wild turkey is #1 and deer are an afterthought. To a Mainer the whitetail is #1 and turkeys are either a nuisance or something to pass the time until deer season. Of course I’m speaking in gross generalizations there are plenty of exceptions to this.
Because turkey hunting culture is a big deal down south, birds are more pressured. This increases the chances of every hard gobbling 2 yr old getting shot. You generally have to be a better turkey hunter to be successful down south in a region where birds are notoriously more tight-lipped and weary. Another factor that increases pressure is most southern states allow hunting all day long while the majority of northern states only allow turkey hunting for half of the day. It’s fair to assume that more birds will get hunted and taken in the south where you can hunt all day.
Contrast this with the northeast where hunting pressure is moderate at best, only lasts for half the day, and turkeys come to the call more readily. They tolerate far more and you just don’t have to be quite as on top of your game to get it done. The highly skilled hunting pressure just isn’t there and the hard gobbling two year olds haven’t been shot out of the newer northern population yet.
What does this mean for hunting each of these regions? In the north birds will more commonly gobble all day long. It’s not uncommon to hear 100’s of gobbles on the limb and for birds to continue to gobble well into the morning. Striking birds at any point in the day is relatively easy and birds often gobble hard on the limb in the evenings as well. Going a day without hearing a gobble in the northeast is rare. Although pressure does vary in the north its common to find a bird that comes running in from long distances to your call. These birds are also more forgiving to movement, poor camo/concealment and poor calling. In general, they are a less wary and more aggressive bird.
Contrasted by the south, it seems like birds gobbling hard all day are a rare occurrence. The typical drill seems to be birds that gobble a handful of times on the limb, once or twice when they hit the ground, but mostly keep quiet for the rest of the day. Don’t get me wrong, if the weather, timing, and birds mood is right you can absolutely run across a fired up southern gobbler at any point in the day. When southern birds do come gobbling to the call they seem to be far more weary, if you’re calling and setup isn’t on point the bird is more likely to be gone in seconds.
Even though they are very different, turkey hunting in Northern and Southern regions of the country can be equally rewarding. Both still require quality time outdoors, which is one of the best parts about turkey season regardless of location.