Iowa Turkey Season Opens April 14th

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Winter wants to hang on, with snow flurries and morning temperatures in the 30s. There's no better evidence of spring, though, than Opening Day of Iowa's first turkey season.

The strutting and gobbling are underway already. As hunters step into the woods, though, Monday, April 14 (Friday the 11th for the special youth season) the chase is on. "It's been a slow start for spring. A lot of the birds are still grouped up; large groups," observes Todd Gosselink, forest research biologist for the Department of Natural Resources. That creates quite a sight for the hunter; watching a dozen turkeys up close; four or five of them fanning and strutting in a preseason breeding display. However, it also provides lots of extra eyes to detect the slightest twitch in the turkey woods, with virtually no vegetation yet, to mask your movement.

That's the tradeoff for early season hunters. There's usually more to see in the four day first season, April 14-17. Coming out of winter, too, there's been little human activity to wise up the wary birds. On the flip side, you are competing with hens which are not yet ready to breed. Toms would rather spend time fanning, strutting, booming and dragging wings in front of birds they see, than to respond to any sound you can coax from your calls. "That's the challenge," admits Gosselink. His advice? Get rude. "Early on? Work aggressive yelps and clucks. Call over that hen. If you can pull that hen over to you, the tom will follow."

Iowa's spring turkey harvest went down last year; very likely due to not every successful hunter registering his or her harvest. Still, the 16,320 turkeys reported, a 32 percent success rate stacks up well with other turkey states. "We have strong turkey numbers throughout Iowa; especially in western and northeast Iowa," emphasizes Gosselink. "There was a slight increase in poult production in 2007. Northeast, northwest and central areas saw increases. It's still a bit below our 10 year average, but overall, prospects look good."

Most early season hunters want to get in place before dawn. Once in place, maybe with a couple decoys plugged into the ground, they'll listen to the treetop show as hens start their soft yelps and toms assert themselves with early gobbles before they fly down to start the day. Most of the 'experts' suggest getting close-but not too close-to those roosts; maybe 100-150 yards. From there, you shouldn't rattle the birds. Your early calls could bring in a wandering tom before he gets preoccupied with the real hens. My favorite hunt is still when I called in and dropped a big tom, hiking a half mile out to the road to wave to the landowner, as he drove by on his school bus route before 7:30 a.m.

With all the calls, blinds and tools of the trade out there, turkey hunters have a wide choice of how to get the birds to them. "It's hard to predict how turkeys are going to respond to different calls," admits Gosselink. "I like to have several different ones. Some birds respond better to a box call; some to a mouth call. Just try as many as you can and have some fun with it."

By the later seasons; late April and into May, hens will be slipping off from toms to lay eggs. That's when mid morning or early afternoon hunting can pay off. "That's a great time to work toms; 9, 10 o'clock", urges Gosselink, who also suggests trying different calls, in case birds have become leery of your or other hunters' tactics.