Jonathan Thompson of the Dirty South Boys and Deep Hollow Guide Service, said a hunter who gets in the woods before daylight on Opening Day without a gameplan is starting off way behind.
"If you don't have a plan, you won't go out and kill a turkey," said Thompson. "You need to know where you want to start, where you want to be between 7 and 11 (a.m.), from 11 and 2 (p.m.) and from 2 until dark.
"I start scouting two weeks before the season comes in, looking around, glassing field and cutovers," he said. "I sit and watch and see what they're doing."
Before he leaves his truck on Opening Day, Thompson wants to know where main roost sites are being used by both hens and gobblers, where they'll head once they're on the ground, and where they'll spend the remainder of the morning and afternoon.
"They'll come off the roost, go to their strutting zones, go to feed, to dust, go to water, and then go back to feeding and then to the roost," he said.
Thompson (704-299-3517) wants to be in the woods an hour before daylight, when it's still pitch-black dark. He said listening carefully can often allow a hunter to hear the soft, roosting clucks a turkey makes before dawn – tree calls, as it were. He'll owl call, hoping that a tom will shock-gobble at him, giving him the opportunity to get "in the general area" of the bird before dawn is even close.
"I won't hunt around the roost tree; you want to keep from killing him where he's sleeping," Thompson said. "If you shoot him around the roost, all the other birds are going to leave that area."
When dawn approaches, Thompson said birds will call from their roost a little more frequently.
"They're real fidgety," he said. "They'll look around and see what's on the ground already. I'll owl again, and I'll be reading the tree tops, looking with binoculars."
When the gobbler leaves the roost, Thompson said he likes to call once to him. "You yelp and make contact and tell him, 'Here I am.' Now he hears it, and he's gonna key in on it. Once I've made contact, I'll go from yelping to little soft feeding calls.
"You don't want to over-call. Over-calling leads to under-killing," he said. "Only call when appropriate. If he cuts you off, stop calling, because he knows where you are and he's coming. When he does that, I'll start raking the leaves behind me with my hand. That tells him the dinner bell's going off, that there are bugs on the ground."
If he can't lure a gobbler into range with yelps and feeding calls, Thompson will turn to challenging the bird with gobbler yelps, aggressive purrs and even gobbles.
"When you gobble at him, if he's the dominant bird, he's not gonna let you near him; he's gonna come whup your butt," he said. "If a bird hangs up, just purr at him aggressively; he can't stand that."
Thompson will use decoys on mornings that are cooler than normal, because he says gobblers are plenty hot already on warm mornings; when it's cool, they often need a little convincing.
"Nine out of 10 times, you can hear him fly out of the try," Thompson said. "You set the hen decoy facing away from him, and you set up a jake out in front, turn him like he's going sideways. That way, if the gobbler sees him, he'll think he's either trying to sneak in or sneak out. He won't let him do that."
Thompson also takes care to make sure his camouflage allows him to blend in with his surroundings – and that doesn't always mean wearing the same colors and patterns.
"Early in the season, if the woods are just starting to turn (green), you can still see under them, so you might want to go with a light top and a dark bottom," he said. "It's critical to look at your surroundings; you want your camo to duplicate them."