Turkey hunting is not easy. While that might not be what some of us want to hear, that is exactly what keeps many of us hooked. It can be a challenging, yet rewarding experience. As nature restores itself after those long winter months, we too restore our hearts with hunting camaraderie, the beauty of the outdoors and the thunder of some nearby gobbles. The following are some turkey tips to remember this spring. Good luck – I’ll be rooting for you!
Attention – There are a variety of calls on the market to get a turkey’s attention, but basically they fall into two categories: friction and air-operated. Friction calls tend to be the easiest to use with slate calls being popular. Just like trying different fishing lures until you get a bite, try different calls until you get a response. If it’s windy and you need to get louder, try a box call. The most common air-operated call is the diaphragm or mouth call. This call requires a lot of practice to become proficient.
Beginners – Whether you are using a shotgun or a bow, a lot of people go seasons without successfully harvesting a bird. If you’re new to turkey hunting, try going out with a seasoned hunter to learn some tricks of the trade.
Camouflage – With turkeys’ crazy-good eyesight, it’s important to have excellent camo. It’s also important to think about what is behind you, such as sitting against a large tree so turkeys can’t silhouette you. If you are hunting from a blind, it’s very important to wear all black – hat, face mask, long sleeve top, gloves and even blacking out parts of your bow or gun (black electrical tape works well).
Decoys – For many animals, hunts don’t need to revolve around decoys; however, they do play a major role when it comes to turkeys. You don’t necessarily have to get the turkeys to actually come IN to the decoys, but decoys can help bring them within shooting range, or just get them to slow down or pause enough so you can pull that shot off. A typical setup includes one male decoy (tom or jake; strutting, half-strut or breeding), with two hen decoys (one looker and one feeder). If using a strutting decoy, I do think it is worth using a real turkey fan.
Elements – Unfortunately, spring doesn’t necessarily mean spring weather. I’ve hunted spring turkeys in complete snow with freezing temperatures to swarms of mosquitoes in 90+ degree temps… check the weather regularly, be prepared and layer up your clothing! Also have good boots appropriate for your hunt, whether that’s shorter hiking boots for walking or rubber boots for mud and creeks.
Fan – Pay attention to tail fans. If several toms are coming in together, one is often going to strut the most – that’s your head bird. The other males will often push their luck, but kind of hang away from the top male and not fully strut. If a male bird is pumping his tail up and down, you know he is excited, so keep working to get him into shooting range. If a gobbler in range all of a sudden drops out of strut, he might know something is up and you need to get your shot off soon. And if a tom is strutting and turning back and forth, sometimes this is the perfect opportunity to get ready for that shot when his eyes are hidden behind his fan.
Gauge – While 12-gauge shotguns are the most used for turkeys, 20-gauge shotguns are perfect for youth and adults who do not fit the “average American man” model. The main thing is to know your shotgun well, pattern it for turkeys (most popular is an extra-full choke for the tightest pattern) and get comfortable holding it while sitting on the ground, if that’s how you’re hunting. Shooting at a turkey at more than 40 yards is not recommended, regardless of which gauge of shotgun is used.
Hen – You’ll often be at the mercy of hens, whether the tom follows them in or away from you. If one walks in alone, you can softly talk with your call, keeping them comfortable around your decoys, while hopefully someone else is listening nearby. And in “bearded-bird” states, a bearded hen is a legal, treasured bird to tag.
Inspiration – When hunting turkeys, things are going to go wrong. You’re going to get frustrated – just remember not to give up. You can do it! So here’s an inspirational quote for when you need it: “The harder the struggle, the more glorious the triumph.” Amen!
Jake – I’m sad to see hunters, especially beginners, pass up shots at jakes or not be proud of harvesting a jake. ANY turkey is tough to harvest and is a trophy! While it is rewarding when you are finally able to harvest a big ol’ tom, passing up jakes is passing up on valuable hunting and shooting experience, and a great-eating bird. Plus, jakes often hang out in gangs to protect themselves or go up against toms they couldn’t compete with alone. This can make for some very exciting hunts and possibly give you an opportunity to double with a fellow hunter or yourself, if legal in your area, and you have two tags!
Keen – Turkeys have sharp eyesight. Sometimes it seems like just a blink of your eyes is enough to send them running! Even when the hours get long, pay attention as much as you can with slow, deliberate moves, as a turkey can always surprise you.
Low – If using a bow, the best advice I can give you is to avoid shooting low on a turkey. The saying, “Hit ‘em low, watch ‘em go; hit ‘em high, watch ‘em die” is true.
Maintenance – Most turkey calls require some kind of maintenance. It’s especially important to take care of your calls when weather is extreme, as moisture can affect the sound. Also, skin contains natural oils, so handling with your fingers can negatively affect some. Know the instructions for your specific call. While slate calls require sandpaper, you should never use sandpaper on a box call, which needs chalk. Mouth calls should be washed with warm water and stored in the refrigerator.
NWTF – The National Wild Turkey Federation is a great way to learn more about turkeys and become a better hunter. Visit nwtf.org for tips and tactics, turkey calls, recipes and more!
Owls – An owl call is a great way to locate turkeys in the mornings and pinpoint where they are so you can make a hunting plan. Even if you don’t use a locator call, you can often listen for owls, crows or other sounds to set off gobblers so you know where they are roosted.
Permission – Make sure you have permission to be on the land you are on. If you are running and gunning, you need to know who owns what land and where that property stops. This is important for the safety of yourself and other hunters who you might not know you are in the area and could be silent or calling and using decoys.
Quiver – If you are bowhunting, make sure to have another arrow ready. Often times you can get a second shot at a bird even if you have a miss or wound. And with turkeys often being attracted to a wounded/flopping bird, even if you “smoke” one, you might be able to fill another tag (if legal) right on the spot!
Roost – Learn how to roost turkeys, as finding where they start and finish their day gives you an advantage. Start in the afternoon in open areas near big-branched trees where you’ve heard birds before. Sit quietly, listening for the wing beats of turkeys flying into their roosting spot. Stay until nightfall and then sneak out. Now you’re ready for their fly-down in the morning.
Scouting – As well as knowing where turkeys tend to roost, glassing fields and travel corridors from afar before season can help you get closer when hunting time rolls around. Also use trail cameras before and during turkey season to help pattern locations and times. When in their area, pay attention to sign, such as tracks, droppings and dust baths.
Ticks – Lyme disease is a real concern for those who spend a lot of time outdoors as some ticks can transfer it to you. Permethrin is a great way to protect yourself, and while you can’t spray it on your skin, you can spray your boots, pant legs and hunting blind. Once you get home, check yourself for ticks.
Unpredictable – Incredibly wary with sharp survival instincts, turkeys make an ultimate game animal. Keep in mind, this also makes them extremely unpredictable. When you are trying to get a tom to come to you, you’re actually working against what nature has programmed him to do… to stand in the open, gobbling and strutting while the hens come to him.
Vest – If you gun hunt turkeys, a good turkey hunting vest is an excellent union of form and function. It can be your best friend, keeping you comfortable and ready for whatever is ahead for you in the woods. I love the looks of Cabela’s Women’s Tat’r Turkey Vest.
Weather – Turkeys hate rain, they hate wind… they just plain hate bad weather. So keeping this in mind can help you set up a hunting plan, if you can stick out the weather yourself. When it rains, turkeys feel more vulnerable in the woods and typically head to an open field or open area. On a windy day, get out of the wind as well (a plus if on the edge of a food source).
Xenial – Okay, yes, I am stretching for an X word! But xenial is friendliness between a host and guest, or strangers. Thank landowners that give you permission to hunt and guides who help you. Let them know how much that means to you, as they are helping you develop memories that will last a lifetime. And support other turkey hunters.
Yelp – The plain yelp of a hen is basic turkey communication and one of the main sounds you’ll be trying to create with calls. If you can yelp, you have a chance of being able to call in a turkey. The yelp is commonly used by a hen to communicate with a gobbler during mating season. There is also a similar sound, the excited yelp, which means a turkey is worked up about something. If a gobbler is henned up, you might be able to lure the hen in (with the gobbler in tow) using this call.
Zones – Some states divide themselves into zones for hunting areas and season dates. Know the maps, times and regulations for your area, especially if you traveling out-of-state and might not be as familiar with these rules. ~JP