Turkey Hunting has recently reached more and more popularity across the west, with long seasons and all 48 continental states having a population of gobblers. This springtime pursuit is a fun, challenging form of hunting with a rich tradition. As a recent inductee to the turkey hunting fold, here are my top 10 tricks and tips to help you bag a turk this year.
Turkeys Are Smarter Than You Think
Somewhere at some point, the myth of “The Dumb Turkey” was born. Old-timers whisper around late-night campfires that “The Dumb Turkey” was invented in a P.E.T.A. psychological warfare lab to confuse and create self-doubt amongst hunters. They say the goal of sowing so much insecurity was so sportspeople eventually quit hunting and pick up a more respectable game like golf. Of course, that’s just old-timer talk, though.
The biggest mistake I’ve ever made--the biggest one I’ve ever seen made--is underestimating gobblers. Turkeys have 3 times better vision than humans do with 270-degree vision. That’s 120 more than humans. From snakes to bears to humans, turkeys have evolved to evade every critter in the woods with a pair of canines and a daily desire for Thanksgiving dinner.
It seems like they come equipped with OnX maps instantly knowing the line between property boundaries and huntable land.
Tips for Ticks
Spring showers bring flowers, gobblers, and ticks. Ants in the pants I can deal with. Bloodsucking parasites on my nether regions, not so much. Crawling around all day in the long grass looking for turkeys is a great way of picking up these unwanted hitchhikers. I knew ticks were a factor but picking 3 of those little buggers in your inners thighs in one day is a healthy reminder. Tick-borne illnesses are not worth messing around with; they can lead to death, an allergy to meat, and lifelong aches & pains.
So how do you combat these woodland draculas? First, spray your clothes with permethrin (especially socks, boots, and gaiters). Ticks are 74 times less likely to bite you if your shoes and socks are sprayed. You can find these sprays at most sporting good stores and online.
Next, be sure to tuck your clothes into each other to help block potential entry points. Pants into your socks. Shirt into pants. Wear gloves when you can. Spray your clothes with deet, and use another deet free insect repellent on your skin. Whenever you get a chance, check yourself for ticks and be thorough.
Be Ready for Other Predators
On my first morning of Turkey hunting ever, as I ate instant oatmeal in the blind my hunting partner and I had an unexpected visitor. We were across the road from our camp, staking out a spot we had spotted two hens the night before. When my hunting partner repeatedly whispered in my ear “Bear” “Bear” “Bear”. I quickly scanned the meadow in front of us ranging out about 200 yards. “To your right” he whispered motioning with his eyes. Right over my shoulder about 15 yards away. There stood the largest black bear I had ever seen, locked into a staring contest with our decoys. I immediately regretted two things... First, that I had left my .45 and bear spray tucked away in my car 60 yards away still at camp. Next, that my hunting partner had in recent months picked up running as a fitness routine. At this point, in a nervous confused tone reminiscent of Ashton Kutcher in “Dude Where’s My Car” I said, “ Uh...Hey Bear” instantly the bear then locked eyes with us then realized we were humans and took off. Steve Rinella recounts a similar bear encounter in his autobiography, “Meat Eater” about a black bear stumbling across the other side of a log looking for turkey eggs while Steve was turkey hunting. A week later, we had a coyote run by our set checking things out. The truth of the matter for the most part black bears and other critters are more scared of you than you are of them. However, when making the known sounds of a predator’s favorite tasty snack just be prepared to have some neighbors over for dinner. Be calm and bear aware.
Prepare For Longer Days and Shorter Nights
About 180 days separate Turkey season and modern firearm deer seasons. Half a calendar year. If you’re used to hunting big game in the fall, you’re in for a world of hurt chasing spring turkeys. In mid-October, the sun rises at 6:40am and sets 6:20pm. In Mid-April the sun rises at 6:20am and sets at 8:00pm. There are almost 2 more hours in a turkey day. By the time it’s all said and done, you’re probably running a 5:00am wake up and hitting the sack by 11:30pm. That’s 5 and a half hours of sleep a night. That sleep deprivation wear and tear adds up if you’re doing a multi-day trip.
Pack a comfy seat to nap in the field or sleep in the bed of a truck. Having simple time-effective evening meals like freeze-dried meals or mobile breakfasts like power bars will save you time at camp. If you can maybe save the bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon for the last night at camp, you’ll save yourself some headaches in the early morning.
Buy a Turkey Choke
Successful hunting, at a certain level, comes down to opening up potential opportunities. Shooting a turkey with a full or modified is possible within 25 to 30 yards, but a turkey choke can double that yardage. Prices range from $20 to around 100 bucks. Make sure you pair your choke tube with the proper threading and gauge size. Different shotgun brands have different choke threads and some older shotguns made pre-1970’s have fixed chokes.
Depending on your desire to fully optimize your turkey shooting pattern, certain chokes are paired to certain branded loads. For example Carlson makes a Turkey choke specifically for Winchester Longbeard XR rounds. Also, keep in mind that certain chokes aren’t rated to handle heavier loads such as tungsten.
There are a Things Worst than a Box Call and a Few Things Better
Calling anything is intimidating. Whenever I put any call up to my lips, I get flashbacks to being the last chair clarinet in the middle school band. There’s factors like cadence, pitch, and breath control. On the hierarchy of turkey calling, being rock solid with a diaphragm mouth call is the mountain top. It’s hands-free, can create a variety of sounds, and is stealthy. However, the time invested into getting good with a mouth call is high, and if you’re not used to using diaphragm calls you might literally choke a bit from your gag reflex. Be sure to trim to fit if you choose to use a diaphragm call. On the other end of the spectrum is the plunger call, a simple call that even most children can operate. However, what you can gain in simplicity you lose in control and quality.
Enter the box call: an often frowned upon beginner call but simple to operate with a variety of pitches and tones. It’s the old faithful of turkey communication instruments. Loud enough to work as a locator call while also quiet enough to bring ‘em in close. If you’re looking to buy your first turkey, call snag a box call. If you’re looking for something mid-range, you can also try out a slate or crystal pot call. These allow for further control and better vocalizations.
Remember that vision fact at the top of the article about how turkeys have 3 times better vision than humans? The only way to combat that is to cover up and get serious about your camo and blinds. Always rock a camo facemask and gloves, avoid whites and other bright colors. If you’re hunting a smaller footprint of land or want to not be hyper mobile, look into getting a portable stake turkey blind which will further hide you, allowing you to conceal movements.
Spring in the west can bring rain and snow depending on the elevation. I made the mistake of running my early-season archery gear kit for turkeys: camo denim pants and non-insulated boots. I had a trench foot after 3 days… It was painful to walk, and I ended up driving home with my socks off and in bare feet. Don’t make the same mistake I made thinking this would be some sunny spring break of hunting. Thunderstorms and rain can roll in at any time leaving you drenched to the bone. Bringing insulated waterproof boots and rain gear pays dividends especially when considering the length of days.
Make Some Noise, Find Some Birds
Turkeys will naturally respond to almost anything through a natural reflex called a “shock gobble” such as coyote calls, crow calls, owl hoots and even peacock sounds. So get ready to practice a few Animal Planet sounds. These shock gobbles act as a pin on the map for tom locations. There’s a whole industry built around turkey locator calls. However, you can make a simple owl locator call for free by making an “O” shape with your mouth and saying “WHO...Who cooks for you”. Be sure to push the air through your chest with large volume. You’ll increase your success and have a lot of fun getting a gobble or three.
Scout and Knock On Doors
Turkeys go to where the food is. In the early season, this is mostly pasture land where turks can find fresh grubs and sprouts to dine on. These pastures, however, are more often than not private. Knowing if there is adjacent public land--or if you can manage to gain access to private--will increase your odds. As snow levels reach higher elevations, the turkeys will spread out more to find fresh shrubs and potentially avoid hunting pressure. Spending a few days preseason scouting and knocking on doors, for any game, shortens the learning curve and allows you to have a solid game plan by opening morning. I’m not a master of talking to farmers for permission but my friend Chris is a great example of what to do. Leave your guns in your car, address them by their name via OnX information, explain how safe you are and bring a little gift to sweeten the pot such as a bottle of wine or a case of beer. If you’re feeling really helpful or if it’s a great turkey spot… roll up your sleeves and offer to repair fences, buck hay, or help with whatever chores that might need attending to.
Hopefully these small tips and tricks land you a bird in your freezer along with some life long memories. Be safe, have fun, and remember to always share the outdoors.