There is no thrill like turkey hunting. No other wild game in the United States compares in regards to the amount of preparation and potential payoff. It is more challenging and interactive than hunting large game because the skill required to lure in a wise old turkey. This guide is meant for beginning turkey hunters, but even seasoned long-beard hunters will pick up a trick or two.
The Basics and Background of Turkey Hunting
(Check with your state's Department of Wildlife or Fish and Game and verify all rules and regulations)Turkey hunting occurs mainly during the spring months. Several states have added a fall turkey season as well. However, fall Turkey seasons typically have more stringent rules on bag limits and allow only primitive weaponry. Legal hunting times during turkey seasons are from sunrise until 30 minutes prior to the official sunset. Turkeys roost, or sleep, up in trees during the night. The bird will fly up around dusk and remain in the tree until the morning. Most turkeys prefer tall hardwood trees, but in their absence any tree will do. It is considered unsportsmanlike and unlawful to shoot or scare a turkey out of a tree in order to hunt it. Just prior to sunrise the turkeys will begin to call. Hens will have a distinct chirp sound while in the roost. Toms (male turkeys) will have an unmistakable gobble. Hunters can use these Predawn noises to slip in under the cover of darkness and setup for the hunt. It is surprising to most first time turkey hunters just how loud and thunderous these gobble can be. At first light the birds begin to fly down from their roost. Turkeys develop patterns in their roosting but only short term patterns. As the temperatures rise and fall the birds change their behavior. Even the location of the roost can vary from night to night. Once on the ground, the toms are usually thinking about finding a hen to impress. This is when the real show begins. If you are lucky enough to have a front row seat, you will see an impressive demonstration of strutting and gobbling - maybe even a fight between two mature toms.
The Turkey Call
Hunters have developed countless ways to imitate the female hen's call. The three most common and easy to use turkey calls are the box call, the pan call, and the mouth call. Note that is is illegal to use recordings of actual hens and play them back in order to draw in a male turkey. Techniques for employing the calls are just as diverse as the calls themselves. Some hunters are very aggressive in their calling while others believe less is more. The common thread is the agreement that it takes practice to perfect the wide range of purrs and clucks that are required to draw in a tom. The amount of calling will also depend on when you are hunting. Early in the season there are plenty of hens so toms have little trouble locating a hen in which to fornicate with. As the season wears on, the hens begin to nest and lay eggs. With fewer hens available, the toms will travel further and gobble more aggressively in order to track down a willing hen. In this instance, only a few calls may be necessary in order to capture the attention of an eager male.
Weapons of the Hunt
Shotguns are the primary weapon of choice for hunting turkeys. It is common for 12 gauge and 20 gauge shotguns to be employed. Turkey shotgun shells are widely available and clearly marked in the stores. The best aiming point for a successful shot is at the base of the neck. This shot is tougher than a body shot but it protects the much desired turkey breast from being contaminated with the tiny bb's from the shotgun shell. An additional accessory is the shotgun choke. These aftermarket chokes are screwed into the end of the barrel. They allow for a tighter pattern of the shot, resulting in a more accurate and deadly shot. Some experienced hunters will opt for one of the various types of bows instead of a shotgun. Bow hunting is considered a greater challenge since the hunter must be even closer to the turkey, and therefore must be quieter and completely motionless.
Concealment and Camouflage
Turkeys have developed a keen sense of sight and hearing. So much so that many states do not require the standard hunter orange be worn during a turkey hunt. A successful turkey hunter will be covered in camo clothing from head to toe, including gloves and a face mask or face net. Another option is to use a ground blind. A ground blind is a permanent or portable enclosure that allows the hunter more freedom in movement without being detected. It is paramount that a hunter uses the predawn darkness to quietly enter the hunting area and set up. Too much movement will spook the birds and they will sprint out of range quickly.
Dealing with Insects
Mosquitos infiltrate most turkey hunting grounds. In the Southeastern United States, mosquitos are a severe burden to hunters. Mosquitos repellents are a must but are only mildly effective. Another alternative is a product called the ThermaCELL . This gadget heats a chemically infused pad to create a subtle, but effective, puff of odor and smoke. Ticks are also a concern so clothing should fit snugly, especially around wrists, ankles, and waist.
Turkey hunting takes patience and dedication since some hunts will conclude without even seeing or hearing a bird. The hard work and continued refinement of your tactics will eventually pay off!