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up close it seems as if the trees and ground beneath you shakes, or he’s strutting just out of range, even the most experienced hunter’s heart tends to pound uncontrollably with your adrenaline building all over your body. With all this going on inside your head and your adrenaline racing you know with one wrong move or hint of danger he's gone in a blink of an eye. Leaving behind a confused and heartbroken hunter that was beaten by nature again. This is because a wild turkey’s senses are extremely keen. Its eyesight are among the best in the woods. I’ve often heard it said, “If a turkey had a sense of smell like the whitetail deer, it would be next to impossible to kill.” This is the challenge that makes turkey hunting so intriguing and is helping to attract thousands of new hunters to the sport per year. This article covers some of the basics to help get you started hunting wild turkeys.
Calls and Calling
Good calling and knowing when to call are often critical keys to success in turkey hunting. Hunters typically imitate hens to call a gobbler into gun range. Biologically speaking this is the exact opposite of how it happens in nature.Normally the gobbler calls the hen to him. When we try to call the gobbler in gun/bow range by imitating a hen we are going against nature. So we must know what call to use and which sound to imitate when we are in the turkey woods pursuing this great bird of nature. Hens make a variety of calls: yelps, clucks, cuts, purrs and whines. The best way to learn to call is to practice with an experienced turkey hunter or to purchase an instructional video or audio cassette and practice the calls following along with the instructional video. It isn’t necessary to become an expert in all of these calls to have success in turkey hunting. Gaining a good understanding of each call sound will be most helpful in the woods to any turkey hunter.
As with camo, guns and shells, a number of different types of calls are used in turkey hunting. The most popular styles include box calls, slate-type friction calls, wingbone and trumpet calls, diaphragm calls, push-pin and tube calls. Beginning hunters should normally consider box calls, slate-type friction calls and push-pin calls for their ease of use.
On a given day any of these calls will work. Each style call has its own distinctive sound. A gobbler will sometimes answer one call but not the others. So, keep several calls in your arsenal and take turns trying them. If one call doesn’t get a response, another call might be the sound the tom was needing to here to come running.
When calling turkeys, less is better in most cases. Don’t over call. This is were most hunters go home empty handed. They call and call. Get that bird fired up and gobbling his head off. Well the more that gobbler gobbles the greater the chances are that a hen will go to him before he can get to you. The more you call, the more likely you’ll hit a sour note or that your movement will be seen by an alert gobbler or hen that has quietly moved in to check you out. Hens will often come in out of curiosity also. That old boss hen don't like the idea of another hen coming to her gobbler either. Click here to view my favorite calls and the maker of the call.
Field scouting begins after you have identified several possible hunting spots. Get a good map of the area you plan to hunt. Drive the back roads during the first couple of hours after dawn, stopping along ridges, high points, power lines, open creek and river bottoms to listen for gobbling.
Use a turkey call or a locator call, such as an owl hooter or crow call, to try to get a response. When you hear a gobbler, mark the location on a map. If you get a bird to answer you, don’t continue to call to him. This often causes gobblers to become call shy and they will not respond to you once the season opens. Additionally, birds that continue to gobble also tend to attract the attention of other hunters who might be scouting the area.
Finally, scout your best locations on foot. Check for signs of scratching where birds have been feeding. Droppings and feathers can also provide you with information about turkeys in the area. Gobbler droppings tend to be club shaped, while hen droppings have a corkscrew appearance. A gobbler’s body feathers are black tipped, while hen feathers are buff colored. Check along creek banks and around mud holes for tracks. In the evenings listen for birds flying up to roost. If you are able to roost birds, come back the next morning and listen for gobbling.
Make as many trips to the area as possible before the season starts. Learn the terrain features: creeks, log roads, fence rows, pastures, etc. This will help later when you are maneuvering during an actual hunt. Hopefully, by opening day you will know the location of several gobblers.
Because wild turkeys have such keen vision, camouflage is almost a must to avoid being seen. This normally includes a camo suit, cap, facemask and gloves. Don't forget to wear dark colored socks so that they don't show when you sit down. Many turkey hunters also wear a camo vest with plenty of pockets to carry calls, shells and maybe a snack. These vests often have a drop-down padded seat to add a little comfort while you're working a bird.
In recent years camouflage makers have come up with a wide array of patterns and colors. Try and match the color of the foliage where you will be hunting. Early season patterns with mostly browns and grays usually blend in best, while patterns with more green mixed in blend in better as new leaves bud out. Always remember: controlling movement is most important regardless of how well you are camoflauged.
Shotguns and Ammunition
The best shotgun and ammunition for turkey hunting is the combination that delivers a dense, hard-hitting pattern at 40-45 yards. Most hunters use larger gauges (12 or 10 gauge) with tight chokes (full or extra full). Shells are usually 3 or 3 ½ inch magnums loaded with #4, #5 or #6 size shot. The smaller the shot size (the larger the number), the greater the number of pellets in a shell. However, the smaller pellets weigh less, carry less energy and provide less penetration at longer distances than pellets of a larger shot size.
Before hunting, pattern your shotgun to see which choke, brand of ammunition and shell load produces the most uniform pattern and density. Pattern performance will vary with different gun, choke, load and ammunition manufacturer combinations.
To pattern a shotgun for turkey hunting, use a target that depicts a turkey’s vital head and neck area (printable target here). The head and neck is what you should be shooting for when your turkey comes in range. Set the target up at 40 yards and shoot from a rest. Compare the number and density of pellets striking the vital area with the different chokes and ammunition combinations to see which one shoots best in your gun. You should have at least 8 to 10 pellets in the vital area at 40 yards. Once you get satisfactory results at 40 yards, fire additional rounds at 25 and 45 yards. These rounds will show you what patterns you can expect at different distances and help you determine your shooting limits. Being confident with your shooting ability is very important to being a successful hunter overall.
There is a huge variety of hunting equipment available these days, due to the growing popularity of turkey hunting and ever-increasing numbers of turkey hunters. Turkey hunting has become much more popular in the past ten years due to the management of the turkey populations throughout the United States.
Another reason for the growth in popularity of turkey hunting is their ability to multiply so fast naturally.
The hunter, dresses in his usual garb and hat, places his favorite slate call, box call, wing bone or scratch box into his jacket on the way out of the house. He picks up his shotgun and a few shells in his pocket before walking out the door. This is the common turkey hunter. Of boy, have times changed. In order to be a successful turkey hunter you don't have to have buy all the calls on sale at your local wal-mart store. I just like to increase my chances by adding a variety of different calls to my aresenal of calls. To stay organized I recommend having a turkey vest, calls, decoys, when you say calls, the list can get extremely long. There is the slate, box, scratch, push pin, diaphragm, and let’s not forget the wing bone and many more. If you don't know what each of these types of calls are I have included a link at the top that describes each type and how to use it. We all have our favorites whether it be Quaker Boy, Knight & Hale, or Primo’s. Like I said the list is endless. But for all practical purposes we will leave it at that.
So we gather all our favorite calls put them in our turkey vest and grab our Benelli shotgun, don’t forget the wife made you sleep on the couch all week after she found out how much it cost. So after a restless night on the couch the clock alarms and we are out the door. I go to my favorite spot before daylight. As the sun comes up I listen, and listen, and listen. Nothing, they have got Turkey lock jaw I think to myself. What do I do? I start through my arsenal of turkey calls. I get the old box call out hit a couple notes on it. Nothing. By this time its about 8:30 a.m. I start getting worried. Its opening day and I haven’t even heard a gobble much less get a shot off. What should I do now? I get
my favorite diaphragm out and get it moistened up in my mouth. I find a place I have seen turkey feeding before so I decided to sit down a while and see what happens. I am just off the corner of a grass field where I can see out in the field about 75 yards in all directions. This is a perfect setup I think. So I sit there for about fifteen minutes and I start yelping just a little ever ten or fifteen minutes. Not to loud but just enough to let that old tom know I am there if he is hearing range of my calling. I do this for about an hour nothing. Well its now ten o’clock and I am getting very nervous thinking I’m not going to do a bit of good today turkey hunting.
So I start thinking have I done all I can do. Then it hits me, DECOY!!!!!!! I have my decoys in my old trusty turkey vest. I don’t want to make a lot of noise so I go for the Jake. I ease it out and straighten it the best I can and almost crawl about forty yards out in the field and stake it in place. I ease back into my place. I’m thinking here it is almost eleven o’clock and I haven’t seen nor heard a turkey as far as I can hear. I position myself toward the Jake decoy. Yelp, yelp, yelp. Silence is almost deafening it is so quiet. Out of now where thunders a gobble so loud I practically jumped out of my skin. I can’t see him but he is so close I can hear the feathers scratching and scraping the ground as he walked along strutting his way toward me. This goes on for about ten minutes. Then off to my left I get a glimpse of the brightest, reddest head I had ever seen. He looked as if he stood four feet tall. Each step he took his head bobbed. He would take another step then spin around and walk backwards away from me and the decoy. I am shaking all over by now. I think he’s about thirty yards out of range for the Benelli 12 gauge shotgun. The gun the wife almost divorce me over. The same gun that put me on the couch all night. I’m sitting there thinking all this then all at once the turkey breaks into a dead run straight at the decoy. He literally starts attacking my decoy. I still have this decoy today. He walked right up on top of the decoy and started flogging it. He put holes and tears all in my decoy. What a show I think. I have gotten so mesmerized by what this turkey has done that I forget hey, your turkey hunting, shoot him. I bear down the Benelli barrel and take a good aim at his head. I pull the trigger, POW!!!!! Feathers go everywhere. The turkey is flopping all over the field. Well, to my surprise while all this was going on I’m sitting there waiting for the turkey to stop flopping and again out of nowhere, GOBBBBBBLLLLEEEE!!!!!!!!!!! Not again, I think. It couldn’t be. So I look up toward where the turkey is still flopping and here he comes making a bee line toward the turkey that’s on the ground. Before the turkey could expire the tom gets attacked by another gobbler. Being the law abiding hunter that I am, I stand up and the gobbler, attacking the turkey that’s been shot, takes about ten fast steps and he is out of sight.
I am so proud to have harvested this bird on opening day. I think what a story I will never forget this as long as I live. I pack my gobbler in my vest and off I go. I can’t wait to get home and tell all my friends and family about what I saw in the woods today. The main point of this story is when you least expect the gobbler to boom. He will rattle the tree tops.
Harvesting the Boss Gobbler is only half the work. After the harvest proper card for your turkey is extremely important.. Fortunately for us Wild Turkey hunters there isn't much "work" in field dressing a turkey. Persevering your meat is very important.
We all like to show off our turkey to our hunting buddies or anyone who wants to look for that matter. If you are not going to clean the bird for a while there are a few steps to follow to make sure the meat stays eatable. The first and most important thing to preserve the meat is keeping the meat cool. We all want to lay out bird in the back of the truck to haul it around which is fine. Just make sure to cover the bird so it’s not lying in the sun for an hour as you drive home. If you have a really long commute I would recommend bringing along a cooler. Buy a brick of ice and put the bird in the cooler with the ice.
The first thing you must do after harvesting your bird to make sure its taken care of properly is field dress the bird. The process is simple. Remember to bring along a knife into the field while you are hunting. Find the point of the breast. This is between the legs of the turkey. As you make the cut along the point of the turkey’s breast. Do not cut into the turkey fan. Most hunters want to make a wall mount from the fan. So as you are field dressing is sure not to cut any of the feathers or pull any of the turkeys fan out. This is very frustrating after you have harvested and field dressed your bird to find you have cut several of the fan feathers out of the fan.
After cutting across the tip of the turkey’s breast. Pull the breast and back of the turkey apart. So you can get your hand inside the turkey cavity. Reach inside the cavity as far as you can pull the internal organs out as you go. This will include the heart, lungs, and liver. The guts will follow along as you are pulling these internal organs out of the turkey. Some people like to keep the turkey’s heart and liver. If you are going to do this I highly recommend you bring a zip lock bag along with you to store these. This will keep them clean and from getting blood all over your clothes or turkey vest. After removing the internal organs you aren’t finished yet. Find the turkey’s crop. It’s where the neck meets the main body. Slit the turkey’s neck open so you can remove the wind pipe and the crop. After this procedure you are ready to show off your big tom. This sounds like a lot of work but after you perform this a few times it comes naturally. I have harvested several turkeys and now I can field dress a turkey under five minutes. Remember it’s not trying to be perfect you’re going to clean the bird when you get home. You aren’t cleaning the bird to eat. You’re doing this so the meat doesn’t ruin before you can get it home. Hope this helps.
Copyright © by Mitch Stevens |January 29, 2011