I am just going to straight out say it, turkey hunting is a blast! (Man, I pun a lot!) During the winter, I wait for turkey season with bated breath, trying to contain my desire to head out by convincing myself turkey hunting isn’t that fun. Then the spring hits. I can no longer persuade myself into thinking I have better things to do than turkey hunt. As the weather gradually warms and trees sprout their tiny leaves, my excitement builds and builds. By the middle of April, I can hardly contain the desire to get outside and search for toms!
I think I like the wild turkey season because it is kind of the awakening from hibernation. The days are growing longer, plants and animals are emerging from winter’s slumber, snow, melting off the mountain peaks, is draining into and filling the meager flowing streams. It is like something is saying, “Hey, wake up! Let’s go!” Turkey season is kind of my kick in the behind to remember to wake and get going. And no one says that more prominently than a gobbling tom.
In Utah, the wild turkey spring hunt opens May 2nd. Here are a few tips to get ready for a great month of tracking down toms.
Start with Scouting for Birds
Scouting is always a good idea for any hunt. Scouting not only assists in identifying the location of game, but it also helps you learn the patterns and habits of an animal, what they are eating, when and where they are moving, if they are solo in the area or in a group, mating habits, and so much more. It is a very beneficial practice, and the more time you invest the better your odds for a successful hunt.
Turkey scouting is a bit different from deer or elk. With bigger game, it is ideal to start scouting months in advance. Turkeys vastly alter their eating patterns between the winter, fall, and spring, so there is not as much benefit to scouting for your tom during the winter when you have a spring hunt. You can always start earlier if you desire, as their is no harm in following the flock across its seasonal feeding grounds, but typically heading out two to three weeks before the start of the hunt will suffice with turkey.
In the spring, turkeys move to the blooming green fields and blossoming plants of creek beds. A great starting point for scouting is to get high above fields and openings to glass for birds. Turkeys breed during the spring, and depending on the timing of your state’s season, the toms and hens will be flocked up in the full swing of breeding, or maybe the hens will be grouped up and the toms will be hanging on the outskirts as the breeding time starts to end. Either way, during the spring hunt locating a group of hens is a great way to pin point a harvestable tom.
Besides glassing, birds can also be located by listening for gobbles. Start your day early to listen for the early morning tom gobble. Turkeys typically gobble at first light and right before sunset. This can help you identify where the toms are roosting in the evenings, giving you a great idea of their location each morning. Roosting locations for turkeys are determined by the terrain. Toms typically roost in high trees, the type dependent on the region you live in, and prefer the older, larger trees as they provide better protection from predators. If the area is devoid of trees, turkeys will also roost about 2/3’s up the hill on north-east or east facing slopes.
Other tips for locating turkey include scouting for tracks, droppings, or strut marks. This can be done by driving dirt roads in the area you are hoping to hunt and looking for tracks crossing the road. It also might take actually putting your boots on the ground. If you decide to head out on foot into an area you are hoping to hunt, try and disturb the area as little as possible. Stop often to listen for birds and glass ahead of where you are traveling. You don’t want to accidentally jump your bird too early before the season and push him out of the area. While walking, look for signs including droppings, feathers, and dusting areas. All these signs can help you identify roosting and feeding areas.
One final tactic you might employ is to set up a game camera. Set the camera up on a suspected feeding area. This will provide not only information about the size and types of birds frequenting the area, but will also give you an idea about the times of day they like to visit the feeding grounds. For tips on setting up a game camera, you can visit my blog page: Tips for Setting up Game Cameras.
Like most animals that live in large groups, turkeys have a very large vocabulary for communicating. The most identifiable call for turkeys is the gobble of a tom. Ask any five year old what a turkey says, and they will answer “Gobble, gobble.” However, the gobble is just the beginning of a long list of turkey sounds, including the clucks, purrs, assembly calls, cuts, yelps, and cackles. Each sound is unique and used for a different reason.
When using turkey calls during hunting, it is important to not only use the proper type of call but to also administer the correct cadence and tone. This can only be accomplished through practice, practice, and more practice. There are a variety of calls available on the market, including push button, box, slate, diaphragm, wing bone, and camo glove calls. What works best for you depends on your skill level with the call and also what you are attempting to use the call for. Probably the easiest call to start out with is the box call, however it has a limited range on the types of sounds you can create. More advanced calls include a diaphragm or slate call. These calls require more practice to master, but give a greater range of sounds.
If you are just starting out with calling, I would highly suggest visiting a website and begin with just listening to the different sounds turkeys make. A great one is here: National Wild Turkey Foundation.. I also watch hunting shows, as this not only allows me to hear the sounds but gives a visual on how to set-up for calling, how to use different call devices, and how the birds react.
Well, all there is left to do from here is PRACTICE!
Get Your Gun Ready
First things first, make sure your gun is in working order. You also might want to give it a quick spit shine if you didn’t already clean it after the last time it was used. After you know everything is good to go, I suggest following three simple steps to ready for the hunt: select your ammo, sight the gun in, and pattern your shot.
When selecting ammo, you want to research a choke and shell combination that works best for you. Everyone has a different preference, and every gun works a little differently with different chokes and shells. A common turkey hunting gun is the 12 gauge. The 12 gauge offers a bit better range than a 20 gauge; however, it also offers a better kick to your shoulder too! I have used both when hunting turkeys, and to be honest I usually prefer the 20 gauge because it is a little easier to pack around. I also will admit, the shot used for turkey in a 12 gauge makes for a very sore shoulder the next day, and if I can avoid that it is a successful hunt in my mind.
A good choke to start out with if you are shooting a 12 gauge is a full choke. They also sell a turkey choke, designed specifically for turkey hunting. With smaller game birds, such as ducks or pheasant, a wide spread pattern is ideal since more than likely the bird will be in flight. Turkeys require a harder hit, and when aiming for a tom most tend to aim at the head. Since the area you aiming for is about the size of your fist and you are looking for the most knock-down power possible, a full choke is a good choice since it creates a tighter collection of pellets.
For shells, a good place to start is either a #4 or #6 shot. It is difficult to offer solid advice on shot size, as everyone has a different preference and this is usually based on the patterning they are getting during practicing. I think a #4 or #6 is just a good starting point for a beginner looking to figure out their personal style and how their gun handles.
After selecting the choke and shot, it is time to sight in the gun and get some patterning going. To sight in the gun, start fairly close to your target, about 10 yards. Since you are not overly concerned at this point with how the gun is patterning and instead are looking to make sure it is aiming straight, I would suggest using a smaller shot, something you might use on a pheasant or duck. These smaller shots create SOOOOO much less kick, and who wants to get their shoulder all sore just to see if a gun is shooting straight? (Not me.)
Once you have sighted in your gun, start patterning. Select the shot size you think you want to start with, set up about 25 yards for a new, clean target and get started shooting. Check how tight your patterning is. You can do this by drawing a 10 inch circle around the shot and counting the number of pellet holes in the paper. Ideally, you are looking for 18 or more pellets within that circle. Less than that and you are probably creating an opportunity for a sad hunt missing lots of turkey.
If you are satisfied with the patterning at 25 yards, move back 10 yards more and start with a fresh target again. Check the tightness and then move back another 10 yards. Repeat the process until you have selected a load you are comfortable with. This practice will also give you a great idea about the range of your gun. If you aren’t getting a tight grouping at 50 or 60 yards, you probably shouldn’t be taking that shot. Patterning is an important step to not miss before the opening morning of turkey season, it gives you the best opportunity to combine your gun with a choke and shot load that create a consistent shooting pattern. And consistent shooting patterns lead to more kills and less injured birds. And less sad faces.
Prepare Those Miscellaneous Items
If you have done your scouting, practiced your calling, and got your gun, you have covered all the major items in preparing for the spring turkey hunts. Everything else are just gravy items at this point. So, a few extras you might want to prep in assistance for an even more enjoyable hunt include:
- Get your camo ready to go! On top of having excellent hearing, turkeys have superb vision. You could say they have an “eagle eye.” They can detect even the slightest of movements. It helps, immensely in my opinion, to wear proper camo. When I go out turkey hunting, I dress from head-to-toe in camo. It makes for a hot day, and I really wish that I could not do it, but I find that it is necessary if you want to get close to a bird. By head-to-toe, I mean I wear a hat, a face cover, long sleeved shirt, pants, and even brown shoes. Anything you can do to help you blend in to your surroundings will help with turkeys.
- Get your decoys ready to go! Decoys have their place. I usually sneak out before the sun is even thinking about coming up over the hill and place my decoys. I have had mixed results with them. Sometimes an overly zealous tom has rushed in and started strutting his stuff for my fake flock, and other times the birds have spent their time playing shy just out of sight. I try not to get too attached to hunting near my decoys, because I have found if I do that then I spend all day sitting in a spot where obviously the toms aren’t interested in what I am selling. So, like I said, I set them up before first light, so I don’t create any disturbances, and then I kind of feel out how the day is going before I commit to how, or even if, I am going to use them that day.
- Make sure there is room in the freezer! May as well think positively before you head out on your hunt. Make sure there is room in your freezer for the big tom you are going to bag and bring home!
Well, hopefully this has been helpful. I would love to hear what other people do in preparation for their spring turkey hunts. Comment below!