Turkey hunting can be tough. Especially if you're new to the chase. I've spent my fair share of days calling turkeys til' i was blue in the face with next to nothing to show for it. Hopefully you can benefit from my inexperience and bag you a spring gobbler this season.
I'm going to let you in on a few of my favorite tips to give you the advantage you need to bring home the bacon....bird or whatever. You know what I mean. Here are 5 tips every beginner turkey hunter should know:
Image credit: Jacek Raniowski
1.) Be a Creature Of The Night.
Turkeys are very skittish. I've seen turkeys just turn and book-it for no good reason at all. If at all possible, try to make any traveling to or from your hunting site an hour or two before sunrise. Or if you're scouting, try to keep it as close to nightfall as you can. When turkeys are in their roost at night they feel more safe and are less likely to flee just because something is going bump in the night.
Image credit: Aaron Breeden
2.) Scout It Out.
This is hands down the most important tip on this list. I can't stress enough how critical this can be to a successful hunt. If you aren't doing any preseason scouting for turkeys you may want to reconsider.
The main goal of this type of scouting is to locate one or more roosting trees. A flock of turkeys can have a couple of different roosts they like to rotate to and from, but usually they tend to have a favorite. Scouting can take place just about any time of year, but the best time is about 2 weeks before the start of your local turkey hunting season. Waiting to scout until it's this close to the season helps to ensure that when you find an active roost, the birds will still be there when the season starts.
When looking for a good roost site there are a few things to look out for. One is protection from the wind. Most animals hate to be out in the wind and elements, turkeys are no different. Another is a large sturdy tree with a good amount of forking branches. The turkeys have a good sense of what is a strong sturdy tree, so keep an eye out for that. Next is sun exposure. They enjoy sunning themselves. Look for a tree that isn't shaded by a mountain or other trees. Last, look for a tree near food and water sources. Most animals are lazy and don't want to go far to eat or drink.
Make sure the roost is active by looking for signs of turkeys. This can be droppings, feather molts, fresh tracks, or even scratches in the dirt from where they've been feeding.
Once you find a few trees that fall into a "roost-able" category, whip out your locator call. Crow and owl calls work great for this. Wait until just after nightfall and give a few "caws" on your crow call or "hoots" on your owl call. It won't be long before your turkeys gobble back to you. Hopefully in the direction you expect.
Once you do locate an active roost, don't return back to the area until you are ready to hunt that roost. If the turkeys feel too much pressure from you or other hunters they'll flee to another roost and may not return.
3.) Mimic The Bird Not the Hunter.
When you first get into turkey hunting you're going to quickly realize you inevitably have to call them in at some point or another. And with that bit of knowledge you are going to do exactly what any normal person would do...Hit up YouTube for some sweet turkey call tutorials. The only thing I ask that you do different is that once you learn the basics of how the different calls work, immediately flip over to videos of actual wild turkeys calling. Don't try to sound like the hunter that was teaching you how to use the call, try to sound like the turkey.
Turkeys have a call for everything, locating, challenging, feeding, roosting, mating, contentment, you name it. Each one is different, and each one can sound a bit different depending on your region, species of turkey, and sex of the bird. Don't let all this overwhelm you though. All you really need to learn is a couple calls to begin with. The purr, the cluck, and the yelp. I won't go into detail, but just remember each is different and made for a different reason.
Instead of simply throwing out blind calls and hoping for the best result, try to stage a scenario or scene. What I mean by that is try to aim for realism and think of it from the turkey's perspective. What do you think would be more believable and likely to get the attention of a Tom who has been through a season or two: a random hen purring out in the middle of the woods for no reason, or another young jake invading his territory, clucking back and forth with a hot young hen, then eventually turning into purrs of contentment. With the right calls you can make the story come to life. Call that big ol' tom in to put your jake in his place.
Check out the NWTF (National Wild Turkey Federation) website site for some good sound clips of various turkey calls and what they're used for: https://www.nwtf.org/hunt/wild-turkey-basics/turkey-sounds.
4.) Camo and Concealment.
Allow me to first say that by camo I mean camouflage. And no I'm not referring to face paint and fancy leaf print patterns, but to general concealment and blending in. Now don't get me wrong, I love me some camo (team RealTree all the way). I do believe it gives you quite the advantage in many situations, but what I don't believe is that it's absolutely necessary. You can go out hunting barefoot and in coveralls if you have properly concealed yourself and your movements. People have been hunting camo-free for centuries. Does camo help increase your odds of not being seen? Absolutely. Will it guarantee you won't be spotted? Keep dreaming. Can you shoot turkeys without camo? You better believe it.
Now with that said, there is another vital aspect to concealment other than just hiding your body's outline and keeping quiet. Movement. It is very important you try to minimize that amount of movement it take to make your calls and to ready your weapon to fire. This is where diaphragm calls shine. They are a bit trickier to learn to use, but if you do happen to call in a big ol' tom and he's struttin' his stuff just outside of your range, you can keep your shotgun shouldered and let out a few soft calls without giving away your position. It's one thing for an animal, especially a bird, to spot an object or shape. Its suuuuper easy to spot a flash of movement. Keep that in mind the next time your nose begins to itch after you hear that gobbler.
5.) Know the Behavior.
You should really get to know the habits and reason for those habits of any animal you're hunting. Not just turkeys. But since this is an article about turkey hunting tips, that's what we'll focus on.
If you know why a turkey flies down from its roost after sunrise, then you will know exactly where to be sitting on opening day. If you know what time of year turkeys begin mating, you will know when is the best time to lure in anxious toms, and excited hens and what the are the best calls to use that time of year. Behavior is big deal.
Turkeys have what's called a pecking order. This means that they challenge each other in order to see who is first in charge, second in charge, third, fourth, and so on until you get to the end of the line. Males and females don't compete with each other. Each sex has it's own social hierarchy. Males have male hierarchies, females have female hierarchies. This will determine who gets first choices in mating partners, food sources, and other important resources. That's not to say the order can't be challenged, and in fact does get challenged quite often.
Something else to consider is that turkeys don't have territories, but have home ranges instead. A lot of the time those ranges overlap one another. This can end in turkeys duking it out over food, ladies, or even roosts. This information can be used to make compelling scenarios when paired with the proper calls and decoys.
The NWTF has tons of good info on turkey behavior. Here is an awesome timeline they have that will help give you an idea of what is going on as well as some insight to general turkey behavior: http://www.nwtf.org/hunt/wild-turkey-basics/lifestyle-breeding.
If you make sure you cover the basics above, your chances of bagging a turkey this spring will sky rocket. Use your head, think like a turkey, get in the turkeys head. This is how a turkey hunter will call in the big toms this season.
If you have any other helpful tips or great hunting stories about your first bird, let us hear em' in the comments below! Also be sure to check out some of our other great posts and articles as well!
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