There is no doubt about it… Turkey hunting as to be one of the most addicting hunting experiences here in Connecticut and all over the US. Every year when spring rolls around, hunters return to their green fields and woods, dressed head-to-toe in proper turkey hunting attire looking for the biggest bearded gobbler in the local state forest or private hideout. They are chasing the flop, and it is addicting, to some even more so than deer hunting. What makes it so enjoyable? Turkey hunting can go right, or it can go wrong fast…it’s difficult and easy at the same time, all depending on your actions. Communicating with and decoying in a Tom is extremely satisfying. Add the gobble, spit, and drumming into a hunting situation and it’s one of the most thrilling experiences a hunter will come across. The one thing about turkey hunting that we come to love is that it directly tests your ability as an outdoorsmen and turkey hunter.
For some, like me, the turkey hunting itch begins as early as February. When it comes, don’t ignore it…scratch that itch! The best way is with pre-season scouting. Earlier in the year during the late winter, start looking for the flock. Scout food sources such as mast bearing (acorn filled) hardwood flats, cut grain fields, and pastures for tracks, droppings, and scratching. Set up some trail cameras in some areas where you think they might be feeding. Locating the flock with this tactic gives you the general area, but later in the year you will focus more on locating gobblers to hunt. Take advantage of days off work, weekend days, and any hours you get free. If you’re off work on a rainy day, use it to scout! In my opinion, the easiest way to kill a gobbler in the spring is by finding his roost the night before. Use your pre-season scouting observations to key in on a general area where the turkey might be spending the night. When you get off work, head to the woods. Without spooking the bird get within earshot, and listen for wings flapping and light calling as turkeys fly up on their roosts for the night. Wake up early and walk in the cover of darkness, not using a light, and set up close to the tree. Call to the tom lightly after he begins to talk on the roost. If you let him know there is a hen below in your direction he will come and investigate.
Using “turkey talk” is the number one way to kill a big long beard. Turkey calling is turkey hunting 101 and pairing the calls up with the real thing or at least make them think it is by using a decoy is how you bring a tom (or a lot of them) into range!
You wouldn’t hunt deer without trying to figure out their movement patterns. Use the same scouting skills and tools to unlock turkey habits in the area you hunt. Google Maps, on-the-ground reconnaissance, and discreet glasswork from a good vantage point will all help tell you what the birds are doing. Does feed hard, and bucks follow. Hens feed hard, and gobblers follow. Just as you would hunt fields and food plots for whitetails, hunt where the turkeys are chowing down. Get set for a long wait. Build a blind from natural materials, use camouflage fabric, or erect a pop-up tent. Evening birds are jittery, suspicious, and ultra-alert. A good hide provides some forgiveness if you stretch or make an errant movement.
One great benefit of hunting with a partner is that each hunter brings a different skill set to the hunt. Each hunter can scout and roost birds in two different areas as options for the best hunt.
Then, by morning, you can meet up to exchange ideas, decide on the best one and execute different calling styles. A two-person setup is also advantageous: As one hunter serves as a caller, the shooter can run a good distance ahead, even throwing out a few yelps and preparing to shoot once the turkey enters the shooting range.
Don’t Be Picky
A lot of those midday birds were wrinkled old gobblers, but that doesn’t mean you should limit yourself to longbeards. If a yearling jake or 2-year-old answers your calls and comes into range, by all means shoot him, especially if there’s only a few weeks or days left in the season. The late-season is no time to be picky. Longbeards are nice, but any legal bird is meat in the freezer. Besides, tender young jakes taste a whole lot better than a worn-down, old boss tom whose energy reserves are depleted by weeks of breeding.
Mouth Calls: Turkey mouth call diaphragms are made by stretching latex rubber (often described as a reed) across a horseshoe-shaped frame centered inside a plastic skirt. You blow air across the latex reed (or reeds) to make turkey sounds. They’re inexpensive. A diaphragm, as they’re often called, offers hands-free operation. Just ounces to carry, you can hide one in your mouth.
Pot and Peg Calls: A striking surface attached to a hollow pot — often with drilled holes underneath to create sound resonance with the inner chamber — and a peg (often called a striker) form this two-piece, hand-held turkey caller. Striking surface materials often include slate, glass and aluminum. Pegs are made of wood, carbon, plastic, glass and even turkey wing bone.
Box Calls: Most box calls are made of wood. When you scrape the paddle bottom against a side panel lip he hollow chamber inside the narrow, rectangular box makes a sound — ideally one a wild turkey would like to hear.
Weather is often a major influence on turkey hunting success as it affects bird behavior. Fog can keep turkeys on the morning roost later. Extreme heat may find midday birds loafing in shaded areas near water. Heavy spring snow may keep turkeys from regular feeding and strutting patterns. Clear and calm spring mornings with a bright rising sun often result in good roost gobbling, allowing you to find birds. These mornings are often the most pleasant for you to hunt as well. Still this favorable weather trend can challenge turkey hunters, especially if hens are still around and not nesting. Gobbling pulls female turkeys to a male turkeys roosting location.
Finally, your shotgun or bow needs to do the job when a strutting longbeard steps into the killing zone.Just as finding the right gun for turkey hunting is important, finding the right shotshell is equally important. Be sure to pattern your gun and make note of how the load performs before you go afield. You’ve earned this moment. Your heart is racing. Calm down if you can. Enjoy the scene; it’s what you’ve worked so hard for. Now take the shot.
1. Scout: Get out in the woods and listen. Don’t call, but get up early and find where they roost.
2. Roost a bird: Once you consistently find early-morning gobblers, start putting them to bed. As your season gets closer, it’s even more important to have idea of patterns the turkeys around you are following. If you can roost a bird, you know where to hunt the next morning.
3. Find the hens: Find the hens and you’ll find the toms. If you can find where hens are feeding, you’re right where the toms are going to be strutting.
4. Shock and awe: Use shock gobbles to help you find toms.
5. Use an Owl hooter: If you hunt pressured birds try an owl hooter. Buy one and learn how to use it.
6. Less is more: It’s really easy to get caught up in the calling. This is never more true than when you have a responsive tom that gobbles with your every cluck. Don’t make the same mistake. Nothing will drive a tom mad like a hen playing hard to get. Let him think his gobbles fell on deaf ears.
7. The purr and cluck: Just don’t. This particular sound and call is made only when a hen is mad. If you have a hen you’d like to keep around, then this call will make her mad and likely keep her around a little longer.
8. Hens make the best decoys: You want to know where the hens are located, and you want to keep them around. Toms are looking for hens, so find the hens and a tom will eventually show up.
9. Use a diaphragm call: It’s no secret that turkeys rely on their impeccable sight. Nothing will blow a hunt faster than reaching for a call, or using a call that requires movement. Learn to operate a diaphragm call and keep it in your mouth.
10. Use more than one call: You never know what a tom will respond to.
11. Use the weather: Weather patterns change bird behavior. Snow will slow down breeding behavior, but they still need to eat. Rain will work against a bird’s sight, and in my experience, they then seek open fields. Wind will do the opposite, sending them to low, wooded areas. Calm, sunny days will make for the best hunting.
12. Check your pattern: Shoot your gun to make sure it’s on target. Not all loads will pattern the same with your gun, so test them all.
13. Decoy or Decoys: Based on your hunting location, make sure you’re using the right decoy setup. Where turkeys can see a good distance, use more decoys. In thicker cover, stick to the less-is-more mentality.
14. Get aggressive: Don’t be too afraid to run and gun. If you’re within earshot range of a tom, move, get closer and use cover to your advantage.
15. Hunt in the afternoon: Some of the most productive times to hunt can be first thing in the morning or late in the evening. Definitely hunt these times, but don’t miss a chance to get out in the afternoon. Later in the season, hens will be on the nest and toms will be cruising for receptive hens.
Get Out There
We began this discussion with patience and we end it with another equally important turkey-hunting virtue: perseverance. It’s an absolute fact that you won’t get anything if you’re not out there hunting. Be persistent. I know, it gets difficult as the season winds down and other interests and chores compete for your time. The early-morning, wake-up calls have also long since ceased being fun. But don’t give up. Get out there in the woods and hunt, even if it’s just for an hour or two.