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Turkey Hunting 101
Turkey Hunting 101

While deer and duck season has concluded, you don’t have to put away your camo and shotgun just yet.  Turkey season provides hunters with a fun and exciting way to get back out into the outdoors and do what you love most, hunt.  If you have never tried turkey hunting before, you are in for a treat.  These birds are one of the toughest animals to hunt, but they are also one of the most addicting.

Many first-timers find it hard to break into turkey hunting, but it doesn’t have to be.  This article is going to provide you with some tips and tricks on how to break into a new sport.  While this is only meant to provide a hunter with the basics, it will allow you to get out there this spring, and who knows you may find another new style of hunting that will help to fill the lull between deer and fishing season.

Where to Find Them

Turkeys are native to all of the continental united states, so turkeys can be hunted no matter which state you live in. Turkeys are comprised of four main subspecies in the United States, and They include the Merriam’s, Eastern, Osceola or Florida, and lastly the Rio Grande. In turkey hunting, if you kill all four that is considered a grand slam.  There are some other subspecies found in Mexico, but for this article, they will not be covered.

Even though turkeys are available across the U.S., there are some places that a hunter can look to better his or her chances of running into these elusive birds.  They generally like a mix of land that is both open and wooded.  Some biologists believe that the preferred land is 25 – 50 % open nonforested land.   Like any kind of hunting, it is important to make sure that turkeys have the three things that every living animal needs, food, water, and shelter.

Turkeys are not very picky eaters.  They will eat just about anything they can find.  This does not mean though that they don’t have favorite foods.  They like to primarily eat acorns, juniper, dogwood, berries and other kinds of small grassy plant matter with large seeds; this also includes agricultural crops like beans, corn, and wheat. 

Turkeys get their protein from insects like bugs, cicadas, and even grasshoppers.  They have also been known to eat lizards and other small creatures as well. These are some of the basics that turkeys will eat, and they will vary depending on what is available in each region.  Depending on the time of the year or whats available on the land you are hunting will depend on how you should set up.

Like all other living creatures, turkeys need water to survive.  Often times in the spring, turkeys will look to roost over water or near water.  As the temperatures rise in the spring, the turkeys often want to be positioned near water, so they don’t have to travel far during the hot days.  Setting up near a creek bed or river bottom can put you in place for the turkeys as they are leaving their roost. 

It is important to also look in the swamps. Swamps offer a wide variety of plant life as well as insects to eat, so it is not uncommon to find turkeys way back in the swamp avoiding hunters.  Turkeys have been known to roost in the trees over swamps, so don’t put the duck hunting chest waders away just yet. You will want to try and find where the turkeys are traveling to and from or where they are roosting at so you can catch them as they leave their roost or begin foraging for food.

Turkeys spend their nights in what is called a roost.  They fly up into trees and sleep on tree branches. In some area like the plains that lack trees, they will roost on telephone lines.  Turkey hunters try to find out where they are roosting and will set up their hunting areas near a roost.

As discussed earlier they will also roost over water, and in areas that provide them more protection.  While hunters want to be set up near a roost, it is important to not set up directly under. Being in the general area is best and trying to listen to where they land when they come down from the roost will provide the most success.  Some turkeys will glide long distances when they leave their roost, so setting up directly under them will be useless. 

Searching for food water and roosting sites will help a hunter be able to locate turkeys more often. These attributes can be accessed on either public or private land, and once a good spot is found, it can increase the chances of bagging a gobbler.  Now that the basics of survival have been covered it is time to focus on the other aspects of turkey hunting.

Fall vs. Spring

Most states have two turkey seasons.  One is in the fall, and the other is in the spring.  It is important to check with your individual state's rules and regulations for verification.  The spring is considered the better season out of the two, but it is not impossible to kill turkeys in the fall.  During the fall season, it is better to set up near a food source.  Turkeys will be preparing for the long winter ahead when food and water will become more difficult to find.  So they will be out looking for high protein foods such as insects.

Spring is king for turkey season. Most turkey hunters hunt in the spring, and that is the time that hunters have the most success. During the spring the male gobblers are looking to mate with the female turkeys.  It is the best time to use a call or decoy to bring a turkey within range so you can get a shot at it.  They will generally travel farther and be more responsive to calls and decoys during the spring. 

Calls

Turkeys can be extremely vocal creatures, and it is important to use calls to lure turkeys to you.  A hunter must first decide what kind of call he or she wants to use.  For most beginners, it is best to try a number of calls to decide what is the best for the individual.  The basic options include a slate call, box call, and a diaphragm mouth call. 

Once you get these calls, you will want to practice common hen turkey sounds, and it is recommended to go out into the woods and listen to how the turkeys talk.  It becomes easier over time, as a hunter spend more time in the woods he or she gets familiarized with how turkeys communicate with one another.   The internet is also a good resource to learn how to mimic turkey noises.  There are a number of videos and sound recordings available to help a hunter zero in his or her calling techniques.

Either way, it is important to get as much practice as possible.  It is important not to call too much either.  Use the calls sparingly, and when you can see a turkey, it is best to call as little as possible.  This is the time that they become the most leary.

Another call that is commonly used in turkey hunting is what is known as a locator call.  This is usually an owl or crow call, and this helps to locate a turkey.  Once a turkey hears a predator call, it will shock gobble to alert other turkeys and this can help pinpoint a turkeys position.

Decoys

While a call is an effective tool to get a turkeys attention it may not be enough to get them to commit.  One option is to have a decoy in place.  This will divert the turkey's attention from the sound of the call and towards the decoy itself.  A  hen and jake decoy combination is the best option as it will bring a jealous tom towards you. They also sell full strutting tom decoys as well, but it is best to be careful when you use one like that because it may scare smaller toms away.

Most hunters find greater success when they use a decoy in the spring, while nothing is guaranteed in hunting it may be a way to better way to bring a bird within shooting distance.  It is not like duck or goose hunting where hunters need a large spread, sometime only one or two decoys will do the trick.  Either way investing in some quality decoys is important and will only help to increase the chances of bagging a turkey.

Concealment

Concealing yourself in turkey hunting is essential.  Turkeys have excellent vision and coupled with their  cautious attitude towards anything that they believe to be suspicious it is paramount that a hunter is covered from head to toe in camouflage.  For the spring hunts, it does not have to be a heavy jacket, but you are going to want a lightweight camouflaged top and bottom, as well as hat, facemask, gloves and camouflage boots.  Turkeys rely on their vision to see predators, and they can see even the slightest movement.  The only time turkeys have trouble seeing is at night or the pre-dawn and dusk hours, so as the sun goes down the chances of bagging a turkey will increase.

Another thing to consider is hearing.  Turkeys have phenomenal hearing, and any movement will easily be heard by turkeys nearby.  That is why it is important to pick clothing and gear that does not make a lot of noise.  You don’t want to be opening a velcro pocket when a turkey is nearby, or you will never kill a bird. 

The only thing turkeys don’t have going for them is their sense of smell.  So it is not necessary to use things like scent lock sprays for a turkey hunt.  Instead, it's important to focus on covering every inch of your body and making as little noise as possible. 

Gun Choice

Shotguns are the most commonly used turkey guns, and some people use bows as well.  Almost any twelve gauge shotgun will do, and 20 gauge is good for children or new shooters.  Semi-auto shotguns are popular because they  provide a hunter with a quick follow up shot.  Some hunters choose to use a pump or even single shotguns as well, but it is all user preference.

You will also want to buy turkey loads for your gun.  They are specially created loads that deliver a devastating blow to a turkey. These loads contain more power and larger pellets than duck loads and are more effective at killing turkeys.

Also, another thing to consider is the choke that you use on your gun.  You are going to want to make sure that full choke is being used.  This will keep a better pattern at longer distances and allow a hunter to shoot further. 

The last thing to consider when purchasing a gun is the site on the turkey gun.  A regular bead is usually not the best choice for hunting.  Instead, you are going to want to have iron sights or a fiber optic sight.  Some guns even come equipped with a rail to allow a red dot sight to be mounted.  One final thing to consider for a new hunter is that you are not supposed to aim at the body as you would on a deer, you should aim at the head and neck area to ensure the bird expires quickly.

Conclusion

Turkey hunting is one of the most addicting types of hunting.  It is a favorite past time of many, and most hunters enjoy getting back into the woods for the spring season.  It can also be fun for a new hunter.  While it can seem daunting, it helps if you go a few times with a friend or family member to learn the ropes.  Either way get out into the woods and try it, and if you follow the tips above your chances for success will increase.

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