Because if you don’t talk turkey, you’re not going to be very good at shooting turkey.
Over the next few weeks, spring turkey season will be in full force across the nation. Reports from states over the last few weeks indicate harvests have been quite large, especially in Midwestern states like Michigan.
If there’s one thing America produces in huge numbers and variety, it’s the fowl generally known as Meleagris gallopavo, the humble gobbler of lore. While no one guide can tell you everything you need to know – whether you’re stalking Easterns in Northeast, pursuing Osceolas in Florida’s thick cypress swamps or tracking Rios across the prairies of Texas – we offer a few important tips to get you on your way:
- Do Your Homework
“Do your homework and legwork,” Steve Barnett, district wildlife supervisor/wild turkey project leader for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources tells OutdoorLife magazine. “Scout as much as possible before the spring season on foot, by vehicle and through the use of game cameras. Contact our staff for help in planning a trip to one of the state’s wildlife management areas.”
- Get Permission, Get Licensed, and Mind Private Property
“If hunters have the ability to obtain written permission on private land, they will increase their chances of success,” says Michael Gregonis, wildlife biologist II with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. This goes with any type of hunting, of course, but making sure you know your terrain in turkey season is especially important. You’re stalking a bird that moves on land, often in large groups. That alone makes it essential that you be aware of any other hunters in the area.
- Early Birds May Catch the Best Gobblers, Especially After Snow Melts
“The greatest turkey harvest occurred during the first week of the 2016 season,” says Justyn R. Foth, waterfowl, turkey and upland game-bird biologist for the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife. “Even if the weather isn’t ideal, you may have a better shot at harvesting a bird earlier in the season.” Turkeys will follow the snow line in spring, taking advantage of fresh green-up, adds Mikal Moore, NWTF district biologist for the Pacific Northwest. “If you are hunting an elevation gradient, follow the snow melt, and look for turkey sign.”
- But Late Season Birds May Be Just as Bountiful
“Don’t give up on late-season birds, particularly if we have a normal to cooler winter and spring,” says Roger Shields, wild turkey program coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “You may find gobbling activity and responsiveness to calls picks up again toward the end of the season.”
- Get Up Early, Real Early
“Hunters should be patient,” Kevin Lowrey, wild turkey project coordinator for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. “Arrive well before daylight, and hunt all day if you can. I think too often, we give up too soon.”
- Hawaii Has Its Own Rules
“Leave your owl hooters, crow, coyote and other locator calls you use on the mainland at home,” top guide and longtime National Wild Turkey Federation volunteer Jon Sabati advises. “Hawaii does not have those creatures here. If you use them, (turkeys) may shock-gobble to it, but they’ll more than likely leave the area because it’s not a natural sound. A ring-neck pheasant call or turkey call can be used to locate a gobbler.
“Also, to be successful in hunting the turkeys here, you need to be able to adjust to the situation. Here we only have two weather seasons: wet and dry. So, if the weather does not follow the normal trend, it will dictate if the turkeys will go into breeding mode or not. Sometimes in the fall, they may be gobbling and strutting to hens and in the spring broken up into fall-like turkey groups. You just don’t know. This is a very big island. It could be raining and green in one area but dry drought conditions in another, which will dictate the how the turkeys react.”
- Scout, But Not Too Early in the Season
“My advice to hunters is pretty basic: Do your homework ahead of time and not the day before the season,” Steven E. Backs, wildlife research biologist and wild turkey statewide project leader for the Indiana Division of Fish and WildlifeBacks says. “It pays to scout ahead of time but not too early, as winter flock dynamics don’t necessarily reflect turkey population distributions after the winter flock break-up, which generally gets underway in full swing about a month prior to the season. Wild turkeys will redistribute themselves progressively up to and through the first part of the season. All of our public land areas have very huntable populations of birds.”
- Don’t Play With Feathers
Jeff Lusk, upland game program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, warns hunters against clipping the tail fan of a turkey to the front of their shotguns. It’s a relatively new tactic that supposedly allows hunters to sneak up on the toms. It’s also dangerous. “If there are other hunters in the area, it can also get you shot,” he says. “They might see the tail fan and just shoot as if you were a turkey.”
9. Make It Fun for the Kids
One of the great joys of any outdoor experience is introducing a young boy or girl to the tactics, practices and safe habits of hunting. What you do will set them on or off the path for the rest of their lives. First, remember your own first hunts and try to see things through their eyes. Let them be part of the hunt. Kids like to participate. Don’t treat them like baggage. “Too often, many of us know-it-all hunters want to do everything for the beginner,” advises veteran hunter and author Larry Case. Give first-time hunters “a box call or a slate call, teach him how to use it and let him be a part of the process. It’s not hard to learn a simple yelp on a friction call. If you let the new hunter call to a gobbling turkey and the bird answers, your hunting partner will be thrilled. Now I know what you turkey professors out there are thinking — you only trust your wonderful calling to bring in a gobbler. Sorry to burst your bubble, but turkeys often sound pretty lousy themselves, so a simple yelp from a kid on a slate call may bring him strutting right down the gun barrel. The new hunter would rather do some of it on his own at the risk of making mistakes than have you do it all for him.”
- Mind Your Camo
Avoid wearing or carrying anything that’s red, white or blue – the colors found in the head (aiming spot) of a spring tom, says Rich Mann, a former Washington Fish and Wildlife police officer. “Keep a hunter-orange vest and cap in your day pack to be donned after shooting a turkey for an added measure of safety when carrying a turkey out through the woods,” Mann adds.
We’ve just scratched the surface here. An awesome resource for all things turkey is the National Wild Turkey Federation. You’ll find the latest news, tips, and harvest information from around the country there. Check it out.