I've learned more from my hunting failures than my hunting successes. My 2018 elk season was full of screwups, and it ended in a full freezer. Without the month-and-a-half-long hunt to teach me what not to do, though, I’m not sure if I would’ve filled my tag.
While I’ve leveraged learning the hard way into success on the elk hunt, I haven’t managed to make that happen for turkeys. I had a limited-entry tag last year, and a general season tag the year before that. Both years I failed in rather spectacular fashion.
With the general season hunt here in Utah opening up at the end of April, I’ve started to piecemeal together a new plan of attack. I’ve read a library’s worth of articles about turkey hunting, discussed it ad nauseum with turkey hunting buddies, and have spent hours practicing a turkey call.
What I haven’t yet done, however, is to take an honest look back at my first turkey hunts and determine exactly where I went wrong and how to improve. So, in the spirit of helping anyone else who’s new to turkey hunting and feels completely overwhelmed, I figured sharing my mistakes will help others - and myself - learn.
My first two turkey hunts didn’t involve a ton of scouting. I hunted where I’d seen turkeys before, but I never took note of where those birds would roost, when they’d waddle out to feed, or any other important behaviors.
Scouting, for me, feels like the most important part of hunting. I spent the better part of a month scouting for elk last fall, and it paid off. If I hadn’t been walking ridges, glassing hillsides, looking for sign, and constantly on the move, I wouldn’t have covered enough ground to get a sense of where the elk were, and when they’d likely be in a certain spot.
It’s the same idea with turkeys. If I want a legitimate shot of killing one this year, I need to find a reliable flock and get to know them intimately.
You’ll also want to pick a call based on how much experience you have using them for other types of game. Even though there’s a big difference in sound from a cow elk call to a turkey call, the theory behind using a mouth reed to make those sounds isn’t all that different.
The consensus among all the folks I’ve spoken with is that box calls are the easiest to master for beginners. Friction calls – like a push-and-pull or pot call – aren’t that hard either, but a box call is about as simple as it gets.
I started out with a box call from my local Sportsman’s Warehouse, and I think I spent $7 or $8 on it. They’re cheap enough you can get a few to find one with a sound you like.
I’m a self-proclaimed gear junkie. My house looks like a warehouse at times, with the amount of gear and gadgets I have in at any one time for reviews. And one thing I’ve learned from my years spent with gear is that no piece of gear will turn you into an instant sporting success.
That being said, the right and wrong gear exist for different circumstances, and I’ve had all the wrong gear for turkeys. This year, I’ll have the following:
On my first turkey hunt, I didn’t have any of the right camo. I’m not one to dump hundreds of dollars on pants and shirts, so this year I picked up low-desert patterns for pants and shirts from my local big-box outdoor retailer. For where I plan on hunting this year, that should help me get closer to the turkeys.
I touched on this in a previous article about calls, but it’s essential to practice your calls. Whether you’re imitating a tom or want to sound like a barn owl or other predator, you don’t want to learn on the hunt.
This past year I used elk calls for the first time. I think I had my mouth call with me everywhere I went for a solid three weeks. I practiced any chance I got, and eventually was rewarded when I called a cow within 200 yards with my calf call.
Hopefully, I’ll get that same return on my investment this year with turkeys.
Part of what makes hunting so alluring, especially in a world that’s increasingly obsessed with explaining everything, is the opportunity to learn how and why animals act a certain way. This is knowledge you won’t find on Twitter or Facebook; this is the real-life, dirt-on-your-hands understanding that only comes from hours of quiet observation.
My first turkey hunts involved next to no knowledge of turkey behavior. I’ve since spent a lot of time researching their behavior, complete with time behind a blind at dusk and sunrise. While I’m far from any kind of turkey expert, I feel like I have a much better grasp now of how these birds will behave, and what impact those behaviors will have on my hunting plans.
Turkey hunting has proven to be the most difficult of all hunts for me. I’m not sure if I should publicly admit that or not, but it’s the truth. Maybe their small size - compared to big game - has something to do with it?
I’m kidding. Sort of.
Levity aside, I’m really looking forward to this year’s hunt. I don’t know if I’ll eat tag soup or not, but I feel better about it than I ever have before. And that confidence is worth a lot.
What are some of the mistakes you made on your first turkey hunt? And what would you share with those new to hunting gobblers? Let us know in the comments.
Good advice, Terry. Also, when you're sitting, put your back against a wide tree to reduce the chance of your movements being seen, and it's safer in case another hunter is trigger happy when he sees your deke!
If that is your actual hunting attire in the pictures, I would strongly suggest you add a camo face mask and gloves and lose the sunglasses.