Deer season closed long ago, the holidays are over, and you just checked off the last of the ‘honey dos’ you’ve been neglecting through the fall and early winter. As you look out the window at the falling snow, you long for warmer weather, budding trees, and gobbling tom turkeys. Nothing left to do now but wait, right? Wrong. Here are five steps to help you prepare for the upcoming spring turkey season. They might even help ease that nagging case of the wintertime blues.
Even if you have a gun, choke, and load combination you are happy with, there may still be room for improvement. While turkey loads aren’t cheap, a couple of boxes of shells are a bargain compared with all the time and money that can be invested over the course of a spring. Personally, when that gobbler I’ve been working for an hour and a half steps into the open at 42 yards, I want to know for sure he will be riding home with me. Some people like to pool money with friends and buy a few different chokes and brands of ammunition to help offset the cost. If you are not already, consider using one of the non-toxic, heavier-than-lead, varieties of shot. They carry more energy downrange even with smaller shot sizes resulting in a denser pattern.
I like to use a large sheet of paper or cardboard (3’x3’) for patterning so I can see the whole pattern. Shooting an 8 ½” x 11” sheet of paper may not reveal the whole story. Shoot a life-sized silhouette of a turkey head and neck at 30, 40 and 50 yards to see which load patterns best out of your gun. When that stubborn gobbler finally steps into range, you will have the confidence to make an ethical, killing shot.
It’s been said that a mediocre caller who knows the lay of the land and is a good woodsman will kill more turkeys than an expert caller who is unfamiliar with the territory. While this may be true, a good woodsman on familiar turf who is also a good caller will kill more than both of those hunters.
A well-rounded turkey hunter will carry a number of calls to the woods, which may include: friction, box, tube and diaphragm calls with a crow call and an owl hooter for eliciting shock gobbles.
Start practicing your calling well before the season. To avoid tension on the home front you may need to seek solitude in your basement, attic, garage, or office while practicing. For some reason, most non–hunting spouses and children don’t love the sound of a wild turkey as much as we hunters. A good time to practice your diaphragm calls is while you are alone and driving.
Slate and box calls, along with push button friction calls, are the easiest to master, while diaphragm and tube calls take more time and practice. You never know which call a gobbler will respond to, so practice the full turkey vocabulary of yelps, cutts, clucks, and purrs on all of your calls. There are many videos and audio recordings for sale and available online that will help you know what you are supposed to sound like.
Realism is especially important while hunting the pressured turkeys that most of us have the opportunity to chase. Practice hard so you can put a tag on that tough old tom this spring.
If you’re like me, turkey season always starts too late and ends too soon. The solution, an out of state hunt. There are spring turkey seasons in every state except Alaska and some Canadian provinces. This puts some out-of-state gobblers within easy driving distance for just about everyone.
The first step in planning is picking a place to go. Not a state, but a specific WMA, National Forest, or outfitted private land hunt. The more you know about your destination before you arrive, the better. If you decide to use an outfitter, you’ll find the perfect fit at https://www.guidefitter.com/hunting/turkey.
Accommodations vary widely, so be sure to ask about food, lodging, where you will be hunting, and if it will be a guided or self-guided situation.
For a DIY hunt, call state wildlife officials and ask about the hunting area you are considering. Check out the state wildlife agency’s website. Many states have helpful maps that show public hunting areas, harvest data, and other useful information. Since preseason scouting will not be possible in most cases, study topographical maps and aerial photos to gain some familiarity with the area you plan on hunting.
To save money on lodging, consider camping. Turkey camps can be as frugal or elaborate as you like. If you have friends or relatives in other states, consider staying with them. Maybe you can even return the favor when your state’s turkey season opens.
The past five seasons I have traveled 400 miles to hunt in Virginia. I’ve had five successful hunts for around $1,000 each while camping a few nights and staying with a friend.
When traveling on an out of state hunt, it is important to know how to pack for a successful turkey hunt.
Out of state hunts take more planning, but they are within the geographical and financial reach of most hunters. So start planning now. Do your research, pick a destination, take your vacation and GO.
Although turkey hunting is not as physically demanding as sheep or elk hunting, you should still strive to be in fairly good physical condition before the season. If you do most of your hunting in a blind or staking out strutting zones, this may not apply to you. But for run and gun hunters like myself, most successful hunts require a fair amount of walking followed by a sometimes lengthy sit at the base of a tree. This type of hunting is a lot more fun when you are not gasping for breath or fidgeting to stay comfortable at your set up.
Of the birds we've taken in Virginia, four of them were taken over a mile from the nearest parking area. One memorable tom required us to cross a somewhat sketchy beaver dam over a waist-deep creek. This kind of maneuver is much easier when your body is used to at least some level of physical activity. Even if you find it hard to go to the gym (like me), make sure you are up and exercising at least 30 minutes to an hour each day. Shovel snow, walk your dog, go shed antler hunting, anything that gets you moving will help. When that mid-morning gobbler sounds off on an adjacent ridge, negotiating the deep valley that separates you will seem like a small price to pay for a chance to kill that bird.
The last (and perhaps most important) thing you can do is to scout. Two to three weeks before your season opens, start listening for gobbling at dawn. If you have the time, try to hang around until mid-morning to see where the birds are traveling after they fly down. After the turkeys have left the area, you can sneak in and find their roost trees. There will be J-shaped gobbler droppings and maybe a few wing feathers under favored roosting sites.
Glassing strut zones from a distance can also provide useful information, as the birds will often enter and exit these areas around the same time each day. It is extremely important not to pressure or spook the birds before opening day, so try to keep your distance.
NEVER call to a turkey before the season. You will have plenty of time to educate your turkeys with a shotgun in hand. Don’t give them a head start on figuring you out. Some people use locator calls to get the birds to gobble on the roost, but even these calls will lose effectiveness if the turkeys get used to hearing them. The main goal is to figure out what the gobblers are doing throughout the day, as it is far easier to call a gobbler to a place he already wants to go.
If you are reading this and just can't wait any longer to chase spring gobblers, watch these awesome turkey hunting videos to try to get your fix until the season opens.
These tips can help you prepare for an enjoyable and successful turkey season. Get out this spring and experience the magic of the woods coming to life and the heart pumping adrenaline that comes with a tom gobbling in to your setup. You’ll be glad you did.
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