When it comes to guided hunts, you’re paying your guide to produce birds and a shot opportunity. Prepare properly and make the shot count.
Turkey hunting is one of the most popular spring pastimes for North American hunters. From north to south and east to west, wild turkeys are abundant, accessible, and inexpensive to hunt. Even so, some of us struggle putting one on the ground. Perhaps the hunting pressure in our area makes it difficult, or maybe we can’t find places or time to go. Or perhaps we only have access to one or two different subspecies and would like to hunt others. Then again, it could be that we just can’t figure these birds out.
Regardless of the reason, a guided hunt is a great option. If you choose this route, be aware that planning and preparation are required, and that both you and the guide will have expectations
Make the most of your hunt with these eight tips
From north to south and east to west, wild turkeys are abundant, accessible, and inexpensive to hunt. Photo Credit: Kevin Wilson
Most of us can hunt turkeys fairly close to home. Unfortunately, we’re often limited to one or two regional subspecies. As turkey hunting increases in popularity, so does the North America turkey slam. The challenge? Taking one of each of the four subspecies: Eastern, Merriam’s, Osceola and Rio Grande turkeys. That’s where guided hunts come into play.
There are exceptions but as a general guideline, look to the Midwest if you want to hunt Merriam’s. States like Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Washington are good places to begin your search for reputable guides and outfitters.
Eastern turkeys are the most widely distributed. I’ve had great success hunting them as far west as Kansas and Nebraska, and recommend checking almost any state from Minnesota to South Carolina.
If you’re after Rios, Kansas and Texas are good options, but my No. 1 choice is Texas because of these birds’ sheer density in that state.
The Osceola’s range is more limited, and Florida is the destination of choice.
Timing your hunt is important. Depending on the season’s opening and closing dates, breeding activity really heats up in April. In some places, the action gets better and better from mid-March on. Remember: When the hens have been bred and are on nests, the action slows down a bit, but toms will still respond under the right circumstances.
Do your research and ask the outfitters about the best time to hunt turkeys in their area. In my experience, most suggest the last week in March through the last week in April. Booking your hunt during peak periods will often improve your odds for success.
One of the most attractive aspects of turkey hunting is the ability to draw birds in using calls. A skilled guide will use a variety of vocalizations – yelps, cuts, purrs, kee kee runs and assembly calls – to draw birds into range.
Outfitters sometimes offer a variety of full and partially guided services. Ask pointed questions like how long their guides have worked for them, the level of experience their guides have, both their shot opportunity and harvest success, and what hunting strategies they use – sitting in blinds, walking and calling, or calling birds off of roosts. Also ask about the legal hunting hours; some jurisdictions don’t allow hunting in the early morning hours.
Note that it’s about so much more than the cost of the hunt. You want to understand the daily routine, the type of terrain, how much ground the guides have to hunt, how much you’ll be expected to walk in a given day, and what’s included and excluded from the trip’s price. Once your decision is made, secure your reservation with a deposit (approximately 50 percent is the industry standard), and formalize the booking with a signed contract.
One of the most attractive aspects of turkey hunting is the ability to draw birds in using calls. Ask the outfitter if their guides will let you call. Nothing is more frustrating for the client – and the guide – than crossing wires and beginning the hunt with different expectations.
Some clients prefer to call themselves; others prefer to leave this up to the guide. I can tell you that most professional turkey guides prefer to do the calling themselves simply because it’s one less wild card to worry about. They understand the nuances of each vocalization – yelps, cuts, purrs, kee kee runs and assembly calls – and how to best use those sounds to draw birds into range. Skilled guides want to present the best possible hunting experience they can for their clients, and a big part of that involves calling.
Bottom line: You can inquire, but in the end it’s best to respect the company’s policies. Guides don’t like educating the birds in their area any more than they have to. Some will give you a chance, but if they feel your calling is substandard, they may ask you to pocket your calls and let them take over. Respect this and remember: You’re paying your guide to produce birds and a shot opportunity.
Always pattern your shotgun before you hunt, and review aiming points and vital zones.
As with any hunt, dressing properly is imperative. Ask your outfitter for a list of recommended gear items. Find out what type of terrain you’ll be hunting, and how the average seasonal temperature and weather patterns range for your trip.
Most guides suggest dressing in layers and suitable camouflage patterns that will blend well with the surroundings. A matching hat, gloves and facemask are necessary. A turkey vest to accommodate sundry items is a benefit but not always necessary on a guided hunt. In many areas, the outfitters recommend wearing field boots, but some also recommend knee-high rubber boots for potentially wet conditions. Rainwear is always a wise addition to any packing list, even as a “just-in-case” item.
Personal items are up to you. I always encourage hunters to ask the outfitter if they have a lot of ticks in their area. It’s common to pick up ticks in the spring, especially when the day involves sitting on the ground, walking through grasses, and leaning against trees. Your outfitter will have some recommendations for dealing with potential tick issues.
As far as shotgun or muzzleloader hunting goes, be sure to consult state regulations – and the outfitter directly – to determine what’s allowed. Most hunters use a 12-gauge shotgun, and the barrel length is a matter of personal preference. Always pattern your shotgun before you hunt, and understand ideal aiming points (head and neck). An assortment of realistic turkey targets made by companies like HS Strut work great and are readily available at your local hunting supply store.
My preferred load for turkey hunting is 3½-inch, two-ounce Winchester Long Beard XR in #5 shot. Before choosing your ammunition, ask the outfitter for their approval or an alternate suggestion. I also use a custom H.S. Strut Undertaker full choke tube to ensure a tight pattern beyond 40 yards.
Hunting guide and writer Kevin Wilson poses after a successful turkey hunt. Photo Credit: Kevin Wilson.
Bowhunting turkeys is popular. If you prefer to hunt with a bow, make the outfitter aware of this ahead of time so they can accommodate you. Make sure your bow is properly tuned and timed, and that you’re comfortable shooting out to 40 yards. Practice a lot before your hunt. Most guides will place bowhunters in pop-up blinds in situations where shot opportunities will likely be less than 25 yards. Discuss this and any other limitations you may have when hunting with your bow.
Ensure that your bow, arrows, and broadheads are in compliance with state regulations. While an assortment of broadheads can work on turkeys, I’m a big fan of turkey-specific broadheads like Flying Arrow Archery’s 125-grain, three-blade Tom Bomb, which is designed mostly for head and neck shots. For body shots, I like Rage’s 100-grain turkey broadhead with its cut-on-contact tip and aggressive meat hooks, and slip-cam expandable blades that open on impact. Your outfitter will likely have some suggestions, as well.
Regardless of where you go, remember that you’re a guest. If the guides are skilled, they’ll know the area. To use a common cliché, “don’t guide the guide.” Let them do their job. Their task is to locate and attract birds. On a guided hunt, your responsibility is to follow their lead, do what they say, and make the shot.
Most importantly, enter your trip with an open mind. Recognize that turkey hunting is about both the process and the outcome. Weather and other circumstances can affect the birds and you. A quality guide will maximize your opportunity, but on occasion the birds just don’t want to cooperate. Prepare properly for your hunt, make your shot opportunity count, and you’re sure to have a great experience.
Thanks for the feedback Diego! Nothing like have a big Tom up close and personal. Good luck with your future hunts!
Thanks for the article. I am new on turkey hunting and learning by myself. Just did my first guided trip and It was great with the exception that I bought a Carlsonf Turkey Choke and did not pattern. Ended up missing a big tom 15 yards .
Hey Jeff, sorry you feel that way. Sounds like you're a seasoned turkey hunter - one who may indeed know it all. Plenty of folks out there with not as much expertise as you. This was what I was asked to write. Can check my credentials ... written for over 40 publications for over 25 years now. Lots of national awards to my credit. My suggestion - write one yourself, submit it to Guidefitter and, if they like it, they may publish it.
That is the biggest bunch of "filler" I have read in awhile. Nothing new here, dude. Let's see: choose where you want to hunt, pattern your shotgun, ask a few questions, etc. This article more-or-less makes me want to pick up a copy of Sporting Classics and read a real "outdoor writer."