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Hunter Basics: A Beginner’s Guide to Turkey Hunting

29. Turkey Hunting 1

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If you want to start turkey hunting, the first thing you must consider is when you want to hunt. Spring hunting for turkey is a little different than Autumn hunting. This guide will give you access to the basics that you’ll need to get started, including helpful tips and advice that can help you hunt more effectively. We’ll look at the best turkey calls for Spring, the best owl call for turkey hunting, the decoys you may want, and the camouflage you’re going to need.

Turkey isn’t just for Thanksgiving, but the wild turkey is paranoid all year long that it will become a featured dish on your table. Their paranoia can make it difficult to have a successful hunt, but that is also why turkey hunting is so much fun. Let’s get you started.

Where is the Best Place to Hunt Turkeys?

29. Turkey Hunting 2

Source: Flickr.

“I’ve always found that the best place to hunt turkeys is in the freezer section of the grocery store.” 

The joke of a kindergartner has more truth to it than you might think. Many hunters don’t realize where a turkey’s habitat is. They struggle to find this elusive bird because they believe in many of the old lies that have been passed down through the generations. Turkeys don’t need to have a large chunk of wooded land in order to thrive. They don’t need a lot of space at all.

Turkeys need food, water, and a canopy. That’s it. A turkey will roost in trees, but still want to run through an open field. This is why the best place to hunt turkeys tends to follow the half-and-half rule. Look for areas that are half open and half wooded.

Interestingly enough, hunting for turkeys on public lands tends to be better than hunting on private lands. Although you’ll encounter more hunters on public lands, you’ll also find more habitat-ready hunting areas that are being properly maintained for the birds. The Bureau of Land Management [BLM] has even won awards for their conservation efforts in regards to turkeys, in part because it helps to save the hunting experience.

If you’re hunting in spring, then you’ll also want to look for what are called “food plots.” Turkeys love green areas because that’s where bugs and plants they love to eat tend to be. These areas are also a great place for wild turkeys to raise offspring, so they’ll occupy an extensive area and give hunters a good chance to get a couple birds. If you live in a rural area, you can plant your own food plot to attract turkeys as well.

When Can I Hunt Turkeys?

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Source: Flickr.

49 states in the US have a spring hunting season for turkeys – Alaska is the only exception to the rule. Seasons may open as early as March 1 and may stay open as late as June 1. This means there is plenty of time to take advantage of the spring season when the large male birds are out trying to attract hens for mating season. The loud gobbling during the early season also gives you an advantage to attract more birds toward you – especially if you have a solid male turkey decoy with a display.

Early season hunting also requires a lot of observation on your part. You’ll need to know what their patterns are so you can setup your blind, practice your turkey calls, and intercept the birds before they take off somewhere else. Look for tracks, scratching that is left behind on the ground, and bark damage from roosting birds. It’s best to do this as early as possible because as the weather warms up, the turkeys tend to scatter and it can be more difficult to find their tracks.

Late season hunting typically starts in October and comes to a close in late November. Some jurisdictions allow for hunting in December or even into January. Make sure that you meet any bag limits that may be in force and you are hunting during authorized hours during the day. You may be limited to hunting only hens depending on the season and local requirements as well.

You’ll likely need to pass a hunter’s education course before being allowed to purchase a turkey permit. This typically applies to anyone who is under the age of 65 and has not served in the military or as a police officer.

8 Rules to Make Turkey Hunting Safer

Turkey hunters have a responsibility to keep themselves and other hunters safe. These rules provide for ethical turkey hunting that will help to make sure everyone comes home at the end of the day – and hopefully with a bird or two bagged as well.

  1. Never hunt on private land without asking permission first to do so. Most land owners don’t mind hunters as long as they’re asked. A small token of appreciation is also nice to give in exchange for permission to hunt. 
  1. Don’t stalk a possible turkey. If you’re stalking a turkey, there’s a good chance you’re actually stalking another hunter.
  1. Avoid red, white, or blue camouflage. The best turkey hunting gear will help you blend into your environment. Wear orange when necessary. Avoid wearing the colors that a fellow hunter is trying to pick out while hunting. 
  1. Try to hunt without a turkey call if possible. A good turkey call can produce great results. It can also be quite dangerous because other hunters might think you’re the turkey they want to bag this year. Use it smartly and sparingly. If you hear a turkey call, assume it is a hunter first. 
  1. Don’t work the bird of another hunter. If you think another hunter is working a bird, don’t try to take it from them. Don’t try to spook the bird away either. You’ll get your chance to work your own at some point. 
  1. Aim for the head and neck of the bird. Shooting a turkey in other places can spoil the meat or make it dangerous to consume. Make sure you are in range before engaging. 
  1. Call out to other hunters if you suspect them. A loud, clear voice call out is often the law when turkey hunting if you suspect another hunter. Unlike other birds, the turkey isn’t generally going to run away.
  1. Don’t shoot upwards at roost. If you’re shooting at a roosting turkey in a tree in an upward fashion, remember that what goes up must come down. Any shot that misses the bird could come back to hit you. 

How to Properly Call In a Turkey

You’ve found the right place to hunt. You’ve scouted the area and know where you want to put your hunting setup. The goal should be to place yourself as close as you can to the turkey without actually spooking the bird. You’ve located the travel route. You’re now ready to call in a turkey so it comes into your shooting lane.

Turkeys call out because they’re trying to start a conversation. Think of a gobble as a status update you’d put on Facebook that invites people to talk to you. Turkeys have 30+ distinct calls that are used, but you’ll only need to know a handful of them to be successful while hunting.

This is why spring hunting in particular is the perfect time to use a turkey call. The best turkey calls for spring are clucking and yelping. This will attract several turkeys into your shooting lanes. You can replicate this by making a single-note sound that is spaced out every few seconds. Hen yelps can be up to 8 notes in sequence and is typically the most successful turkey call, especially with hen decoys.

You’ll need to know what the sounds are in order to replicate them with the right turkey call. The video below will take you through the 3 most essential calls you can use while hunting.

What Turkey Call Is Right for You?

There are several different turkey calls that can help you create the sounds you’ll need to make for a successful hunting experience. Here are the most popular options that are available today.

  • Box call. This is a versatile call that can help you to mimic most of the turkey vocabulary. You can replicate a gobble very realistically with this call, which is typically made from wood. Each one makes a slightly different sound, so you may wish to have several just to vary your sounds.
  • Slate call. This call is usually made from slate, but aluminum and glass options are also available. It takes a lot of time and maintenance to keep this call working well, but you’ll be rewarded with very realistic sounds that can attract an entire flock at times.
  • Mouth call. If your budget is tight, then this is the best turkey call for you. They make realistic sounds based on words like “chop” or “chirp” you might say. It takes a little practice to get it right and mistakes will happen, but if you’re good with different voices, you’ll be good with this turkey call. 

One of the unique ways you can locate turkeys while hunting is by mimicking a barred owl. The best owl call for turkey hunting will give you a location vector for where the birds are roosting. Keep in mind that this is a locator call only, so once you’ve used the owl call, you may need to switch over to a more traditional turkey call. 

Locator calls that mimic crows, coyotes, and hawks have also been known to work. Some hunters have even found that their duck calls can work double duty as a locator call for turkeys. Remember: the goal of a locator call is to fix their position. Use them sparingly so the turkey doesn’t get used to hearing the sounds that seems shocking. 

What Is the Best Gear for Turkey Hunting?

You must be wearing full camouflage in order to have a successful turkey hunting experience. This includes gloves, face paint, or a face mask. Turkeys have sharp eyes for contrast and the color of your skin will stand out. The color of your camouflage is also important because it can also stand out to the turkey and makes them stay away.

Your gear will need to have a lot of pocket space so you can store everything that you’ll need. Some hunters may wish to invest into a turkey hunting vest for comfortable wear. Make sure your hunting boots are comfortable and waterproof, especially for early morning hunters.

Decoys can also be essential gear, but care should be taken in using them if you’re on public hunting grounds. A hunter deciding to shoot your decoy from distance happens more often than you might think. It’s a judgment call, of course, but you don’t want to be sitting in proximity to a decoy that another hunter with questionable accuracy wants to hit.

If you really want a challenging experience, try bow hunting for turkeys. A turkey runs away whenever it senses danger, so coming to a full draw is nearly impossible to do. Consider a quality ground blind to make this process a bit easier. Make sure you take a patient approach, set some decoys if you wish, and then wait out the wary turkey.

In Conclusion

Turkey hunting can be a lot of fun. Not only do you get two hunting seasons [sorry Alaska folks], but it is also a highly affordable permit in most jurisdictions. You may be forced to use a shotgun based on local laws, but with the right firearm, you can still get an instant kill at 40 yards pretty easily.

Be safe. Watch out for aggressive birds that may charge you or your decoys, especially during the early season. Make sure your gear keeps you camouflaged and your turkey calls are effective and used sparingly. In doing so, not only will you have a successful hunting experience, you’ll be having an ethical one as well and sometimes that is equally important.

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