Turkey hunting has been likened to a game of chess, where the hunter, using only his calls and strategic setups, matches wits with one of the most alert, sensory-acute game birds in North America's forests.
While you are sure to hear those tales of a novice tagging a gobbler as it fed along a field edge, any experienced turkey hunter knows there is much more to it than that. For consistent success, a hunter must not only be adept at calling, but he must understand the birds and the lay of the land using his skills as a woodsman, and then, once the bird is in range, a marksman.
Turkey Call, the flagship publication of the National Wild Turkey Federation since the organization's founding in 1973, has been the magazine to which serious turkey hunters turn to learn and improve their skills. Following are some tips from the pages of Turkey Call that should be factored into every hunt.
Blending in with nature is key. Choose a camo pattern that matches the terrain with special attention paid to the time of year you'll be hunting. For early season, choose patterns heavy with grays and browns. Once leaf-out begins, switch to a greener camouflage.
Lightweight camo gloves will keep your hands hidden, while still allowing you to work calls or fire a shotgun.
Camo paints and masks come in many varieties, but a 3/4-cut mesh mask works best as it allows you to simply pull it down around your neck when not setup, or pull it up quickly when that gobbler hammers back over the ridge top.
Ankles can peak from the bottom of pants when you sit, so make sure you're wearing dark socks.
Blinds can add a measure of concealment. A more popular style is a simple 2-foot high, fence-style fabric blind. It can be slung over the shoulder for easy carrying, then quickly unrolled and staked around you to form a short barrier that allows you to work your calls without fear of being seen.
Hunt defensively. Select a large tree trunk, stump or rock wider than your shoulders and taller than your head to place your back against while calling.
Prior to hunting new land, scout the property and study topo maps or aerial photos to learn where creeks, fence lines or even downed trees or thickets could obstruct a gobbler's approach. Something as simple as a blown down tree might be enough to deter a tom from strolling in to your setup.
Choose a calling spot in open timber, not in thick brush. Use a pair of ratchet cutters to quickly and quietly clear away limbs that obstruct your view or the space needed to reposition your shotgun. Above all, sit still. Eliminating movement is more important than concealment.
Turkeys are drawn to spring's first signs of vegetation. The new shoots provide food and attract insects that also offer nutrition. For a successful early season hunt, focus your attention near creeks or other wet areas where the first green-up is apt to occur.
When using decoys, try a mix of two hens and a jake or even a single hen and a jake. A jake in the mix increases the jealousy factor of a more dominant bird.
Set decoys within 15 to 20 yards of your setup. Gobblers will sometimes hang-up just outside the spread. When they do, they may still be in range of most modern 12-gauge loads.
When approaching a jake decoy, a tom will most often march around to face it. Set the jake so it's looking your general direction, but not directly at you. When the tom approaches, his back will be to you, possibly with his fan spread, giving you a chance to reposition your gun for a better shot. With the fake jake staring at you, the gobbler might get concerned that the decoy is eyeballing potential danger.
As with any activity, practice makes perfect and calling is no exception. Watch hunting shows, videos or listen to recordings of turkeys to practice and mimic the calls.
While most hunters typically get comfortable using one or two calls, try to become adept at working a variety of them. The various sounds a new call can produce might be what a tom is looking for any given day.
To eliminate movement without losing the ability to work a tom in close, become skilled at using a mouth call. While these calls are among the most challenging for new hunters to master, they are also the most versatile and affordable.
Pegs, like slates, these days are made of a variety of materials that can produce different tones when paired together. Sometimes alternating different pegs with a single slate can give you a broader range of calls and tones to fire up that gobbler.
For windy days, use a box call or tube call. Both provide great volume.
Rainy days can be a killer for traditional friction calls such as box calls or slates as few (unless made of modern composite materials) work well when wet. Slide your hands and the call inside a plastic sandwich or grocery bag to keep the call dry while using it on rainy days and continue to hunt as you would.
Take time to pattern your shotgun and practice before each season. Set up and shoot from positions you are likely to encounter in the turkey woods including sitting down, from awkward positions, with a face mask on and in poor light conditions.
It's paramount that turkey hunters learn the point of impact of their shotgun in relation to the point of aim. A dense shot pattern at distances up to 40 yards is important, but the pattern is all for naught if the shooter doesn't know where effectively strikes.
Pattern your gun at various distances including 40, 30, 20, 15 and even 10 yards. Today's choke/load combinations pattern so tightly, more turkeys are being missed at closer ranges than farther ones.
Try various load sizes in No. 4, 5 or 6 shot. No. 4s offer more downrange energy, 6s a higher pellet count and 5s are a good compromise. None are worth a darn if your gun doesn't pattern them right.
When a turkey approaches, sit with your left shoulder toward the bird (if your right-handed, the opposite way if your not), and your knees up with the shotgun propped on the left one and the butt of the gun pressed against your shoulder. Keep your head down and pressed tightly against the stock. This way you'll be ready to take your shot.
If you need to move, do so only when the turkey's head is behind a large object such as a tree or even behind it's own fan. If it catches any movement, your hunt is over.
Stay alert and attuned to the advance of an approaching gobbler by marking gobbles, drumming and footsteps.
Practice and follow these tips before the season and on every hunt, and you'll be well on the way to an exciting, successful turkey season.
Visit the NWTF web site at www.nwtf.com