Hunting Spring Turkeys

I quietly slipped off the safety.  He came into range, did a 360 and ran straight back the way he came.

I sat there shivering in stunned amazement.  After sitting statue still in a blowdown since a hour before light in 3” of freshly fallen snow I had just blown my 1st and only chance at what should have been my 1st Gobbler.  My heart was still beating hard from him coming in on a string from across a picked bean field to my calling, and I was thinking of the distant, yet coming Thanksgiving when the great white hunter here would be looked upon in awe for supplying not only the Turkey for the feast, but a WILD TURKEY !

NooooooooooooooooooOOOOOOooooooOOOOooo !!!!!!! WHAT THE ?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?  Little did I know at that time, but I’d just experienced my first of many, many white hairs, compliments of ole Tom.  What had I done wrong ?  That bird came in fast.   Practically running.  He was a lone Jake looking for love with no competition to deal with. This should have been a done deal.  I replayed the scene in my mind over and over.

Got here insanely early.
Concealed.
Every inch of my body and face Camo’d.
No UV brighteners.
Gun was up and pointed at him. No movement. Or was there ?????

It slowly dawned on me what had happened and what he saw.

I had blinked.

It was lightly snowing and I had snowflakes landing in my eyes and I blinked. No camo on the back of my eyelids either.

He was close, coming right at me looking for the hen that he just knew would be his …………. and he saw me blink.  When he did, he never hesitated, but turned around and with that waddling run they do, peeled outta there heading right back the way he’d come.  That’s how Hunting Spring Turkeys can go.

That scene in a snowy morning field played out many years ago, and was my first true lesson in how unforgiving the Wild Turkey is.  I’ve hunted most of my life.  Counting the learning years, tagging along with my Dad and Uncles and before I could legally carry a gun, were looking at 44 years in the field.  37 of those years hunting for real.  I have never, ever, in all my time chasing everything from pheasants, to squirrels, to wary old “ super bucks “ have I ever seen a critter with sharper eyes or hearing.  It borders on the supernatural.  Turkeys can’t smell.  If they could, they would be unkillable, and that my friend, is the honest truth.  If a bird could smell, save your sanity, and your hair, you’d be better off going Trout fishing.

In life, you never stop learning, and I’ve come a long way since my first opening morning.  The most important thing I’ve learned?  NEVER, ever, take anything for granted when hunting Turkeys.  Check, then double check everything.  But, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Lets start at the beginning and I’ll tell ya what I’ve learned over the years and how I do it.

Now, I’m no expert, but, I know enough to be dangerous.  Turkeys are stupid.  Their brain is about the size of a small pea.  Disturb one, and they’ll forget 10 minutes later what spooked’em.  But, spook one, and they’re gone.  History.  Game Over.  Unlike the wariest buck, they won’t hang out to head bob, or hesitate that one deadly second to try and see what it is exactly that they aren’t liking.  If a Turkey even thinks something is wrong, they run like crazy and ask questions later. No exceptions.  Thank you very much, have a nice day.

But, unlike deer, you merely gather what’s left of your pride and go locate another one and try again.

I could write a book on what it takes to successfully and consistently kill birds, and many have.   I suggest reading them, or, there are some great “how to” videos out there that a guy can learn from.  Everything from set-ups to calling.  Being that I’m a 2 fingered typer with huge fingers and constantly fixing spelling errors, I have neither the time nor the patience to do that.   But, I will go thru the basics of how I go about trying to put one of these birds on the Thanksgiving Day table.

Scouting by gobble.
There has to be birds in the woods before you can kill one.
What I do is get to the area I plan on hunting early.  An hour before daylight is best, that way, you can scout multiple areas before the gobbling stops.
Fill your thermos with coffee and hit the road.
Get to where your going to hunt, get out, sit on the hood and listen.  If you hear gobbles, and 9 times out of 10 you will, unless it’s a nasty day, mark the spot in your mind the direction of the gobbling and head to the next spot.

Once the pre fly down gobbling stops, cruise the areas again looking in the fields. This will tell you where they go after hitting the ground for breakfast and where the most likely place to set up would be.  Next, on the day before your hunt, in the middle of the day, set up your tent.  I always hunt from a tent now.  I need to move, even if just to stretch my legs or have a cup of joe.

During the the mid–day, the birds are cruising, feeding, dusting etc…. Doing what Turkeys do.
I get somewhere between the roost trees and the feeding area.  Turkeys are creatures of habit and will, as a rule, stick to the same routes everyday, unless given a reason not to. ie: getting run off a roost by a careless hunter.

Next, pattern your gun.
I keep it simple.  30 yards max. 20+ pellets in the head and neck.
Good to go.
Remington high brass #6s have been the demise of many Gobblers thru my 870.

Camo,
I’ll say it again.  CAMO.  Everything.  Body, hands and face ……….including the back of your eye lids. Lesson learned.  Check your tent AND your cloths for the tell tale glow of UV brighteners.  If present, get some UV Killer and take care of it.  Some guys do not agree with this.  Well, some guys aren’t taking the time to write this article, I AM.  And I’m here to tell you that there IS something to it and it WILL make a difference.  I’ve seen myself what the reaction to untreated clothes has on wildlife many, many times.

Every professional hunter I know is aware of the UV problem and takes steps to remedy it.  Believe it, don’t believe it. It’s your choice…….and your time.  Enough on that.

The Hunt.
Get there early and go in quite.  If your late and the gobbling has started, back off, find the best back cover you can and set up.  If you attempt to get to your tent and your within sight of the roosted birds, they’ll fly down and head the other way.  Keep your gun up and on your knees.  NOT LAYING ACROSS your knees.  There is no way your going to swing on a bird coming in without him seeing you.  Keep it up and pointed in the general direction of the gobbling, safety on of course till your see his red head.  Speaking of that, always aim for the middle of his neck. If he’s in full strut, wait till he comes out of it, or, give a little yelp.  He’ll come out of full strut and stretch out his neck to try and locate you.  BOOM. Lights Out.  Ok, assuming that you got up at Holy Crap it’s early and made it to your spot undetected it’s game time.  Toms don’t roost in the same trees as the hens, but close.  A roosted hen will tree yelp with her beak closed.  It sounds like a very quite, muffled yelp.  You’ll hear very few of these and are akin to a yawn in my opinion.  I’ll do this once, maybe twice trying to get a gobble.  Once the Tom responds, STOP.  He heard you.  He knows that your there.  If you over call, you’ll tick off the real hens and they’ll fly down and take the Gobblers the opposite direction that you were calling.  DO NOT OVER CALL.  Biggest mistake rookie, and some veteran hunters make.  The call did it’s job.  Give it a chance to work.

If all works out to plan, the Tom will fly down and try to join you for coffee.  We’re back in bed by 7 and all is well with the world.  In reality, we’re probably going to be still sitting there at 9am with a stupid look on our face trying to figure out what the heck just happened and where did all those monster Long Beards we just heard gobbling with-in 50 yards go?????

Enter Plan B.

Turkeys don’t bed. They’ll scratch and wander the better part of the day.

They will also head to open fields to feed and strut. I’ll pay particular attention to open fields in the early mornings and late afternoons.  Turkeys also like to find a sand pit and “dust” themselves.  They have mites and dusting helps to removes them.  Setting up on a dust bowl in the middle of the day is productive.

You’ll know it when you see it. There will be tracks as well as wing drag marks in the sand.

Walking and calling is also a good way to locate birds mid-day.  Walking and yelping every 50 yards or so will eventually cause a Tom to sound off.  If he’s a long ways off, be silent and cut the distance to about 100 yards.  Be careful he doesn’t see you.  Hit the call again to locate him and the game begins.  If he appears to be coming in response to your calling, clam up.  The caller did it’s job.  He’ll come in looking for you………most of the time.  You might have to work him.  This is something that is learned in the field by actually doing it. Don’t over call. Read the situation and act accordingly.

Never, ever, use a yelp or a Turkey call to locate a Long Beard before season begins.  You might call in a Gobbler one, maybe two times before he gets wise and needs to see the hen calling to him before he comes in.

You call before your hunting and eventually he’ll come in, probably after you have already left, even worse if your still there and you are busted.  Use a crow call, owl hooter or something of the sort.  Farting in a bull horn will work equally well, whatever, just don’t call’em in until your ready to pull the trigger.  The moral of the story is don’t educate them.

The fun in Turkey hunting is trying to outsmart a wary old Gobbler.  Trust me, you aren’t going to do it every time.  Learning the calls and when to use them, their habits and how they live is all part of the hunt, and the fun.

An old Turkey hunter that has probably forgotten more than I’ll ever know once told me.  “Every deer thinks a man is a stump, every Turkey thinks a stump is a man.”

So, have fun with it.  You’ll make 1000 mistakes and learn 1000 lessons.  But, each lesson learned puts you one step up on finally killing a Gobbler.

Success will come, and when it does, it never felt so sweet.

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