You find yourself sitting at the base of a tree on a dew-laden morning with a slight chill in the air. The sun is a few minutes from breaking the horizon and you have already heard the soft purrs of hens in the nearby treetops. You are waiting patiently for the booming thunder to echo through the woods ricocheting off the tree line and rumbling across open ground.
The air so still you can literally feel your breath seep through the face mask that you are wearing. At the exact moment you begin to think that it won’t be long now, it happens. A thundering gobble shakes the air and rumbles through the woods making the hair on your arm stand on end and the nap of your neck tingle. Your heart starts to race as you pick up a slate call and purr a few times. You think to yourself, a few more minutes and you will imitate a fly down cackle and the sounds of turkeys pitching down, drawing the tom’s attention to your area of the woods.
At that point, it is light enough that any movement can be picked up by the keen eyes of any turkey within sight.
The next sound you hear is the flapping of wings as hens fly down followed by the toms. You hit your slate with a few soft yelps to imitate hens trying to locate each other. The yelps work as you watch the hens make their way to your decoy set-up. The interaction goes on for several minutes until the hens and toms are about 50 yards away. As the toms notice the decoys, they make their way toward them strutting and bumping into each other as if they are sizing each other up.
Within mere seconds, both toms will be in easy shooting range. You raise your shotgun. As the first tom approaches the decoy, he breaks into full strut with the second following suit about five yards behind. The two toms put on a great show, bumping into the decoy once or twice. The sun reflects against all the many colors in the tom’s feathers; his waddles are a bright fluorescent red and his neck and head an iridescent blue and white. Then the perfect opportunity to make a shot is given as the two toms separate by a couple yards and one tom sticks its head up and comes half out of strut. You aim your shotgun precisely and slowly squeeze the trigger. BOOM!!
A cloud of dust and feathers float up and stir in the air as the turkey flops around on the ground. You put your gun on safety, leap up as if you were weightless and run out to the flopping bird. By the time you reach him, he has all but stopped flopping. In attempts to keep the bird from breaking or ruining any tail feathers, you dance awkwardly, gun raised in the air, hopping on one foot as you try to get a foot down on the bird without getting spurred…a movement coined the “turkey dance”. On the ground lays a beautiful tom with a lengthy beard and trophy spurs. What an adrenaline rush as you pump you fist in the air and let out a little cheer!
What an experience! If you have not had the opportunity to experience a turkey hunt, you are missing out on a really exciting adventure. To witness the interaction between an animal and human is an amazing exchange. While turkey hunting isn’t costly, there is equipment and gear that is essential.
To start with, you need a shotgun with a tightly patterned choke. A 12 gauge is preferable but a 20 gauge, with the proper shot and choke combination, will be just as effective. The most important thing you can do prior to the season is to pattern your shotgun to make sure you know the effective range of your shotgun, choke and shot combination.
The size ammo you pick is as important as the choke you choose. The average turkey hunter is going to choose a 4, 5, or 6 shot shell. It is important to choose the ammo with the fastest velocity out of the barrel; which equals to a little more recoil. There are special “turkey loads” or magnum shot on the market made by most of the ammunition manufacturers.
A quality choke with a tight constriction is imperative to turkey hunting. These chokes are full or extra full chokes and there are many brands of turkey specific chokes to chose from. The kill zone on a turkey is a very small area that consists of its head and neck; which is the brain and spine of the bird’s anatomy. The idea shot pattern is to have 12 or more shots in the bird’s neck and head area on your target at varying yardages. Remember that not only does the shot size vary your pattern but also even different brands of ammo in the same shot size can change your shot pattern. A good shot pattern from the perfect shot and choke combination is going to be your best means of success in the turkey woods; spend the time getting the combination right and stick with that combination.
Turkeys have amazingly keen eyesight and can pick up movement from over a hundreds of yards away. It is not only important to sit still, it is critical to make certain that your camouflage matches the terrain and effectively breaks up you outline. You should also cover your face with a facemask and your hands with gloves. Some hunters like to wear a ball cap or billed style hat so the bill can be pulled down low over the eyes to hide direct eye contact with the turkey. Avoid shiny items and never wear red, white and blue colors as other hunters could easily mistake you as turkey.
A good pair of binoculars is a must when trying to scout, spot or hunt turkey. Some of your glassing will be done into the top of trees, making it hard to delineate a tom from a bough of holly or cluster of leaves in the low light of the morning. Choosing a pair that is small and lightweight is ideal for turkey hunting since some of your hunts may require you to get up and move quickly in pursuit of a tom.
The most popular call is the diaphragm call, but it is also the most difficult to master. It is a favorite among turkey hunters because it allows both hands to be free. The diaphragm call is made of three main parts: the frame, a reed or multiple reeds and tape. The frame is usually made of aluminum and is horseshoe shaped with prophylactic or latex material stretched across it and secured with tape. The reed produces different tones based on the volume of air control exerted through it. A mouth call can feature a single or multiple reeds.
The tape can be trimmed for a proper fit for each hunter’s mouth. The roof palate of women and men are usually different in form. Most women have a more narrow and higher roof palate. For this reason, a youth or small frame call is usually the best choice for effective calling. The call is inserted with the rounded portion of the call in the far back portion of the roof of your mount. Diaphragm calls are the least expensive calls available.
The slate call is usually round and made of wood or plastic and holds a striking surface of either slate, ceramic, glass or metal. A peg-style striker is drawn across the resonating surface of the call to make different sounds. Dragging the striker across the surface with varying pressures and patterns make different mimicking sounds. It is important to keep the surface free of dust, water, and oils from your fingers.
The slate requires sanding of the surface to obtain the best sounds. You should also periodically sand the tip of the striker to keep the tip roughened up for producing maximum sounds. This sanding is usually referred to as “sweetening” the call. Slate calls are more expensive then diaphragm calls, but is available in many different materials to fit most budgets. Custom calls are usually the most expensive.
The box call is somewhat easy to master, but a little more difficult to carry into the field and it requires both hands and more movement to properly use the call. Box calls have a wooden resonating box with a hinged paddle-style striker. The striker slides across the edges of the resonating box to produce turkey sounds. Box calls are crafted from several types of wood and are priced in a range similar to slate calls.
Another important call for turkey hunting is a locator call. A locator call can be an owl, crow, blue jay or even a gobble tube. This type of call is used to make a tom shock gobble so that you can locate his whereabouts in the woods and is usually used at a greater distance than in the direct vicinity of the birds. Be careful not to use a predator call that will cause the turkeys to fly down or move in another direction away from your set-up.
There are a number of other style calls available, such as wingbone calls, push button calls, gobble tubes, various styles of friction calls, and even electronic calls. When choosing an electronic call you will need to check the hunting regulations in the state you are planning to hunt; most states do not allow hunting with electronic calls. It doesn’t matter which call you choose to use, as long as you learn to use it effectively.
If you have not mastered turkey calling, it is not uncommon to have someone call for you. Or, there are several resources that you can use to become efficient in using turkey calls and those resources are available on CD, DVD and the Internet. One very resourceful tool is the National Wild Turkey Federation website (www.nwtf.org). This website contains audio files of the various sounds turkeys make and provides an explanation of their meanings.
Decoys are not a necessity when hunting turkey but can greatly increase your odds of drawing a tom within shooting range. There are many styles of decoys available and some with very unique features. The most important feature is that the decoy looks realistic in shape, size and color. Next, it should be easy to transport in and out of the woods and quick to setup and take down. Setup your decoy(s) well within your shooting range in case your tom becomes wary. Decoys are fairly reasonable in price and can often be purchased as an entire set.
A turkey hunter will need a bag or vest to carry hunting gear. The more popular of the two is a camouflage turkey vest. A turkey vest not only has pockets and compartment to keep your gear in, but it also has a game pocket built into the back of the vest to carry the turkey from the field. Many turkey vests also incorporate a cushion for the hunter to sit on. The cushion folds up out of the way when the hunter is on the move and is usually detachable for those hunters who prefer a small stool.
If you chose not to sit directly on the ground, there are different types of stools and chairs on the market that provide more comfort to the hunter. If you plan to be on the move, a small foldout stool such as the Primos turkey stool is idea. If you plan to turkey hunt in an area where you will not have a tree to lean against, the Cabelas Turkey Lounger with a backrest is useful.
Many women find that a collapsible shooting stick is beneficial when hunting turkeys. Shooting sticks are easy to carry in and out of the field and can aid in steadying the gun or to rest the weight of the gun on as it may require a long wait for a gobble to come into comfortable shooting range.
Other items that can be carried in your turkey vest are a small flashlight, a small piece of sandpaper or dish scrubber to sweeten calls in the field, pruning shears, extra shells, an extra striker in case one gets wet in the morning dew, and a few wet naps for clean up. For those of you who like to keep your vest blood free, bring a quart size bag and rubber band to place over the tom’s head. This will prevent blood from soiling your vest or clothes.
Turkey hunting is exciting and rewarding. The interaction between the hunter and the turkey, as well as the show that a tom will put on, leaves most hunters in awe. In addition, most guides or callers get just as much joy from assisting the hunter, as the hunter does harvesting the bird because of the team effort that is involved. Turkey hunting is an adventure that will leave you yearning for more. Once you have danced the “turkey dance” of a successful hunt, it is hard not to become addicted. Good luck to you this season…I hope you dance.