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Ten ways to be a successful turkey hunter

4/6/2002

1. Buy a Butterball at your local grocery store.

If your heart is set on breast of turkey, a domestic version out of the grocer's freezer case is the only guarantee. If you are new to the grand tradition of spring gobbler hunting, let's get one thing perfectly clear. This is no meat run. It's an addiction. You will chase wild turkeys for the rest of your life. Someday, if you're lucky, if you're patient, if you do a few things right, you may shoot one.

2. Scout late, rise early.

A spring turkey hunt actually begins, not at the crack of dawn, but late in the afternoon the day before. Your goal is to look for turkey sign and listen for turkey sounds. Stay late. That means until dark. When gobblers fly into roost trees, it's usually close to nightfall and that's when you're apt to hear a gobble or two.

You can trigger a gobbler's response, sometimes, by hooting like an owl or crowing like a crow. Sometimes you'll stay late and hear nothing. Does that mean your turkey woods are vacant? Of course not. It only means you didn't hear a turkey. Come dawn the woods may sound like a turkey farm.

The advantage of hearing a bird late in the day gives you a bird to "set up" on in the morning. If you fail to "roost" a bird, your only option come the next morning is to guess where a bird might be roosting in a tree. Good luck. The woods are dark and there's a thousand trees. East facing ridges are the best bet.

3. Effective calling has three rules: location, location, location.

We'll assume you know the yelp or putt or purr of a hen turkey. A good box call or friction (slate) call will make those sounds as will the mouth or diaphragm call. If you know but one sound — a single yelp — that's fine, too. One yelp will call a gobbler, if he wants to come to where he thinks a hen wants to… well, you know what I mean.

The best location is on an equal elevation between you and the tom. Calling a bird uphill is possible, but not probable. Calling a bird downhill is usually a waste of time, although no turkey hunter ever quits trying.

4. Patience isn't a virtue, it's mandatory.

Fact is, lack of patience may be a hunter's greatest sin. Rarely do lonely toms come running to your seductive calls (although it happens). Gobblers have no sense of urgency. Mating season is long, why hurry? There must be a rule in the woods that a turkey in a hurry usually gets eaten.

A gobbler quick to answer your call will likely come to your location, but it'll take time, maybe 30 minutes to 60 minutes. It's also possible the anxious gobbler is "hung up," which means he won't ever come because there's a fence in the way or a creek or a pile of brush or he just doesn't want to leave where he's at. How do you know? If the tom keeps calling from the same spot, that's a bad sign. If he shuts up, it may mean he's on his way or it could mean he's spooked or bored with your calling. What do you do? Well, when you run out of patience, you move on.

5. There's no such thing as a shotgun that can't miss.

No hunter goes into a turkey woods to cripple or wound a bird. So do yourself a favor. Pattern your shotgun at 30 to 40 yards before the hunt. Shoot a large piece of paper with a turkey head target so you can see the heart of the shotgun's pattern. Try different shot sizes — 4, 5 or 6 shot. Practice judging distance. If you use a decoy, place it at a known distance to help determine a gobbler's range. Aiming aids, such as colored beads, laser dots or a two-power scope will help eliminate misses.

6. Aim to succeed.

After 33 years of turkey hunting, here's what I've learned. A tightly-choked 12 gauge with No. 6 premium, 2 ¾-inch load of shot is very adequate to cleanly kill any gobbler under 50 yards. A 10 gauge or 3 ½-inch firepower is simply not necessary unless it works for you. Confidence is important.

But none of this matters if your aim is off. My own shotgun's pattern is set to strike slightly high for this reason. I'll aim at the base of the neck, knowing the center of the pattern will strike the vitals, the neck and head and be instantly fatal.
But remember, it all begins with patterning and aiming.

7. Your greatest hazard is yourself.

When a tom turkey is coming your way, don't move. You hear? Don't move. You move only when you know the bird can't see you.

I know you look like a pile of last year's oak leaves and you're camouflaged right up to your eyeballs. But move at the wrong time and a wild turkey's eyeballs will find you.
This means always have your shotgun ready to raise into shooting position with the least amount of movement. If possible, only move when the tom can't see you. If that's not possible, only move to shoot when the bird is within range. You'll have a split second before the gobbler runs or flies in the next instant.

8. A pleasant turkey hunt is a safe one.

If you see another hunter, don't call like a turkey. Say hello in your own voice. Remember, the sound you hear may not be a turkey. If you hear another turkey hunter calling to a bird, don't chime into the chorus. It's unethical. Go find your own bird to call.

When you place a decoy, keep safety in mind. When possible, hide with your back to a large tree to be protected from behind. Don't wear red, white or blue colors or stick turkey feathers in your hat. Why? A head of a tom turkey is often red, white and blue. Why no feathers? You wouldn't wear antlers during deer season, would you?

9. Reach for a higher rung.

A wild turkey addict is apt to have several life-changing experiences. Turkeys normally live in hill country, so a turkey hunter is often inspired to stay in shape. Turkey language is more than yelps, so mastering the skill of calling is endless. If you can, practice all the calls and master all the types of calls. Why? To kill more birds? No, it's just fun to broaden skills for a passion.

10. Pass the turkey pie.

It's humbling. It's frustrating. It's confusing. It's an exercise in sleeplessness. Turkey hunting is all these things, along with an overwhelming urge to pass it on to loved ones, friends and anybody with an open mind to the majesty of nature.

Join the National Wild Turkey Federation or do more for wild turkeys than merely buying a license. The future of wild turkeys in America is in the good hands of turkey hunters. With your help.

In April, May and June 2002 the Backroads with Ron & Raven short feature airs Saturdays at 7:55 a.m. ET on ESPN2.