Spring Turkey Hunting
One of the great traditions in North American hunting is the Spring turkey hunt. The ranges of these magnificent birds is ever-increasing and so are their concentrations in most of these areas. If you have not taken up this sport it is something you might want to consider. Your chances of bagging a turkey in the Spring hunt have never been better. Also, the Spring hunt is often a time of beautiful weather, and by its very nature, is conducted in a glorious setting. Having said all of this, to begin turkey hunting there are some very important things you should know. Turkey hunting is vastly different than deer hunting, upland game hunting, or waterfowl hunting. The behavior of turkeys is quite different, there are unique safety challenges, and the equipment required is unique as well.
There are 6 wild turkey subspecies in North America. The Eastern wild turkey is up and down essentially the entire Eastern seaboard as well as the interior part of the US from Texas to the Dakotas. The Merriam wild turkey is a transplant and is found in almost all of the Western states. The Rio Grande wild turkey is found mostly in Texas, California, and Oklahoma as well as Northwestern Mexico. The Florida wild turkey is found in Florida and Louisiana and up through parts of South Carolina. The Mexico wild turkey is, you guessed it, found in Mexico. Finally, the Gould wild turkey is found in NW Mexico, Baja, Arizona, New Mexico, and California.
The Eastern wild turkey enjoys the greatest populations in North America and can push 30 lbs in the areas where turkeys are enjoying good corn fed diets. These turkeys are very adaptive to various habitats such as prairies and hard and soft wood forests. Knowing the communal relations of these turkeys, when they tend to gobble, as well as nesting times and mating and courtship times is essential.
Here is a basic guide to these things. In Missouri, gobbling has two peak times. The first is in early April and the second is in late April. Between Mid-March and the beginning of April, flocks break apart. Courtship and mating occur through April and May. Hens are nesting between the latter part of April and the end of May.
Basic Turkey Hunting Skills
If you remember nothing else, remember that Spring turkey hunting has everything to do with the mating habits of the turkeys in the Spring season. Where there are hens, you can be certain that somewhere in the area there will also be Toms. Scouting is an almost essential portion of the process for hunting these birds. This is not to state that it would be impossible, under the right conditions and perhaps in an area you already know well, to find success. But your chances will be greatly enhanced by careful scouting. If you are a deer hunter, do not assume that where you saw those turkeys in the Fall is a sure-fire indication they will be there in the Spring.
Scouting for Turkeys
Locating roosting areas is a primary consideration when scouting. Your goal is to establish a set-up location for first light with a great view of where the turkeys must come down from their roost. The trick is to find a spot you can approach without jumping them from their roost as you set-up, and that has great shooting lanes to where they will come down. In an ideal scenario, you would scout the roost, and then set up on a morning sometime (not the day prior) before the season begins and see how your plan might work out. One consideration you should take into account, is that if you are hunting public hunting land, you are scouting for where turkeys WILL be located and for where other hunters WILL NOT be located. A rule of thumb I use is to forget anything within 1/4 mile of an established road or trail.
If you do happen to be hunting public lands here are some helpful pointers. Use Google Earth to help you establish some starting points. We have a helpful page that is oriented to Missouri Public Hunting, but will be very useful to all hunters. It is at Scouting for Hunting Areas with Google Earth.
Calling and Turkey Calls
As far as the type of call goes, there are several you might want to consider, but there is no set answer to which is best. They each have their places, and you can provoke quite a debate amongst turkey hunters on the matter. There types are: Turkey Box Calls, Turkey Friction Calls (often made from slate and called a slate call), Push-Pull Turkey Calls, Tube Turkey Calls, Wingbone Turkey Calls, and Diaphragm Turkey Calls. Perhaps the major factor revolves around the issue as to whether you want a "hands-free" device - for example a diaphragm call.
The clothing required for turkey hunting is essentially camo head to toe. There are some real safety considerations here that we will explore in more depth later. For now, let's just leave it that you do not want to wear anything that has "turkey colors" on it. It is a very good idea to wear, in addition to camo shirts, jackets, pants, and hats, it is also a good idea to wear a camo head net.
Firearms, Ammunition, and Chokes:
I will only discuss shotgun hunting here, but I am aware that in a few places rifles are an allowed turkey hunting firearm.. Also, I will not be discussing bowhunting turkey gear.
What you are after is a pattern that will kill a turkey out to about 40-45 yards. The most common combination used for hunting turkeys is a 3" or 3 1/2" chambered 12 gauge shotgun and sometimes in magnum loads. It is vital to your safety that you know what type(s) of shells that your turkey hunting shotgun can safely take. DO NOT guess. If you are not 100% certain, ask someone who knows. Very often, extra full chokes are used to taper the pattern down to a better one for the extended range required for hunting turkeys.
These decoys come in three basic configurations: toms, hens and jakes. At most, put two out at the same time. These should be in a hen and jake, hen and tom, or individual configurations. Set them up at least 25 yards from your position for safety reasons - even if you are on private land.
Field Dressing and Plucking the Turkey
It is irresponsible to enter the field hunting without a plan for how to care for your harvested game. If you will be able to care for your turkey quickly, field dressing is not necessary. Plucking is easier before gutting the turkey when the process can be done in this manner.
Field dressing a wild turkey is a relatively simple process. First, lay the turkey on its back. Second, go down the turkey back to the point between its legs. Third, start a shallow incision barely penetrating the skin and with the knife almost horizontal. Go to the breast making an incision large enough to reach your hand through. Pull out entrails including all organs (heart and lungs). Cut around anus. Do this carefully so as not to contaminate inside of turkey. Cut crop from turkey neck. As soon as possible clean out turkey and begin cooling process.
If you are plucking a turkey prior to gutting it, place the turkey in hot water prior to doing so. Remove the wings at the first joints to facilitate plucking. After dunking the bird in hot water using the legs for handles, cut them off. If you have not gutted the bird, do so now using the technique described above.
For recipes go to Wild Game Recipes.
Turkey Hunting Safety
This video from the Missouri Department of Conservation is a great starting point for ensuring your safety in the field. Also, even if not required, attend a hunter safety course.
Hopefully these tips will help you with a safe and successful hunt...from the process of scouting to outturn the harvested turkey on the table. At Family-Outdoors we strive to put the information you need to be successful into your hands. We hope this article does just that.