I have recently completed a very unsuccessful turkey season. As the co-host of a popular hunting and fishing television show, that’s not an easy pill to swallow. I would like to fabricate a story about how the birds came right in, the camera was rolling, my shot was true, and we celebrated in true Tennessee style… But it would really all be a total lie. Just like the beginning of this paragraph, these tips are not typical for most outdoor writers. This is how I view turkey season, and these are tips that I feel like every hunter can relate to. I’ll fail to mention the obvious (like don’t put Vaseline on your slate call..) because I’m assuming that most people don’t want me to say what they already know. I do practice what I preach, but if you know turkeys like I do, then you know that even practicing doesn’t guarantee a perfect season.
1. Know the land. Some of us get to hunt on property that we know like the back of our hand, but it’s those times when we aren’t familiar with the land that we can make mistakes that could cost us a hunt. If you know the lay of the land you’re hunting on, then use that knowledge to your advantage. If, however, you aren’t sure what’s lying just over the next hill, then you can guarantee that the turkeys have a huge advantage over you. Before you hunt check the topo map for ravines, hollers, tree lines, and other natural barriers that can be used as cover, or that can be used as travel routes when the birds fly down from their roost. And don’t cross property lines if you don’t have permission. Do I really need to tell you that? No. But it seems to be a constant issue with people who want a bird so badly that they are willing to break the rules.
2. How many hunters have been there before you? If you’re hunting birds that have been pressured recently then you may need to plan on spending a little more time on them. Pressured birds may not come in to one call, especially if it’s the same general type of call that has tricked them in the past. If you know that someone else has been busted by these birds, and that guy was using a slate call, then maybe you should try switching it up a little. A box call / mouth call combination may be best for getting them to believe that you are actually a pretty female, and changing your position in relation to their roost may also be crucial to your success. Keep in mind that the birds you’re hunting may have witnessed a camouflaged mass moving around and trying to imitate a turkey recently, so don’t be surprised when they crane their bright blue necks to check you out before they waltz in.
3. Keep an eye on the sky. I think that most of us have experienced those spring turkey mornings when we can’t quite decide if it’s safe to go sit on the edge of a field or not. Two years ago I had to make that decision after driving to my spot early one stormy morning in Missouri. The lightning was moving in, but I knew that a big Tom was roosting 50 yards from my spot on the edge of a huge field. I carried my gun and my gear to the middle of the field before the sky lit up and made the peach fuzz on my neck do a little dance. Needless to say, I didn’t get struck by lightning. I did, however, high-tail it to the edge of the field for cover. Was it worth the risk? For me it was. Did I do the right thing? Not according to my research afterwards. The spring months can bring erratic weather, but we all know that the turkeys will still fly down to play – even in a lightning storm. And here’s a little hint: if you find yourself stuck in the middle of a field in a lightning storm, crouch down and make yourself small. Don’t lie flat, and don’t go sit under a tree. Especially when you’re holding onto a metal shotgun.
4. Practice your preaching. Turkeys aren’t stupid, and if they were then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I personally believe that a turkey can tell the difference between a mouth call, a slate call, and a box call. And they can also pinpoint exactly what tree that call came from. If you plan on going out into the woods and trying to lure a big Tom in with your calling, then I suggest becoming fluent in his language before you make the attempt. I personally like to practice in my truck while I’m out driving around. It’s only polite to do this if you don’t have any passengers. There are some incredible turkey calling CD’s that you can put into your CD player and follow along: very much like Rosetta Stone for turkeys. This method of practicing in your vehicle along with an audio CD has the added benefit of allowing you to focus on the timing of your putts, as well as the softness of your purrs, all without the distraction of your loved ones asking you to leave the room.
5. Wet pants are not comfortable. Early mornings mean dew on the ground in most places, especially in the midwest where I come from. If you’ve ever had to sit all morning on the wet ground, only to sit some more in the afternoon in wet camo’s, then you will know exactly why I’m including this in my list of things every turkey hunter should know. It’s simple, get a cushion to sit on. Most of the turkey vests on the market today have a built in seat cushion, and if not then they are inexpensive to purchase on their own. During this past turkey season I had a very close call: Our crew (including a cameraman, a local, my co-host, and myself) got set up in a little ravine with about 30 turkeys roosting uphill 100 yards away. I had my seat cushion, but I also had 2 cups of coffee for breakfast. By the time the turkeys flew down and messed with our heads for a while, I was just about to wet my pants. I didn’t want to be the one to ruin the hunt, and that’s saying a lot because I know exactly how uncomfortable it can be to finish a hunt with wet pants. Not to mention the embarrassment. I didn’t need to take it to that level, however, as I was saved by one of the guys getting up and breaking the silence. It may not be normal to put this sometimes embarrassing tip into an article, but in reality there are many of us who have had similar experiences. Moral of the story: bring a seat cushion and try not to pee your pants.
6. What was that I said about turkeys being so smart? They are brilliant in some ways. They have been known to stick around after their friend gets shot, however. Many times this is due to pure confusion and shock, and they may not know which way to run. Some turkeys will scatter and find any direction to go, while others will simply look at the dead bird and get red in the face. When this happens I highly suggest that the person holding the gun think about 3 things immediately. 1. How many turkeys am I legally allowed to kill in one day? 2. Is my gun still loaded? 3. Does anybody here with me have a turkey tag that they would like to fill in the next 9 seconds? If the answers to those questions are “One, Yes, and Yes”, then the gun should be quickly and safely handed off to the other hunter (who is legally allowed to hunt and has the proper tags on hand), and somebody should probably think about putting or clucking at the turkeys to get them to hang around for another few seconds. If all of these things line up, including the sights, then it’s highly likely that your crew will have more than one bird down.
7. How does that make you feel? It’s an argument that’s been going on seemingly forever, but we all stand by our own opinion on this one. The question “Can you shoot a turkey off the roost?” can be compared to talking politics at a gun convention. Is it technically legal to shoot one from his roost? Yes. Is it ethical? Well, this is where the opinion factor comes in. It will eventually happen to many of us who spend enough time in the woods: we will find ourselves sitting directly under the turkeys that we thought we were far enough away from when we sat down. When you look up and see the birds you need to consider what your moral and ethical stance is on the matter. Personally, I believe in letting them fly down and then attempting to call them back in. This is definitely something you should discuss with whomever you are hunting with prior to the hunt so that you can avoid that whole ‘wet pants’ conversation mentioned in tip number 5.
8. Make it legal. Before you transport your turkey you should know and understand the laws that go along with that part of the hunt. Many DNR websites offer a temporary transportation tag that you are able to fill out and attach to the leg of your turkey prior to transportation. Different states have different guidelines, so I can’t give too many tips on this without first knowing what state you’re in. Bottom line: do your research. It’s so much easier than trying to explain yourself later.
9. Switch it up. There are six subspecies of wild turkeys, but they all taste great. Know what type of turkey you’ll be hunting when you decide to travel to a far off land in pursuit of their native bird. The wild turkey has a distinct history in our country that goes back prior to the pilgrims. If you do your research you can find many interesting facts, including the possible reasons why some people considered the turkey to be a more popular national bird than the eagle. For the full story on that, you should probably use your own journalistic skills. If you’re traveling to Florida, you may want to research the Osceola turkeys, and vice versa for the midwest where we only wish we had Osceola’s running around. Hunting the different subspecies can not only give you a nice challenge, but can also make for more interesting story time around the campfire.
10. The fun part. There are many different recipes for how to prepare your wild turkey as a feast for your friends and family. No matter how you decide to prepare yours, there are a few simple tricks to getting the best meal from your bird… 1. Clean it as quickly as possible. It’s important to get the meat on ice quickly, and don’t forget to wash out the body cavity well. You may find some watery tissue inside, so be sure to get all of that out before you put it on ice. 2. Prepare similar to how you would prepare a store bought turkey, but since it’s wild and may weigh a little more, be sure to use a baster to keep the meat moisturized. 3. Tell your guests that it’s a wild turkey, as some people may have an aversion to that type of meat. I personally would have an aversion to a person who didn’t appreciate my kill, but to each their own.