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Hunting turkey is exciting. It is highly engaging, and the confrontations that happen at times are something to live for as a hunter. The sight of a turkey falling to the ground after a successful shot is nothing short of breathtaking. However, turkey is one of the most intelligent wild animals making it tough to hunt. This beginner’s guide to turkey hunting is constantly updated to have the most recent information.
Although it doesn’t have a great sense of smell like hogs, its eyesight is exceptionally sharp and will pick up even the slightest movement. Hunting turkey is thus tough and even more so when it comes to beginners. But with the right information and planning, you can hunt these birds safely and successfully.
You first need to understand your target. There are two aspects when it comes to knowing your target: the appearance of the bird and choosing the bird to shoot. Let’s dive into detail about what each of these means to you as a novice turkey hunter.
Although all turkeys look almost the same, there are differences in appearance according to the species and subspecies. There are two wild turkey species that you are likely to come across, which are the North American wild turkey and Ocellated Turkey of Central America. For this beginner’s guide to turkey hunting, the focus is on the North American species.
North American Wild Turkey
The North American wild turkey is the species you will find while hunting in the US or Canada. There are five subspecies under this species. Now, it may sound a bit like a science class, but its important to know because the type of turkey you will find depends on the subspecies available in your state.
The most abundant subspecies is the Eastern type turkey. You will find it in 38 states and quite a number of provinces in Canada. It has a wide distribution to the east of the Mississippi River. The characteristics to look out for are the tips on the tail feathers being chestnut brown and wings having white and black bars. The weight of the male turkey in this subspecies ranges from 18lbs to 30lbs, while females weigh between 8 and 12 pounds. The males have the strongest gobbles and the longest beard of the species.
In the mountainous regions of the west, you will find the Meriam’s, especially the Rocky Mountains. The turkeys have white-colored tips on the tail feathers, and their wing feathers have more white and less black. An adult male weighs 18-30lbs while the adult female weighs 8-12lbs.
If you live in Arizona or New Mexico, you are more likely to come across the Goulds during hunting. Their population is quite low as compared to the others. Outstanding characteristics include long legs and their tail feathers having snow-white tips. An adult male ranges between 18-30lbs while an adult female is between 12-14lbs.
In the western desert regions of Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma and other western states, you will find the Rio Grande turkey subspecies. Tan colored tail feather tips, and wing feathers with equal black and white barrings are characteristic to this subspecies. The toms weigh around 20lbs while the adult female birds weigh 8-12lbs.
This subspecies is only found in Florida. The turkeys have tail feather tips that are dark brown in color while their wing feathers are mostly black with very small bands of white. Males at maturity weigh around 20lbs while females weigh between 8-12lbs.
Choosing the Bird to Shoot
It is vital to know how to identify the age and sex of the bird. For instance, hens (female turkeys) are off-limit in the spring turkey season. The hen has a plumage that’s smaller and duller and a head that’s less pronounced and paler in color. On the other hand, the tom (male turkey) looks larger. Its head is bright red and has accents of white and blue. The tom also has a long beard and a thick tail fan. Jakes (juvenile males) have short beards and an incomplete tail fan with middle feathers sticking out way further than those on the side.
While hunting, pick the tom with the longest beard. As a beginner, you may, however, resort to any tom that gives you the best shot opportunity.
What do You Need to Start Turkey Hunting?
You will need three things to hunt turkey successfully: a hunting license, hunting weapon, and turkey hunting gear.
Although hunting laws vary from state to state, most of them require you to have a valid hunting license. You may, in some cases, just be required to have a turkey hunting permit, for instance, in states like Missouri. As a beginner, some states may need you to take an apprentice hunting license, which will be used under the supervision of someone who is fully licensed.
You can easily buy a license from the official website of your state department for wildlife or natural resources or in local department offices near you. Confirm from the official website what license you are needed to have and how to acquire it.
When it comes to what to use while hunting turkey, your choice depends on what you are most comfortable with and the regulations in place. You can either use a firearm or a bow. In case you haven’t decided yet, here is what each means and the options legally allowed for turkey hunting.
You can use a shotgun or a muzzleloader. In some states, a hunting rifle may be allowed. The shotgun is the most popular option among turkey hunters, where you can use either the 12gauge or the 20gauge. The 20gauge is a common choice for most youth and some women. It is recommended that you use the 12 gauge as it is termed the standard turkey gun. It will be even better if you find one chambered for 3½ inch shells.
Although some hunters prefer the #4 or the #6 shot, your best bet is the #5 shot. It has plenty of knockdown power and offers a deadly pattern.
Keeping the pattern of your shot tight requires a choke. There are currently specially designed turkey choke tubes from which to choose. But what shotgun choke is best for hunting turkey? The answer lies in the Terror Choke, which is the favorite among veteran turkey hunters. You will find it easy to use and effective.
In case a rifle is allowed in your state, opt for the .243 and the .223 hunting rifles. They are the gold standard rifles for turkey hunting. You can also successfully hunt turkey using muzzleloaders.
If you fancy archery, then you will be pleased to know that you can have as much success hunting with a bow as you will while hunting with a gun. As with any other type of bowhunting, you will need to have the requisite skills to hit your target. You can use a traditional, compound, or crossbow.
Your choice of the bow will depend on the hunting method that you are going to use. You will need a bow that you use comfortably while sitting because that is how most turkey hunting happens. Pay particular attention to the draw length and draw weight. For instance, hunting from a blind will mean that you opt for a bow that does not need you to draw so far back. Too much draw weight can make your shot uncomfortable, inaccurate, and unsafe for you. Reduce it accordingly.
The arrows you use will also determine your success while hunting turkey. It all boils down to the type of broadhead on the arrow. Here is a list of the best turkey hunting broadheads to choose from:
- Rage- Turkey Extreme (100grain)- expandable 2-blade
- RAGE 3 Blade Chisel Tip SC Mechanical Broadhead, 100 Grain, 1.6″ Cut – 3 Pack
- Swhacker 3Inch (150grain) expandable 2-blade
- NAP- Spitfire XXX (100grain)- expandable 3-blade
Whatever hunting weapon you choose, remember practice is key to your hunting fortune. You will, therefore, need to take some time to pattern your shotgun or spend some time at the archery range.
Turkey Hunting Gear
Now that the turkey has one of the acutest vision, you will need to work on concealing yourself. That is where the turkey hunting camo comes in. Your camouflage needs to cover not only your body but also your hands and your face. Mossy Oak is an excellent camo option. Their Mossy Oak Obsession pattern is particularly suited for hunting turkey in spring due to the perfect blending into the greenery.
A turkey hunting vest is another hunting gear that you may need to have. It contains a unique set of pocket compartments to enable the carrying of everything you will need for the hunt and the turkey you catch. Some of them like the ALPS OutdoorZ Grand Slam have an integrated foldaway seat that is thickly padded. It allows you to comfortably sit in position as you wait for the turkey to get in range and then shoot.
Where to Aim When Hunting for Turkey
The right shot placement means everything when it comes to turkey, which is a small target in itself. The head presents you with an opportunity for the perfect kill shot. Although it is an even smaller target, you are assured that it will drop on the spot.
Another option is to go for the neck area. It assures you considerable success even though it is harder to hit. You can also aim at the broadside for the heart and lungs. These vital organs lie in the anterior part with the lungs at the upper region and the heart in its lower part. Chances of dropping the turkey are, however, lower than when you aim for the head and neck.
Turkey Hunting Methods
One of the most popular methods you can use is still hunting. It involves stealth movement through turkey habitats until you can spot the target. Never approach the birds when it is within 100 yards because they will most likely detect your movement. Once you find them, get a comfortable position, and attract the birds to you. You can take your shot once they come within 45 yards. This method is quite useful when it comes to turkey hunting in the rain as the other methods may not be possible.
The most efficient method you can use is calling the turkey to your position. Turkey calls are an easy way to bring the birds into shooting range. Effective use of this method requires an understanding of the sounds made by turkeys.
You will be surprised to know that wild turkey does have a complex vocabulary that has as many as 30 different sounds. Don’t worry about the large number; you only need to know a couple of them. The three most common turkey sounds which you can also use to attract toms to your position are:
A gobble is a loud, rapid gurgling sound that a male turkey makes primarily during the mating season to alert the female turkeys of their presence in the area. You can make the sound that will attract a group of turkeys to your position. You may need to be cautious because the sound may attract other hunters to your location or even a dominate tom to come for a fight. It could also scare off the less dominant toms.
This sound is usually one or more short staccato notes. The turkeys use it in communicating with each other. When you use it as a hunter, it will reassure the tom that a female turkey is there waiting. Meanwhile, you can get your gun or bow ready.
The hens make this basic turkey sound both in the mating season and for other communication purposes during different seasons. It is a single note vocalization. You can use it to call turkeys to your hunting spot.
As a beginner, you may be wondering how to make the sounds. Luckily, there are many devices you can choose from that will allow you to call the turkey easily. They include:
As a beginner in turkey hunting, the box call is your best option. You can listen to various recordings of turkey calls to find out how you need to sound. Many hunting videos on YouTube will teach you how to use the box calls.
Use of Ground Blinds
You can also opt for turkey hunting blinds. They are a great way to conceal your position and will allow you to shoot at close range. You will need to get to your blind early enough, for instance, before sunrise in case you intend to hunt in the first hour of turkey hunting. Once in your position, you can lay in wait for the birds. You can combine this method with calling for the best results.
Turkey Hunting Decoys
Attracting the birds to your hunting spot can be done by decoys. Although you can hunt without decoys, your success tremendously increases when you use them. Early in the season, use a hen decoy standing next to a jake or even a tom. It creates enough jealousy that will bring the male turkey in shooting range. Later on, simply use a hen decoy because the toms will be tired of fighting for a right mate.
You can invest in a sound feather system like Turkey Skinz for your decoy, which will make it look more real. It is, however, optional as the plain decoy works just fine.
Where to Hunt Turkey
With turkey being the second most popular game animal in the country, you will find them in most places. They are available in almost every state, and finding a hunting area near you isn’t that difficult. You can find them on both private land and public land.
Private Land Turkey Hunting
Hunting on private land requires that you have permission from the landowner. You can also join or start a hunting lease if you have the ability. Turkey hunting on private property may, however, be challenging in case the landowner asks you to pay a fee before they allow you to hunt. Most farmers, however, will gladly let you hunt in their property.
Public Land Turkey Hunting
Public land, on the other hand, gives the freedom to experience hunting in its pure form. You get to enjoy the thrill and adrenaline rush of hunting in the wild, which can be a good break from working in an office. There are millions of acres of public land across the country where you can hunt turkey. You can find out which public lands are available in your state for turkey hunting from the website or local offices of your state’s department of wildlife.
Currently, you can use mobile and computer applications to find public lands for hunting near you. These apps include onX Hunt and Powderhook. Once you find public land, you may need to confirm with the department’s local office to ensure you comply with all the regulations in place.
Places where you are most likely to come across turkey include:
- Riparian zones- rivers and streams
- Oaks and grasslands
- Wildlife openings- meadows, forest clearings, pastures
- Pine savannahs
- Choosing a Good Hunting Spot
Given that Turkey is smart and tricky to hunt, choosing an excellent hunting spot makes all the difference. You can easily find the best places to hunt turkey from the local department of wildlife or natural resources, employees of sporting goods stores, hunt club members and are biologists. Once you know where to go, you can scout the area for the perfect hunting spot. Check out high points, ridges, dry creeks, powerlines, and river bottoms while listening for gobbling. At this point, you can also use a turkey caller.
Look out for turkey signs, for instance, feathers, turkey droppings, scratch marks in the dirt, and gobbling. Once you find where these birds are present, you can set up.
When to Hunt Turkey
Unlike hog hunting, you cannot hunt turkey all year round. There are two specific turkey hunting seasons that you are allowed to hunt turkey. The dates and bag limits for these turkey hunting seasons vary from state to state, and therefore you will need to find out their timing from the official website of the wildlife department in your state. One sure sign to know that the hunting season is around the corner is when turkey hunting memes start becoming popular.
Spring Turkey Hunting Season
All states that allow turkey hunting have a spring turkey hunting season. It ranges between early March and early May, with dates varying between states. For instance, the Alabama turkey season was recently concluded. The spring season is best for turkey hunting because it is their mating season. It thus gives you an advantage as the gobblers will be actively seeking out mates.
Fall Turkey Hunting Season
The fall turkey hunting season was the primary hunting season before the population of Turkey declined. Once the spring hunting season was introduced, this season became less pursued. It was, however, reintroduced after the turkey population increased and stabilized. Currently, 44 states have the fall turkey hunting season. It falls between November and January in most states.
Now you realize just how easy turkey hunting can be once you have the right information. You are now ready to head out and hunt safely and successfully. Remember to ensure you comply with the regulations in place while hunting. Finding a mentor can also help lessen the learning curve. Enjoy your turkey hunting!
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36 years old, been hunting and fishing my entire life – love the outdoors, family, and all kinds of hunting and fishing! I have spent thousands of hours hunting hogs and training hunting dogs, but I’m always learning new stuff and really happy to be sharing them with you! hit me up with an email in the contact form if you have any questions.