But even if it had never ﬂirted with a highfalutin yet largely ceremonial government title, the wild turkey would remain unique among game birds. We don’t hunt any other feathered creature the way we hunt turkeys, with the basic premise being sitting and attempting to call them into shotgun range. Their habits and wariness, coupled with ultra-keen eyesight and hearing create a need for the use of hunting tactics and equipment that we apply to no other type or breed of fowl. Herewith are some strategies and gobblerappropriate gear for you to consider for your next feathered frenzy.
CALLING TURKEYS HAS BECOME the most overrated, mystifying, and downright lied about phase of turkey hunting. Some supposed experts claim that calling comprises only about 30 percent of what is needed to seal the deal with a gobbler, maybe less. I could argue with that ﬁgure, but if you are a beginner, you will need to ﬁnd a call that you are comfortable with. I would go with a box call or a slate friction-type call. Learn to make the simple yelp of a hen turkey and maybe the cluck to begin with, and that will give you a strong start.
Don’t worry about doing 14 different calls like the guys on TV. If a turkey is ready to be called in, sometimes a couple yelps and a cluck or two is all that is necessary. Let the guys at the calling contests do all the fancy stuff; you are out in the woods to shoot turkeys. Give the gobbler just enough to keep him interested. If he is coming toward you, quit calling. Less is sometimes better than more.
Whether you call more or less, you still need a call. And, friends, there are a lot of turkey calls out there. There are many good ones that will call turkeys most days. Prices run from really cheap to what you might shell out on the down payment of a nice truck. HS Strut offers several moderately priced box calls that work; they sound like a turkey. What I like about the Undertaker box call is it features an abrasive, waterproof surface on the paddle and the striking surfaces of the call. If you have ever been aﬁeld and have your favorite box call get soaked and rendered useless, you know what a great feature this is. MSRP is $39.99. The new Triple Trauma box call has an adjustable lid that allows you to change the tone of the call and mimic three different hens. MSRP is $29.99, and you can contact them via their website (hunterspec.com).
Finally, the new Hensanity call from Primos offers a couple new twists to a tried-and-true form of turkey call. (Editor’s note: This was featured in last month’s News column.) The body of the call or “pot” has four sound ports that you control with your hand and allows you to make a wide array of variations in your calling. The frictionite surface means you don’t have to worry about losing your sandpaper to rough up the call. MSRP is $29.99, and you can ﬁnd more information from Primos (primos.com).
WHEN TURKEYS HAVE SEEMINGLY quit talking (they will do this often during any given season), sometimes the best thing to do is to get really aggressive. Cinch up your boots, call like you mean it, and cover as much real estate as possible. Go to your listening place and use your locator crow or owl call; if you hear nothing, try the turkey calls. Get assertive with a lot of loud calling, cuts and cackles. If no gobbler responds, move on to the next spot. One down side of this method, of course, is sometimes the gobbler shows up for a date after you leave. You can deal with it; if you hear him gobble at your last stop, get back over there.
The opposite of the marathon runner with a shotgun technique is to simply wait them out. If you know the place you are hunting well and you know the turkeys are there, maybe you just want to sit tight. Find a good spot to call from and set up camp. Get comfortable, call every 15 or 20 minutes, and by all means take a nap if you want to. A word of caution on the nap thing: You need to be ready for the dreaded “come in silent” gobbler. These are the turkeys that never say a word, slip in on you and don’t gobble. And a turkey with these antisocial tendencies needs to be taken out of the gene pool.
But no matter if you run and gun or sit on your hindquarters all day, you still need durable camouﬂage clothing that is functional for turkey hunting. Nomad performance hunting apparel has partnered with the National Wild Turkey Federation to create a line of premium performance fabrics that feature the NWTF logo and the new NWTF Mossy Oak Obsession camouﬂage pattern. A collection featuring the Bottomland pattern (one of my favorites) is also available. A portion of all proﬁts from this line will go to the NWTF for conservation-based projects.
Although I have hunted spring gobblers in the snow (notice that I didn’t say I liked it), most spring hunts are in warmer weather. The Nomad/NWTF collection should have you covered from early to late season. Their woven long-sleeve shirt and pant features rugged, lightweight Rip-Stop Technology with secured cargo pockets – designed speciﬁcally for the turkey woods. For warm-weather hunts, the company offers a quarter-zip and cooling T-shirt option built from breathable materials that feature vented back/underarms and offers moisture transport. To round out the collection, Nomad also offers hats, gaiters and gloves. Their website is nomad.com.
EXPERIENCED TURKEY HUNTERS KNOW that the last several yards of a turkey’s approach toward you are the most critical. Make a mistake after he crosses the 50-yard line and you will not be partaking of fried turkey breast. The key here is just to be ready. Sit at the base of the largest tree you can ﬁnd and face the direction the gobbler will approach from. If you are a right-handed shooter, point your left shoulder at the place you think he will appear; do the opposite if you are a lefty. This allows you to swing the gun in order to cover as much area as possible. As you sit with your knees up, the shotgun is on one knee. Get as comfortable as you can, because you’ll need to be able to sit like this for some time.
When the gobbler comes into view, you cannot move. Let me repeat that sentence and add an exclamation point for emphasis: You cannot move!
As the moment of truth draws near, you may need to make a very slight adjustment in aiming at the turkey. This is accomplished by carefully watching the bird and waiting until his head goes behind something big, usually a tree (and the tree has to be pretty large for this to work). Keep in mind the turkey must be within a few feet of this tree if you are to go undetected. Remember the old turkey hunter adage: “A turkey can see through a thin rock.”
Ask any experienced turkey hunter; the scenario of sitting at the base of a tree while the gobbler approaches can be torture. The gobbler may take his own sweet time in getting to you, longer if you’re sitting on a rock, tree root or other sharp object, all while you are trying to hold the shotgun on your knee without moving! (Did I mention you cannot move?) Through the years, I have sat and watched the barrel of more than one companion’s gun start to wobble in increasingly larger circles. Turkey shotguns can be heavy, and so something to help relieve the weight of that gun may be in order. The Primos Trigger Stick Gen 3 series can really help with this.
The best feature of this product to me is it will adjust to the desired height with one hand. Simply grab the “trigger” and boom, it’s right where you need it to be. The Gen 3 series has added improved features such as locking leg angles to provide more stability, and the gun rest rotates so you can easily adjust your aim. These sticks come in monopod, bipod and tripod models, and in short and tall lengths.
ONCE TURKEY DECOYS FINALLY MADE their debut, I began to see some hunters get away with movement near an approaching gobbler that would previously have been impossible. The reason is simple. The turkey has his eyes on the decoy and is less likely to see the hunter. However, until recently, I’ve been discouraged from carrying decoys because they are too bulky and heavy, and some early versions of light, packable decoys were often lacking in the appearance department, resembling a mutant ostrich as much as anything else.
But I’m beginning to change my opinion on that, because HS Strut’s new Strut Lite decoys look and feel great. They have a ﬂake-resistant paint job and have a foldable, hollow body construction for easy storage in your vest. They are available in a three-pack with a semistrutting jake, a feeding hen and a breeding hen, and individually. MSRP for the ﬂock is $99.99; singles range from $34.99 to $44.99. See hunterspec.com.
ALTHOUGH SOME STATES ALLOW RIFLES for taking turkeys, it is generally thought of as a shotgun sport. The choices for turkey shotguns out there are wide and varied, and choosing just one or two shotguns to discuss with you here is not easy. I’ve gone back to my roots a bit with the choice of two pump guns, but I may have balanced that out with decidedly new and improved ammo.
With more than 12 million models sold since it appeared in 1951, what can you say about the Remington 870 that has not already been said? I will stick my neck out (pun intended) and say more turkeys have been shot with a Remington 870 than any other shotgun. It has the rock-solid dependability and functionality that turkey and waterfowl hunters demand, and I’m sure that many of you out there are still hunting with your dad’s or granddad’s 870 Wingmaster. I am not sure I can even count the number of variations of the 870, but the Super Magnum Turkey/ Waterfowl model will do most anything you need a shotgun for. The “Super” in the name designates it will handle 2¾- to 3½-inch shells for those days when you want a little extra punch for turkeys, or Canada geese. Another good reason to choose this one is because it comes in Mossy Oak Bottomland. MSRP for this model is $629.00.
If for some reason you’d like another brand or ﬂavor of pump gun, the 612 Magnum Turkey from CZ-USA may be the one for you. And, although this smoothbore was designed for turkey hunting, you won’t have any trouble taking it to the duck blind or pheasant ﬁelds. It weighs in at an amazing 6.8 pounds, a big bonus that you are going to appreciate if you need to lug it though the turkey woods. The 612 Magnum Turkey is hydrodipped in Realtree Xtra Green, shoots everything up to 3½-inch ammo and comes with an extra-full choke for turkeys and a modiﬁed for upland game and steel shot. This pump gun has an action reminiscent of the Model 12, and with an MSRP of $429 it is hard to beat.
As with the countless calls, there are various and sundry shotgun shells out there for turkeys these days. Winchester seems to be ruling the roost in this area with their Long Beard XR ammo. The boys at Winchester made shot shell history when they perfected the Shot-Lok technology, which allowed them to load shot in a liqueﬁed resin. This resin hardens, and upon ignition in the chamber of the shotgun it shatters and produces a super-effective buffering compound. All of this translates into the tight downrange patterns today’s turkey hunters want. New this year will be 20-gauge rounds in the Long Beard XR line, so stay tuned for news about this. MSRP is $18.99 for a box of 10 3-inch shells for 12-gauge shotguns, and $22.99 for 3½-inch shells.
FINALLY, AND FOR BETTER OR worse, turkey hunting has become a game of tightshooting shotguns, and to many turkey hunters the tighter the better. Today’s gobbler hunters want effective killing patterns on turkeys at 50 yards and beyond. George Trulock in Whigham, Ga., has been making choke tubes for many years and he is good at it. Mr. Trulock has forgotten more about choke tubes on shotguns than most of us will ever know. Currently TruLock Chokes (trulockchokes.com) has an inventory of over 2,000 choke tubes in stock, so take your pic. Trulock went so far as to not only make a choke tube speciﬁcally to be used with the Winchester Long Beard XR ammo, but he is making choke tubes speciﬁc to the shot size you want to use. He’s said, “If you shoot different shot sizes through the same choke, you could see a big difference in the pattern for each size. That’s why we decided to make each choke model speciﬁc to the Longbeard XR No. 4, 5 and 6 shot, and to tell you the truth, the results were quite impressive.”
PERSONALLY, I’M VERY THANKFUL that Mr. Franklin lost out on his bid to make the wild turkey our national bird. I would hate to think about the redbuds blooming and all of those old gobblers ﬁlling the spring air with their racket and we couldn’t be out there pursuing them. Not only do we get to match wits with this most American of birds, but we also get to justify the purchase of some really cool guns and gear. I love turkey hunting. Don’t you? ASJ
There are many turkey choke tubes on the market, and folks often ask me which one is best. I always tell them to pick a choke designed for your gun and the load you plan to shoot. But whatever you do, choose something, because you shouldn’t head into the woods without a turkey choke. Trust me, you are not doing yourself any favors by not having one.
Choke tubes come in four standard sizes, commonly known as cylinder choke (C), improved cylinder choke (IC), modiﬁed choke (M), and full choke (F). Essentially, turkey chokes are extra full. Once upon a time, the standard for shotgun patterns was the 30-inch circle and what percentage of the pellets in a shotgun shell was delivered inside that area. The idea was to have an evenly distributed pattern inside the circle, but modern turkey hunters want something tighter than that.
TURKEY CHOKES ARE DESIGNED speciﬁcally to keep your pattern tight at various distances. Turkey shells have more of a powder charge than a typical shotgun load, and this is where this distinctive choke will pay dividends. The general rule of thumb is that it takes three pellets to break a clay target and six pellets to take down a small game bird.
Of course, as the size of the game bird increases, so does the number of pellets that are needed for a successful shot. In other words, it takes more pellets to kill a turkey than it does to bag a quail! Shot size is also important, as a larger shot will be needed to take down a turkey. In order to choose your chokes, you want to predict how far away your shot is going to be.
Hunters go after spring turkeys using a variety of methods; so one load won’t be perfect for everybody. But everyone can pick the perfect load to match his or her style of hunting. First, determine which size shot you like best – 2¾-, 3- or 3½-inch shells loaded with size 3, 4, 5 or 6 shot? Again, you need to shoot several through your gun and see which one patterns best on paper. There are even pelleted blends with specially designed wads for greater distance. Last year I hunted with Federal 3rd Degree Turkey Loads, copper-plated lead pellets in size 4, 5 and 6 shot. I was impressed with the effectiveness through my gun prior to season, especially at intermediate ranges.
There are old ﬁxed-choke guns that will shoot certain loads better regardless of other factors. I like to start out with standard No. 6s and see what the pattern looks like before trying something different. My father has an old Remington 870 ﬁxed full choke, and he seems to shoot size 6 loads through it best. Newer 20-gauge shotguns will shoot size 7s at 1,100 feet per second, and these are great for a young hunter or beginning sportsmen or -women.
FOR HUNTERS ON THE MOVE, lighter guns with good loads chambered in 3- and 3½-inch size 4 or 5 shot with velocity over 1,100 fps are more desirable. Regardless, a hunter needs to practice with several loads and determine which one works best. I like to ﬁnd at least two that pattern well, choose one that I prefer and have another on standby. Why have two, you may ask? Well, I have found that not all loads are readily available especially during season, so this way I don’t ﬁnd myself running out of shells halfway through the month of May and have to scramble to ﬁnd another type that I’m comfortable with. Does that sound like planning ahead? It sure does.
The bottom line is, you want the largest possible percentage of pellets in the vitals as possible. Pattern your gun according to the type of terrain you’ve chosen to hunt. For example, if you are hunting thick brushy country, make sure to pattern for 30 yards or less, and in a more open environment pattern out to 40 yards. Counting your pellets at each range and ﬁguring out your kill percentage provides valuable information.
You will be very surprised at the different performance of various loads at the similar ranges. The ideal pattern for a turkey gun is 100 pellets within a 10-inch circle at 40 yards. Achieving this density essentially means that there should be a large enough percentage of pellets in the vitals to ethically harvest your turkey.
WHEN PATTERNING YOUR GUN, remember to always shoot from a stable rest,
bench or sled. I like to use my Bullseye camera system (bullseyecamera.com) or other digital range ﬁnder to help simplify the process. This also helps save time running up and down range and changing targets. No matter what shot size you choose, the pattern should equate to 25 to 35 percent (on average) of pellets in the vitals or 10-inch diameter. Density is the key ingredient in determining which load you prefer and works best.
You can make your own targets out of butcher paper or print out your own. Several outdoor companies sell high-quality shoot-n-see style targets that can be found at Cabela’s, Gander Mountain and other sporting goods retailers. A general rule and helpful reminder is that most turkey guns are patterned for 40 yards or less, since this distance is universally considered “ethical” to shoot and harvest a bird.
But spring is nearly upon us, so now is the time to quit reading about turkeys and get out there to burn some powder in preparation for a great season. ASJ