6 Tips to Get You Turkey-Ready This Spring
April 04, 2017
Wild Turkey Hunting: No matter where you're looking to hunt turkeys throughout the West this spring, now is the time to get ready.
Sitting still as a statue against a big fir tree, my heart crept into my throat with each gobble the approaching tom let out. Anticipation mounted, as all my hard work was seemingly about to pay off.
When the red, white and blue head materialized through the tree-studded hillside, I was quickly reminded what makes turkey hunting so special. Once the strutting tom spied my decoy, he stacked his feathers, put his head down and came in on a trot. At 23 yards, the shot was simple, and within the first few minutes of opening day, my turkey tag was filled.
When I texted my buddy a photo of the bird, he replied, "That was fast!" True, the hunt was fast that morning, but the real hunt for that bird was far from fast. My tag was filled thanks to nearly two months of dedicated work, pre-season scouting, glassing and reading sign. The fact that it all came together so quickly was the result of all the pieces of the turkey-hunting puzzle coming together perfectly.
No matter where you're looking to hunt turkeys throughout the West this spring, now is the time to get turkey ready.
BREAK OUT THE GLASS
Turkey hunting is much different in the Western states than east of the Rockies. Approach your turkey hunting like you do big game and you'll be surprised what you'll learn and how many tags you'll consistently fill.
Whether glassing from high points or low, binoculars and a spotting scope will save valuable time. Not only are quality optics a great way to study the lay of the land and learn about roosting sites, strutting grounds, nesting habitats and more, they're also ideal for evaluating the size of a tom.
Having hunted turkeys throughout the West for over 25 years, I believe in investing in the highest quality glass you can afford. I love my Swarovski 10x42 EL Range binoculars, not only due to their full-view of clarity, but also because of the built-in rangefinder. I love bowhunting turkeys, and knowing precise yardage is critical for connecting on the small vitals.
As for a spotting scope, I'll use it during preseason scouting missions and throughout the season. Out West it's nothing to get toms gobbling over a mile away on distant ridges. A high-powered spotting scope will allow you to make a game plan by studying the land and also evaluate the size of the tom to see if he's worth going after. It will also reveal how many hens and jakes may be tucked into nearby brush, something that can blow a stalk and setup fast. For my spotting scope I have three objective lenses, a 65mm, 85mm and 95mm module. In rugged country where hiking long distances, the 65mm module is my choice. If scouting by vehicle, the 85mm or 95mm module reveals great detail. Mounted on a lightweight, carbon-fiber tripod with padded legs, this setup allows me to comfortably carry and glass with it all day.
When you're set up and calling, the hands and face of a turkey hunter are the most visible parts and move the most. A turkey's vision has been reported to be equal to our looking through a set of 8X or 10X binoculars. In order to avoid spooking turkeys, we must cover up our hands, face and all body parts.
A guide buddy says his most valuable piece of gear in his turkey vest is an extra set of gloves. He reasons that clients often forget them, and he sometimes loses them.
A facemask is also a valued piece of gear. There are several masks that fit under your cap or over your face, but I prefer one that's built in to my hat, specifically, those made by QuikCamo. These offer quality construction and great 3D camo options, and you never lose the mask, because it's sewn into the hat.
Before heading afield, shoot your gun or bow with both gloves and mask on. This will allow you to see how they feel and perform before the hunt.
TRAIL CAMERA WORK
Trail cameras have been instrumental in helping me fill turkey tags over the years. When trail cameras are set out early enough in the year, birds can be tracked as their winter flocks break up. You'll also learn where hens go, what routes they routinely travel and what toms are following them.
Trail cameras not only reveal the number and size of toms in an area, but also what predators are around. Predators can drive hens from an area, and where the hens go this time of year, the toms follow.
In order to optimize field of view, be sure to place trail cameras so they're shooting up or down a trail, not straight into it at 90 degrees. I like hanging cameras 5 to 6 feet up a tree, angled slightly downward, so they get a commanding view of birds moving in the distance. You'll be amazed how many birds move along trails, not actually on them, which is why covering ground with a camera is key.
NO MORE BUGS
Spring means mosquitos, and the best tool I've found for helping me stay in the turkey woods longer is the ThermaCELL bug repellent unit. Often hunters are caught calling turkeys in creek bottoms and wet meadows, where mosquitos thrive.
I place my ThermaCELL unit in a holster, which has a clip. The clip can then be attached to my vest, a nearby tree branch or to the inside of a ground blind, or even set on the ground. The unit runs on butane and silently burns a patch that creates a natural smell, which deters mosquitos, no-see-ums and white socks. I've used them all over the country and won't go turkey hunting without one.
SIGHT IN YOUR GUN
Few things have impacted turkey hunting like the advancement in shotguns. Specialized guns, high-tech loads and XX full chokes have revolutionized turkey hunting, and hunters need to be aware of what this means.
Patterning your gun on a target is the best way to learn how your gun shoots and what loads work best. To do this, shoot off a solid bench, ideally in a recoil-reducing device like the Caldwell Lead Sled. This will steady the aim, take away recoil and yield accurate results.
Begin by shooting at a target 30 yards out and make any adjustments so the center of the pattern hits the middle of the target. Once dialed-in to 30 yards, shoot it at 40 and 50 yards. Finally, shoot targets at 20, 10 and even 5 yards away, to see just how tight the pattern is. There are a lot of turkeys killed at 50 yards with today's turkey guns, but a lot missed inside 10 yards due to pattern density.
A good turkey load generally places 100 pellets inside a 10-inch circle at 40 yards. Get a gun that does that and you're on the way to hitting the small kill zone of a turkey's head and neck.
PRACTICE THE SOUNDS
One thing I've learned from turkeys is they can be picky, so the greater the variety of calls you have in the vest, the greater the chance of calling in a tom. To maximize the sounds a turkey hunter can deliver, utilize multiple calls.
The box call could be the most popular turkey call available. Whatever box calls you choose, make sure they are freshly chalked, or treated, in order to produce the most authentic sounds possible. Personally, I carry two box calls — an all-weather one and one that's extra loud — in order to produce a range of yelps, clucks, purrs and more.
Also in my vest are four pot calls, each with different surfaces, and more than a dozen strikers. Since each striker makes a different sound on each pot, I quickly have access to dozens of unique sounds. Don't forget abrasive paper to condition pots and striker tips.
I also carry a dozen or more diaphragm calls of different makes and designs, and a push-button call and gobbler call. The purpose is to be able to offer a finicky tom a range of sounds until I find one he likes and will come in to.
Locator calls are a big help, too, and for this I carry two crow calls — one of which is very loud — plus an owl call, a peacock call and a coyote howler. The purpose of these calls is to make a quick, loud sound and get a reaction gobble from a tom, called a shock gobble. Once his whereabouts is pinpointed, figure out how to get close and where to setup and call.
When you get a new call, practice. Find the sweet spot, know how to manipulate it in your hands with minimal movement, and go afield with confidence. The hunt is no place to learn how to call; that should be done before the start of the season.
This spring, invest in any gear that's going to give you confidence. If you hate mosquitos, get a bug repellent unit. If you don't like your big 12 gauge because it kicks too much, try a 20 gauge. If you want to expand your calling repertoire, pick up a range of calls and practice.
Once the season gets here, all you want to do is hunt, not scout and guess where turkeys are. To fill tags out West you have to be ready — turkey ready — and that starts now.
EDITOR'S NOTE: For signed copies of Scott Haugen's popular book "Western Turkey Hunting: Strategies For All Levels," send a check for $20.00 (free S&H) to Haugen Enterprises, P.O. Box 275, Walterville, OR 97489, or visit www.scotthaugen.com. The 208-page book contains over 270 color photos and is the most comprehensive title of its kind.
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