One of the true delights of spring is a brined and seasoned wild turkey breast slow smoking on your barbecue pit — maybe right next to a wild hog ham. Everybody has their own recipes and processes for cooking wild turkey, but everybody also knows the real trick is to acquire the turkey in the first place!

That’s probably why so much has been written about hunting turkeys in the spring. We didn’t really think we could improve on what has been written in general — you know, up against the National Wild Turkey Federation — but we did want to share some of the more unique tips for when turkeys don’t behave like normal. And, being “normal” is something wild turkeys are known for avoiding. As an education and safety organization, we also want to share the most important ways to stay safe in the spring woods.

 

Make your decoy move

Many hunters carry turkey decoys in the field now. The use of hen decoys, strutting gobbler decoys, and jake decoys to draw in gobblers has been perfected over decades. But, the one thing necessary for any decoy to work is that it must be seen.

Duck hunters know that motion attracts ducks to decoys from much farther away, so before there were even spinning-wing dekes, hunters would put a jerk string on their decoys or throw rocks to cause waves that made the dekes move. Turkeys have amazing eye site, but even they could miss a motionless decoy in tall grass — or up against a wooded background where turkey feathers are camouflage. Therefore, some manufacturers are making decoys that move a little. A simple jerk string can work with turkey decoys as well. Don’t make it move too much, though, and make sure your own movements are tiny and undetectable.

Watch ‘How to Hunt with Ground Blinds’

 

Hunt turkeys like you hunt deer

Turkeys are big, messy birds. They poop. They shed feathers. And turkeys have habits. They will roost in the same trees from season to season if undisturbed. They follow trails to food and water. If you’ve tried calling and just can’t get the hang of it, you can be successful during a spring turkey hunt by patterning birds and setting up to ambush them.

If you watched turkeys do something during deer season, do a little scouting to see if the pattern is holding this spring before the season opens. With the raging hormones of breeding season, though, it might not be easy. With careful scouting, you may be able to determine new patterns for hens, and toms will follow the hens. If they visit a watering hole at about the same time each day, find a good tree or bush you can back into. Because turkeys have no real sense of smell, you don’t have to worry about the prevailing breeze. Or, find a turkey roost and sit out a couple of evenings and mornings to see how they approach and leave the trees. You can be in the right spot early or late on opening day. Follow the feathers and droppings along turkey trails — be careful not to bump birds — and see if you can find a dust bath or feeding area. Turkey patterns may not be as predictable as some deer, but if you know food, rest, and water sources — and you spend enough time in the woods — you can have a reasonable chance of success without being a champion caller.

 

Add a dose of reality to morning calls

Have you ever heard a turkey come down off a roost? Let’s just say it will wake you up pretty quick when you’ve dozed off in a deer blind! Big turkeys have big wings that are noisy when they beat against their sides and knock against branches and vines as they come down from a tree. If you’ve tried fly-down calls without coaxing a bird in, the next morning take off your cap or hat and slap it against your thigh and nearby branches while you call. Follow that up with some cuts and purrs, like hens trying to find each other in the morning, and you should be in business.

Give those three tactics a try this spring and see if you want to keep them in your repertoire for coming years. There are plenty of other strange decoy tactics and different, but less weird, tactical variations that might help out.

 

Turkey hunting safety tips

Turkey hunting would seem pretty safe at first glance because shotguns are short-range firearms, but to the contrary, accidents happen all too frequently. We’ve compiled two safety lists — one for every hunting situation and one specifically for public land.

Turkey hunting safety everywhere

  • Be careful hunting with decoys — if they look real to turkeys, they’ll look real to humans and other predators.
  • Make sure you can see clearly for 50-70 yards to see where you will shoot.
  • You need to see past where you will shoot, and you need to see behind you, where a predator or another hunter might think you’re a turkey.
  • Cover your back with a tree or barrier  to break up your outline so a turkey is less likely to see you. And, if a predator or hunter mistakes your call for a turkey and is moving in you’ll have a better vantage point.
  • Don’t chamber a shell until you’re set up and ready to call or wait.
  • Keep your muzzle pointed in a safe direction in front of you with your finger off the trigger.
  • If you have a partner calling for you, keep him or her behind you (it’s safer and better to keep the birds from focusing on you).
  • Never spot and stalk a gobbler— it might be another hunter calling.
  • Never shoot at sound or movement — wait until you can identify the particular bird you want to shoot.
  • Never drink alcohol while hunting.

Turkey hunting on public land

  • Make human noises, and/or use a flashlight while moving.
  • Assume that there are other hunters in the area.
  • Call out to any hunter you see so that they know you’re there — it’s better to mess up their hunting than to have an accident.
  • Realize that other hunters may come to your gobble, but are less likely to come to hen sounds like clucks, cuts, and purrs.
  • Carry out any turkey you harvest in a turkey bag.
  • Avoid sudden movements that might cause another hunter to aim or even fire in your direction.

Want to share your tips? Leave us a comment. We’d like to hear what turkey hunting techniques have been helpful to you.

Most hunters start out by hunting small game like squirrels and rabbits or birds like doves or quail. And, as they prove to their fathers or mentors that they are qualified and trustworthy enough, they graduate to bigger game like white-tailed deer, wild pigs and even black bear. Most hunters never get tired of hunting any game animals, partially because they’re all delicious, but mostly because the experience of being in the field or woods never gets old.

However, if you read enough hunting magazines and books or watch outdoor television, eventually you’ll want to try something new. Maybe you’ll head to Canada for caribou or even take a trip to Africa for kudu and gemsbok. But those kinds of hunts can get pretty expensive. Even going after big game, especially elk, mountain goats or big-horned sheep, here in the U.S. can be expensive.

So, we thought we would take a look at five animals here in the U.S. that don’t cost an arm and a leg to hunt, but they do offer unique and interesting opportunities to extend your hunting.

 

1. AlligatorAlligator

Less than 50 years ago, the American alligator was on the endangered species list. But, by 1987 it had fully recovered, and now there are millions of alligators across the southeastern U.S. Best of all, you can hunt them in many states. Not only do you get great trophies from the skin and skulls, but alligator meat is also delicious fried or in a number of Cajun dishes. Alligator hunting is becoming popular, with many state records taken this year alone. Depending on state regulations, you can hunt alligators with rifles, bow and arrow, or even with fishing tackle! State hunting tags are generally inexpensive, and guided hunts cost a couple of thousand dollars or less most of the time.

 

2. JavelinaJavelina

Everybody who has ever seen a javelina immediately thinks “wild pig.” The javelina is also known as the “collared peccary,” and it and other members of the peccary family may be kissing cousins to the pig family, but they aren’t pigs. Big javelinas will weigh about 50-60 pounds, but they have a set of four canine teeth that grow long and sharp. Packs of javelina have been known to chase hunters, and they can slice up dogs badly with their sharp teeth. A shoulder mount or skull mount is a fine trophy, and their pelts make attractive little rugs. They can be found in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, as well as throughout Mexico and Central America. Hunting tags are free or cheap depending on the state, and even guided hunts or hunts on private land only run a few hundred dollars per day.

 

3. Chachalaca

No, no, we’re not talking about any of the boom shaka-laka songs! We’re talking about an actual game bird that hardly anybody knows about, the chachalaca. To hunt them, you’ll have to travel to one of four South Texas counties. But, once you get there, you’ll be able to hunt on public land. Though not as plentiful as mourning doves in their habitat, with feathers that make good camouflage, chachalaca are not hard to find, for one reason: They’re loud! Chachalacas don’t have pretty feathers to match pheasants or turkeys, but you’ll be hunting them to say you did — and of course because they’re delicious. Some people say they taste like…chicken.

 

4. PigeonsBand Tailed Pigeon

We’ve seen so many pictures of thousands of pigeons in city squares that some people have started calling pigeons “flying rats.” But pigeons, or “rock doves,” have been prized game birds for hundreds of years around the world. Although they don’t get a lot of press, hunters in California, Texas, Idaho, and around the U.S. find pigeon hunting fun and challenging. You can hunt pigeons any time of the year, and there are no bag limits because they are an “introduced species,” meaning they are not native to North America. Mourning doves are known for being delicious, and their cousin the pigeon is great table fare also — and much larger. While shotgun hunting around grain fields or feedlots is the normal method, some hunters use a high-powered air rifle to keep sharp for big game hunting season.

 

5. PorcupinePorcupine

Yes, those waddling, pokey porcupines are supposed to be really good eating. Don’t believe it? See for yourself. Finding a porcupine to harvest is the hard part because they stay hidden in the trees. Shooting one is the easy part, because they’re slow and unless they’re near a burrow they can’t really escape. Porcupines range over the entire western portion of the U.S. and as far south as Texas. As everyone knows, porcupines can fight back, so use a heavy pair of leather gloves when you’re skinning one. While not a traditional trophy, porcupine quills can also be used for a number of craft projects. The skulls look nice, too, and would be a challenge for guests to identify … say next to your beaver skull.

 What non-traditional game do you enjoy hunting? If you think it deserves a spot on this list, leave your suggestion in a comment. Regardless of the game you’re hunting, always be prepared to go on the defense and protect yourself. Read: When Animals Turn the Tables and Attack Hunters.