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.