Usually my spring turkey hunt begins in the woods just before dawn. I’ll stand still while hearing and watching nature wake. Songbirds begin to chirp, squirrels chatter, and a barred owl may belt out its “who cooks for you, who cooks for you tonight” hoot.
If I am fortunate, a tom turkey still roosting on a tree branch thunders a reflexive gobble to the owl’s call. Every sensory organ in my body goes on full alert, as I try to home in on the location of the tom. When I do, as quietly possible, I sneak toward the gobbling, hoping to get within 100 yards of the roost tree without alerting the tom.
I sit against a tree and wait a few minutes before emitting a soft yelp with a man-made call. As the forest begins to define itself in the rising sun’s light, I might beat my cap against my thigh to imitate the wing-flapping fly down of the hen I’ve pretended to be. Soon, the tom might fly down, too, and if luck is with me, the gobbler might amble toward me, seeking the romance my ruse has promised.
Finally—if all goes right–I spot a giant tom. His fanned-out tail feathers show off his beauty. The waddles on his neck have turned fire-engine red from the blood that’s pumping through his excited body. Then he gobbles, which reverberates through my chest as well as in my ears. He is slowly edging toward where he thinks the hen I’ve imitated is waiting. I needn’t call now. His incredible hearing has told him where to go. I wait until he is behind a tree to position and aim my shotgun. When he emerges, his iridescent feathers shining in the early morning light, I set my bead on his neck and head.
Look for a Mentor
With a minimum of gear, the above scenario could describe your first successful turkey hunt. What do you need to get started? The best thing you can obtain is the guidance of a mentor. An experienced turkey hunter can take you to potentially productive areas, do the calling and put you in position to take the shot. This is how I learned what types of habitat turkeys frequent, when to set up and call, and how to locate my decoys when it was advisable to employ them.
An alternative is a guide. In most places where turkey hunting occurs, someone is making money as a turkey guide. Ask around at hunting-supply stores and check online and with your state wildlife agency. In many states, guides have banded together to form an association that provides a list of its members.
Guns and Loads
Of course, you will need some basic gear, even if a companion does the heavy lifting. You’ll need a shotgun, preferably a semiauto or pump gun, although you’ll discover that only one shot is necessary or even possible in most situations. A 12-gauge shotgun is the most popular. An extra-full choke will keep your pattern tight for the shot that might be 40 yards or more. Personally, I like to get the birds to within 30 yards.
What to Wear
You need camouflage clothing from head to toe—cap, face mask, shirt and/or jacket, pants, and gloves. Even your socks should be dark just in case your pants pull up revealing them when you are sitting. Your boots should also be dark and/or camouflaged. Even your boot’s soles must be dark, as they might be exposed to an incoming turkey.
A Turkey Vest
A turkey vest is like a fisherman’s tackle box: they are both portable filing cabinets. Even though you might start out with very little gear, buy a vest that has lots of pockets for calls and other accessories. Most vests have a seat cushion that flips down when you are ready to set up. The vest should also have a game pocket that can store foldable decoys and stakes and rain gear.
Box calls and and peg-and-slate (or glass, copper, aluminum, or composites) friction calls are the beginning of your arsenal. Both kinds are relatively easy to learn to use. I’d recommend starting off with a box call. You can also buy calls that come with CDs or DVDs that will teach you how to use them.Mouth calls are more challenging to master, but allow for hands-free calling when the tom is getting close.
You’ll also need “locator calls.” These are usually a mouth-blown owl hooters or crow calls. These can draw reflexive shock gobbles from a tom. The crow call is the more effective of the two once the tom is on the ground.
A Few More Necessities
• License and Tags: You’ll need to take a hunter-safety course.
• Call Tools. You’ll need chalk–not blackboard chalk, but chalk meant for box calls to keep them sounding sharp (apply it only to the paddle and not to the sides). You’ll need sandpaper or an abrasive pad to keep the surface of your slate call optimally rough.
• Knife: You’ll need one to field-dress your turkey.
• Foldable Decoy: Start with just a single hen decoy and place it within easy gun range of where you are sitting..
• Flashlight: To avoid spooking turkeys, use one as little as possible as you slip into the woods before sunrise.
• Bug Repellent: It’s hard to sit still if spring’s mosquitoes, blackflies and no-see-ums are swarming.
• Snack and Drink: I like to carry a juice box and a breakfast bar to get me through a hunt.
• Compass or GPS: If you go to the gobble, you will leave the familiar path. Make sure you know where you are.
• Compact Binoculars: When hunting fields, being able to see for a long way can help you spot feeding turkeys.
• Rain Gear: If you hunt in the spring, you are eventually going to get caught up in rain. Carry a compact camo rain suit in your vest.
• The video below shows you what I carry in my vest. I carry a lot more than you’ll need as a beginner, but it will give you a solid idea of options.
How to Find a Place to Hunt
Perhaps the greatest challenge to getting started hunting is finding a place to hunt. Keep your eyes open year-round for turkeys. Politely ask landowners for permission. If you don’t know the landowners, try to discover if you know people who do, and ask if they might introduce you. Of course, public land offers options. Start by contacting your state wildlife management agency. Some hunting preserves might allow turkey hunting for a fee.