Beginner's Guide to Spring Turkey Hunting
- 29 Mar, 2018
Spring turkey hunting is a great way to get out and hunt after a long cold winter. If you've never hunted turkeys before, this beginner's guide will get you caught up on the basics.
Right now lots of amazing things are happening on the Nebraska prairie. The snow geese have returned, filling the skies with clouds of the numberless birds. Cranes are also stopping by on their annual migration north. These prehistoric birds are a sight to see and attract droves of bird watchers to the state each year. Not only have animals returned, but the first blades of green grass are starting to creep up from the soil. Sure, they will get snow covered a few more times, but the worst of the weather is behind us. It is spring.
Spring is a great time of the year to get out and enjoy the outdoors. The world is waking up again after a long winter’s rest and there are plenty of opportunities. Fishing possibilities open up for anglers as the ice melts. Trails open up for hikers and bikers in their favorite haunts as well. Hunters also have an opening. Spring turkey hunting season opens, and for many dedicated outdoorsmen it is a special time of year.
Spring turkey hunting is a fun hunt for several reasons. First off it is the first chance for many hunters to once again hunt. Most guys have put up the gear for at least a month or two since waterfowl season ended. Archery hunters have generally limped along for an even longer spell. Spring turkeys are also fun to chase because the weather is simply hard to beat. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy the warm sun’s rays and budding trees after a long winter. Finally, spring gobblers offer one of the most entertaining hunts once the breeding season hits. If you’ve ever thought about spring turkey hunting, but didn’t know where to start, this brief guide might be a good way to get the ball rolling.
The first thing to understand when spring turkey hunting is the birds you are chasing. In the United States there are 5 recognized subspecies of wild turkey. They are the eastern (most common), Osceola, Rio Grande, merriam, and goulds. Each subspecies have their own unique markings and live in their own unique ecosystem. Within the past few decades there has been growing interest in completing a “turkey slam” and harvesting each of the subspecies. Part of this interest is due to the rise of turkey populations in general. Thanks to conservation efforts by numerous parties, the once dwindled populations are now almost everywhere. If you are looking to start hunting turkeys, there is a good chance there is a roost nearby.
Habits and Senses
Other aspects of the turkey you should be familiar with are their habit and senses. Turkeys like to group up on large groups during the winter months. This convergence generally occurs on or near agricultural fields that give turkeys a boost to get through the winter months. If you can get permission to hunt one of these locations, the hunt is usually pretty easy. On the other hand, if you are not on location there just simply may not be any turkeys.
Once it starts to heat up, then the turkeys begin to spread out. At first they break up into groups of males and females. As the weather continues to change though, eventually the toms and jakes start pairing up with small groups of females for breeding. This is when turkey hunting becomes the most exciting and offers excellent calling opportunities.
Before you start calling it’s important to conceal yourself from a turkey’s number one sense; their sight. Turkeys have phenomenal eyesight and have picked off their fair share of poorly concealed hunters. Make no mistake about it, if they can see, they will. They also hear very well, which makes calling so effective. On the other hand, if you try sneaking a group you might have your work cut out for you. Fortunately a turkeys sense of smell in non-existent so you won’t have to worry about the wind. If they had any nose on them at all these normally cautious birds would be near impossible to hunt.
Method of Take
Like any hunt, spring turkey hunting comes with its own set of gear that can help you hedge the odds in your favor.
It starts with your weapon of choice. Most folks hitting the woods are using shotguns to bring their gobblers home. 12 gauge and 20 gauge are both common and capable of doing the trick. I did once shoot a 10 gauge an uncle had for turkey hunting, and have to say it seems a bit overkill. In terms of shot there are a number of options out there. You will want some shells with some umph behind them. 3” or 3.5” shells are a good choice with a shot size of around #5. Shot size increases as the number decreases, so a #4 shell has larger bbs than a #5. Both are acceptable and is a preference issue.
If you are taking a bow to the woods you can still certainly anchor your spring longbeard as well. Turkey bow setups don’t need anything special. Just make sure you are poison mean within 25 yards. Most turkey hunting is done within that range, and the birds offer a small vital. Arrow setups can be just like you would use for deer hunting, but some unique options are out there. A few manufacturers are making broadheads with extreme cutting diameters. These broadheads actually expand during the shot up to 3”. The idea with this specialty broadheads is to aim for a turkey’s neck rather than a risky body shot. There is a growing number of hunters who like shooting these turkey broadheads on their spring hunts.
Perhaps one of the most universal pieces of turkey hunting gear is a turkey call. Calls are great for locating birds and then luring them closer to your setup. Although there are a variety of different calls the most common are calls used to mimic hen noises. During the breeding season toms and jakes are constantly on the move looking to partner up with a hen in heat. By learning the different vocalizations you can hope to draw a curious tom into shooting range.
Calls come in several different styles but the most common are slate calls, box calls, and mouth calls. Each of these different styles can be effective, and eventually hunters find their favorite. Personally, as an archery hunter, I prefer a mouth call because it frees up my hands as the birds draw near. That being said, there have been many gobblers loaded into a pickup bed after being fooled with other calls as well. It is mostly a matter of preference.
At this point if you have a weapon, a call, and a turkey on the property, you are good to start your hunt. There are however a few more pieces of gear that can help your hunt be more successful.
One good piece of equipment is a solid ground blind. As mentioned, turkey’s have outstanding eyesight. As they get within shooting range they can pick off even the slightest movement. Shotgun hunters don’t have much to worry about, but archery hunters can be in a pickle. Drawing a bow is a big movement, and one that will spook turkeys in no time. With a good ground blind though you can draw your bow undetected and take your time to focus on your spot. Ground blinds have become almost mandatory equipment for archery hunters in recent years.
The final piece of equipment that can hedge the odds in your favor are decoys. Decoys are great visual attractors to add to your call setup. Wise old toms can be suspicious if they show up to a clearing after hearing a bunch of hen calls, then they don’t see a hen. Decoys come in different styles and can be found to imitate toms, jakes, and hens. Hens seem to be the most common and are a nice addition to a call setup. That being said, seeing another male turkey on site can bring gobblers in on a string at times. Depending on your situation you may find any of these decoys useful.
At the end of the day, turkey hunting is all about getting out and having fun hunting in the wonderful springtime weather. While gear like decoys and ground blinds can really help you score a bird, all you really need are turkeys and something to shoot them with. If you are a beginner at turkey hunting you might do yourself a favor to throw in a good call and practice calling birds in. It takes time to learn about turkey vocalizations and turkey behavior. The more time you spend out in the great outdoors, the more you will learn. Sounds like a great classroom to me.
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