Gerald Almy: Costly mistakes can ruin spring turkey hunts

Gerald Almy

Count yourself either a skilled hunter, lucky, or both if you’ve already bagged a gobbler this spring. Harvesting a spring tom is one of the most difficult challenges in hunting and far more sportsmen go home empty-handed than those who score.

One of the best ways to improve your chances during the remainder of the season is to avoid making costly errors in your hunting technique and decision making. I’m something of an expert on this topic. I have probably made every mistake possible over many years of chasing toms through gorgeous spring woods flecked with the pastels of redbuds and dogwoods. Here are a few that you should try to avoid.

One. Concealing yourself too well. This is a mistake more common among novices than veteran hunters. After we do it once, maybe twice, we tend to wise up.

I learned this lesson the hard way when I lived on the banks of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River near Woodstock. I had been hearing a bird above the cedar cabin several afternoons and went out the first morning I was free to try for him.

I called him in close–so close the air seemed to vibrate when he gobbled. But I was hidden so well in brush that I couldn’t see him clearly or move the gun without the bird spooking.

Eventually he just stopped calling and drifted out of sight. I never did hear or see that gobbler again.

Instead of hiding in a blowdown or brushpile, simply wear camouflage from head to toe and sit back against a tree trunk as wide as your body. This will hide your silhouette.

Raise your knees up and prop the gun over them, pointed towards where the bird is calling from. That way your vision will be clear, and minor shifts in shotgun position can be made with minimal movement.

Two. Getting stuck in a calling rut. This is easy to do. It’s especially easy if you enjoy some success with a particular call or cadence or tone. Once you’ve harvested a tom or two, human nature makes you want to use that same sequence with the same call on following hunts.

But all gobblers are different. Even the same bird may want to hear something different if the hen breeding situation has changed, or maybe the weather has gotten better or worse.

Try all major styles of calls and learn to use at least two or three types well. Use different brands and try both low pitched and high pitched, smooth and raspy calls.

The more broad your repertoire, the more likely you’ll have just the right combination available to lure in different toms on different days.

Three. Not being ready when a bird comes in. More than once I’ve made this mistake. Several times I did it when expert hunters who were guiding me had worked hard to find a willing bird and artfully call it into range of my gun.

Most of them refrained from letting me know how angry and disgusted they were, but I could sense it. Heck, I was angry and disgusted at myself too.

So I’ve become obsessive about being totally ready when a gobbler walks into range. When I hear a tom gobble I get in shooting position with the gun barrel across my left knee, sitting facing slightly to the right of where I expect it to come from (the reverse if you’re left handed).

When a bird starts to approach, lean down into the shotgun and have it pointing where the tom will likely appear. That way only a slight final adjustment of an inch or two should be necessary before taking the shot. Make that last movement when the bird steps behind a tree and you can’t see its eyes.

Four. Using the wrong gun and load. A turkey gun should be a 10-20 gauge, capable of shooting magnum loads. It should have a full choke, relatively short barrel and a sling for carrying it in or out of the woods. A quality sight with a bright front bead or even a low-power scope is also helpful.

Loads should be as heavy as your gun will shoot while patterning well, in size 4, 5, or 6 shot. Copper-plated magnum loads are favored by many, but other special turkey loads from Winchester, Remington, and Federal are also good choices. Pattern the gun at the range to make sure it shoots an evenly-spread, but tight pattern.

Five. Trying to shoot through brush. If you’ve called a turkey into range, don’t blow your chance by trying to shoot through brush. Even a thin screen of saplings or branches can disrupt the pattern and result in a miss or worse yet, a wounded bird. Wait a few minutes and chances are the gobbler will step into a clearer spot where you can harvest it cleanly.

Six. Giving up too easily. If a tom doesn’t come in to your calls the first few times you go hunting, don’t get discouraged and give up. This is not an easy sport and you need patience.

I know expert hunters who have ventured into the woods a dozen times and come out empty-handed. It doesn’t mean they aren’t good hunters. Rather, all of the variables and conditions just didn’t come together that day for a successful hunt.

The longer you keep at it, the more you study turkey habits, practice calling, and most importantly, learn to eliminate mistakes, the closer you’ll be to having it all come together in a successful hunt.

Hunt intelligently, avoid making errors, and most importantly, hunt safely.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.