In Part I and II of this extended series we delved into a number of ways to up your odds for success in the woods during this spring’s turkey season. Here are some final insights to help you score on a longbeard during coming weeks.
One: Use a rangefinder. No matter what your opinion might be about too much technology infiltrating hunting, there’s nothing superior about “guessing” how far a bird is instead of using a rangefinder. That’s especially true if you guess wrong and send a wounded bird into the brush that was too far away to bag cleanly. Each setup is different and there’s always a chance to misjudge how far a turkey is.
Buy a rangefinder, keep it in your turkey vest, and use it. Don’t pull it out when a turkey is marching in. Rather, use it when you first set up to quickly check the distance to several landmarks such as trees or rocks so you’ll know how far a gobbler is when it appears in relation to those objects. Knowing that, you can let the bird walk into clean shooting range — 45 yards or closer for 10 and 12 gauges, 35 yards for a 20 gauge.
Two: Try the silent approach. In some areas and at certain times, gobblers don’t talk much. You can successfully harvest these birds with a different strategy. Find the sign, set up in the area they’re using and hunt them like you were going after a wary old buck.
Look for fresh scratchings, wing tip drag marks, droppings and feathers to determine where gobblers have been recently. Also watch from ridges or other high spots to see where the birds feed in fields or travel at certain times of day. Find a good tree wider than your body to sit back against it or build a simple blind and wait.
Yes, you can call a bit, but avoid aggressive calling. If that was working, you wouldn’t be resorting to this method to start with. Use a few clucks or purrs, but mostly wait silently. This takes a patient hunter, but can be a deadly tactic when birds aren’t gobbling much.
Three: Use the right load and pattern your gun. Too many hunters feel that since turkeys are such large birds, using a big pellet and aiming for the body is a good approach. The fact is thick feathers as well as a turkey’s bone and muscle structure make body shots a poor way to harvest a tom.
Instead, use a smaller shot – size 5, 6 or 7 1/2 – and aim at the neck and head. Copper-plated shot is a good choice, but several other new options in shot material such as tungsten are available that will also consistently take gobblers out to 40 yards-plus.
Don’t assume all shells will shoot equally well in your gun. Buy several companies’ offerings and practice with turkey head and neck targets. See which perform best in your gun at different ranges and also note exactly where the pattern centers.
Four: Make the shot count. After all the lost sleep, early morning rising, scouting and effort required to successfully call in a spring gobbler, you want your shot to do the job. The right load, a full choke and proper aiming point are important, but other key decisions also come into play.
Never try to shoot a bird through brush or behind even a thin screen of saplings or branches. They can disrupt the pattern and result in a miss. Wait until it steps in a clear area or coax it out with a soft purr or cluck.
Don’t shoot when the bird is in full strut, either. Wait until it drops out of strut or cluck to make it raise its head. A turkey with its neck stretched out looking at you is the best target of all.
Make sure your cheek is down tight against the stock and the sight or scope crosshairs are lined up on the gobbler’s neck. Toms look so big and imposing at 25 or 30 yards that they tend to make hunters shoot without having their face firmly on the stock. That almost always means a missed bird.
Five: Don’t give up. No one said spring turkey hunting is easy. It’s not like dove or squirrel hunting where you can expect a bulge in the game pouch virtually every day afield. It takes practice, dedication, loss of sleep, a bit of luck, and mostly – lots of time in the woods. Days or weeks of effort may be required to successfully lure in a spring gobbler.
There are vulnerable toms out there – on certain days, in certain areas. The more time you spend in the woods, the more chance you’ll be in the right spot when one of those birds comes along.
If your first approach doesn’t work, change your tactics. Be persistent, and learn from mistakes you make.
Also realize, though, that a good turkey hunt means this: being outdoors, hearing birds, calling to them, getting a response, perhaps even seeing the quarry and also enjoying other wildlife and the beauty of nature around you.
Sometimes you’ll put everything together and harvest a gobbler, too, but it’s the experiences we’re out there for. And when everything does fall into place, the tom comes in and your shot flies true, all the scouting, lost sleep, weary muscles and days of effort will suddenly seem worthwhile.