Turkey Physiology Basics - You don't need ear lobes to hear like no one's business. Turkeys have amazingly acute hearing. Using small holes in the sides of their head, they can pinpoint the location of another turkey (or a hunter mimicking a turkey) with remarkable precision. As you go out to where you are going to hunt, remember, heavy footsteps, the slapping of body or hands against brush, or even that distinctive "click" of you pressing your shotgun safety can send the turkey running and ducking for cover. You may NOT see him again, that day. On the plus side, turkeys have a poor sense of smell. You don't have to study the wind to the degree you do with whitetail hunting. I don't have to worry my shampoo will be too much scent and if I put on some cherry lip gloss, it won't scare away the game.
A turkey has monocular vision (eyes set in the sides of its head). But they make up for the lack of 3D sight by cocking the head left or right to gauge distance between them, other turkeys and danger, including you. If you thought that grade school teacher had eyes in the back of her head, think again. A turkey can twist it's long, limber neck 360 degrees, literally giving it eyes in the back of its head. Their night vision is poor, which is why I set up while it is dark. During the day, the turkey sees more sharply than a human with 20/20 sight. These laser-like eyes are the turkey’s primary method of "home defense" and you can be assured he is looking for you.
Turkeys are fast, preferring to run. You think you've got the perfect shot, turn your head where he can see you for just a microsecond, and he explodes!. Ducking his head and tucking in low to the ground he'll dart off faster than a 67 Cuda. Turkeys have been clocked at up to 12 mph, and their lean, strong muscular legs, though making only for good soup stock, not eating, can catapult him into the air for flights up to 400 yards. Turkeys have been recorded at flight speeds up to 50 mph, and even after that short burst of flight, the turkey can set its wings and glide another half mile to elude you. This is one area I will caution the beginner. You do need to learn to sit still. Scratch your head, lift your arm and if they sense or see you -bye bye, bird. Turkeys are skittish from the moment they peck out of their shells, growing more so each day of life as they elude their many predators. A falling limb, the shadow of a hawk, that turkey you are hunting is burning holes in the brush with his sharp eyes looking for danger. It is not a hunting sport for the fidgety. You also might want to consider who you invite to tag along. On one hunt, right as we called in three nice Jakes (young male turkeys), the vegetarian girlfriend of one of the guys, who begged to go along, jumped up and yelled. "Run, Mr. Turkey, Run for your life!" Nice girl, but I didn't ever see her again when we all gathered for beer and war stories.
Calling - a mouth call is popular, but I certainly didn't take to it like a "duck to water" or even a "turkey to Spring". So mostly I have used a slate call. There's lots of good info on the web for choosing a turkey call., so I won't get into it here. It sort of goes without saying that in making your call in Springtime, it's best to mimic a love starved hen. But don't rule out some gobbler clucking and yelping. That might work better than you think as you sound like a happy drifter amongst turkey society. A subordinate longbeard who's getting neither "lucky" or rich, looking for a buddy to hang out with may come to check you out. Or a dominant gobbler may strut over to kick your ass.
I once had a helpful fellow at my favorite outdoors store in Springfield sell me a hoot owl call, guaranteeing me it would get the turkeys to gobble. He also gave me some guidance on good places to hunt, close to town, but "off the beaten track" and open to the public. A park service road would take you up to a perfect hillside spot to hunt, with lots of turkeys. So I drove in a ways to hunt, deep into that forest in southwest Missouri, setting up on the side of an Ozark mountain. You want to sneak up as close as you dare to a roosted turkey, then set up and listen. If the tom thinks he's Tom Jones and starts belting out love tunes and you hear no hens clucking, yelping or throwing their underwear at him, don’t call too early. Wait until the sky glimmers pink, then cast out a tree yelp and a few soft clucks to let the bird know you’re there. There on the side of that desolate Ozark mountain hillside, I did just that. As light broke the landscape I hooted. I waited. I heard another hoot. Then silence, then another hoot, and another, and another. Oh My Lord- it was an OWL convention! I never did see or hear a turkey, or see a turkey. Going back to area's only hotel, I ran into about a dozen empty handed hunters in the lobby grabbing coffee, who apparently had the same idea to hunt this remote spot. I looked at them and said "hoot owl call? Salesman Bill at Springfield Bass Pro?" They looked at me and said "yup".
I had better luck closer to home, where I drew a nice Jake in with a slate call. Remember if he gobbles at you loudly, BE QUIET! He thinks you’re a hen, and he knows where you are. If you don't hear him trying to chat you up though, cluck and yelp just a bit more to get his attention over to where you and your trusty shotgun are sitting. If it's too quiet, relax. Listening carefully for thumping wings as he heads down out of the tree. As he lands, throw out a little cackle his way. He might wander over to check you out. Once he starts walking your way, you may not have to call again.
Allow the turkey to approach within 30-35 yards. Do not raise your shotgun quickly, so not to spook him. Bring the shotgun up slowly and smoothly and take aim for the turkey's head or the eye. Body shots often results in a wounded bird or a big mess to clean up to prepare him for the pot. Be sure of your target. Do not shoot through brush, thinking you see a turkey. As in ANY shooting, clearly identify your target before getting near the trigger.
These are just a few tips I've learned. I'm always learning, never the expert, just someone that loves to shoot, and the shooting sports. Make a friend of a turkey hunter, someone to learn from. There are organizations such as the National Wild Turkey Federation, made up of men and women that know turkeys and hunt turkeys. If you don't know any turkey hunters, ask at your local sporting goods dealer. He or she will know most of the turkey hunters in your local area from purchases made and may be able to steer you towards individuals, clubs or groups that love to share their knowledge. Don't forget your state's Department of Conversation. They may well know those in your area that can teach you as many states have a hunter mentoring program. If you have a mentor, your chances of learning quickly and more easily are assured.
Will I get a turkey from these tips? I hope so because I've got this recipe for cornbread succotash stuffing I'm ready to try. Those hunting breakfasts are great, but they do wear off.