It's Spring Turkey Season. I've actually met people who did not equate the wild turkey seen around their property and town as being something that was edible. They believed that ALL turkeys come from the grocery store.
Store bought turkey is a convenience and can be tasty, plump and tender, if cooked well. But wild turkey does not have to mean that it's gamey and tough, if prepared properly. Brining and marinating are two popular ways to prepare the wild bird.
Turkey with Red Chili Gravy -courtesy of Gourmet Magazine.. Food that any cowboy would come running to the table for. But dinner is the easy part. What about bringing HOME the Turkey.
In hunting Spring Turkey, there are many things to consider, such as weather, gear, and calling one in..
Weather - You don't have to be a meteorologist to know what bad weather means for hunting. Cold. Wet. As a rule, turkeys gobble best on those high-pressure Spring mornings, where it is clear and calm. Get on a ridge or a bluff if you are not in a "flat" state and you will likely hear the gobbles a mile or more in all directions.
Windy days are not a turkey hunters friend. If you'd been whipped around all night in a tree, would you feel like gobbling in the morning? Even if they speak up, you may not hear the calls in a stiff breeze through the trees. If it's forecast to be windy through the day, dawn is your best bet, as the wind often dies down a bit at that time. A friction call might also work better than a diaphragm in piercing a stiff wind. Remember that the wind limits your hearing as well, so if you hear the Tom, he's likely closer than you think.
Nobody likes hunting in the rain. The turkey's don't like it much either and are pretty quiet, even roosting like a teenager and getting up as late as possible. I've seen gobblers that didn't bother to fly down until after 8 am on a day with rain.
Gear - Unlike whitetails, turkeys have been found to see and assimilate some colors. Both the females and the subordinate toms react to the changing blues, reds and whites of a dominant gobbler’s head and neck during the Spring breeding season. For the female turkeys (hens) the color-pulsing head stimulates them for mating, for the beta toms, it suppresses the breeding urge (no thanks, you take the pretty one. ) Even so, laws are such that you must wear some hunters orange on your person when hunting turkeys. I've known people that turkey hunted in "street clothes" but if your clothes are not patterned to be in harmony with the local environment and you stick out like an elephant at a steel plate shoot, you might as well say goodbye to the hunt and go home. I like RealTree products, but I have also hunted in some generic brands from Big Box Mart. But whomever the manufacturer,is you want clothing that becomes part of the environment you are in that day.
Care of your hunting attire is also essential. If you are a female hunter, you are likely to be doing your own laundry. Having three brothers I know that "look I did the laundry for you and (insert one here) shrunk, dyed pink, ruined your favorite shirt" is a plot to get out from doing laundry again. It's OK. We know that, and we love you anyway. Call me old fashioned but I like taking care of my guy's stuff. But no matter who does the laundry in your house, use a soap free of scent. The turkey's sense of smell is nothing like a whitetails (it's their hearing,not smell, that is acute). If UV brighteners are utilized, the dyes present in some fabrics make the UV wavelengths stand out or "bounce",(look at me Mr. Turkey!), making them more visible to game. There are specific detergents that prevent this from happening; absorbing the UV so the clothes do not fade easily. When not in use, store your hunting clothes in airtight bags after thoroughly drying (I dry outside on a line) to keep them safe from dust, insects and household "man-like" odors.
These products are a favorite in my house, for both turkey and whitetail and can usually be had at a reasonable price.
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 agter that.
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 when you make 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 large outdoors store 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 where I was going, 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", he said. 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, hunters who apparently had the same idea to hunt this remote spot. I looked at them and said "hoot owl call? Salesman Bill at 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 result 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 hunt and shoot. 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 should know some 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 also 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.