Get Out Turkey Hunting!

Here are the basics to get you started this year.

By Carlos M. Lopez

Turkeys can see color so you must be completely camo’d head to toe.

While I will never claim to be anything close to being an expert in turkey hunting….I have pursued the quarry on more than a few occasions. I’ve named all those turkeys the “Roadrunner” which of course, makes me “Wile E. Coyote” and no… I am not the “Super Genius”. Far from it, according to my wife. I do give myself an “A” for effort though. How an animal whose head houses a brain the size of a pea can beat me and thousands of other hunters time & time again…for that I definitely do not have an answer. I make no excuses for not being able to routinely beat this Old World majestic game bird. I suppose that is what draws the strange breed of turkey hunters that obsess, scout, gear up, & lose countless hours of sleep and family time to outsmart a gobbler. It can be done and gets done thousands of times each year every Spring and Fall all across this great country of ours.

The wild turkey has the same basic needs as most game animals. Food, water, shelter, habitat, other turkeys for companionship & reproduction. Turkeys are fast on their feet, running about 13 miles per hour and wild turkeys also do fly, which is quite impressive for such a large bird. The average weight for an Osceola turkey is fifteen to over eighteen pounds. Some bruisers have actually gone over twenty.

The turkey’s arsenal of survival skills include very keen eyesight, exceptional hearing, and the ability to see colors vividly. Deer and many other game animals only see in shades of grey. Turkeys are different in that respect and generally require full camouflage, as you will see in my pictures. If turkeys could smell like deer or wild boar, they would be impossible to hunt because they have great intuition and seem to know their local territory perfectly. The Osceola turkey subspecies is not found anywhere else in the world. Hunters come from all parts of the globe looking for a Turkey Grand Slam. They have to travel to Florida in pursuit of this accomplishment. The Osceola turkey is named after the famous Seminole Chief Osceola, and was first described in 1890. It is smaller and darker than the Eastern Turkey. The wing feathers are very dark with smaller amounts of the white barring seen on other sub-species. Their overall body feathers are iridescence green-purple color.

Remember your camo pattern when you select an angle that you will be at to the turkeys. Blending in is not always easy but it helps to match your surroundings before you make your camo purchase. Carlos M. Lopez and his friend Chad Hodge turkey hunting in Polk County.

The wild turkey is thriving even as its room to roam is eaten up by urban sprawl in this country. The turkey is a very adaptable animal that feeds on a wide array of plants, insects, berries, seeds, small reptiles and of course feeder corn put out by hunters like me. Turkey society consists of a dominant Tom gobbler and a small harem of hens. If that Tom is killed the gobbler that is next in line in the pecking order, takes his place almost immediately. The same is true in most of the animal kingdom. “Time waits for no turkey…I mean Man”.

There are lots of ways to hunt turkeys, but when you get into the woods or the orchard it is hard to decide where to begin. Here are a few methods that I have tried:

  1. Run and gun – Try to make a tom gobble by using your calls, then head in the turkey’s direction and set up to imitate hen sounds, (clucks & purrs), so that the gobbler comes close to where you set up.
  2. Roost birds the night before and set up about 100 yards from them and start calling to them trying to work them in your direction. Turkeys are going to roost every night, and if you find them beforehand there is a good chance that you can call them in first thing in the morning.
  3. Setting up in a good spot where you know that birds forage and try to ambush them when they come in. Turkey decoys can be extremely useful in this situation.
  4. Set up a ground blind. Bow hunters use this tactic a lot. It conceals them while they draw the bow back. It is also useful when introducing children to turkey hunting because it allows kids to move around without being detected.
  5. Cut off an escape route. Many feeding areas only have one entrance and egress, and turkeys are slaves to their taste buds so they will put themselves into a compromising position like this in search of food.
  6. Glassing with binoculars or scanning with your eyes, to watch fields and try to pattern a strutting zone, travel route, or feeding area and setting up to cut the turkeys off.

These are just a few of the most popular methods. Some tell tale signs that turkeys leave behind in the woods are feathers, turkey tracks, dusting areas and their J-shaped scat.

Most turkey hunters use some sort of call to get a gobbler to “shock gobble.” If you have ever walked by the turkeys at the zoo or a turkey farm you have seen this. They hear a strange noise and gobble loudly. Sometimes all it takes is luck as you close your car door, cough or sneeze. You could trigger a Tom into gobbling.

Calls are made up what I would call “reliable sounds.” They mimic sounds that the turkey may be used to hearing, sounds that will shock him into gobbling. Some calls used are the crow call, owl hoot, the gobble tube, and peacock call. Some are sounds of the wild and some reproduce sounds that other turkeys make. Turkeys tend to gobble in groups, so if they hear one turkey gobble, that can set off a whole group of them you didn’t even know were 40 yards behind you. Turkey calls can be made of both natural and synthetic materials and work in a variety of manners. Some are water proof and some are not. Push button strikers types are easy to use by simply pushing the striker up & down. Turkeys are like herd animals. They like to stick together, so you can effectively “call” a turkey in by making him think there are other turkeys near you.

Turkeys are one of the more exciting and rewarding birds to hunt. There are thriving and even nuisance populations across much of the US. Ben Franklin wanted to make the turkey our national bird. Many people don’t know that the wild turkey was extinct in North America for decades before being re-introduced into the wild by conservation groups like the NWTF.

Most of these calls require practice, practice, practice…it is a part of life that speaks for itself. I practice in my car, but you have to practice them outdoors as well. Calls sound different in your car or in the house than they do outdoors. Remember, you do not have to be a calling champion to call in a bird. All turkeys sound different just like people do. Do your best, be patient, and practice indoors and outdoors. Learn how to use them and you will feel confident with your new skills in different hunting scenarios.

You are probably asking yourself how on earth you are supposed to practice turkey calls when you have no idea what a turkey sounds like, let alone a crow or a peacock. I had the same issue as a beginner of course, as would anyone who didn’t grow up in the woods or on a turkey farm in Pennsylvania. I have used H.S. Strut turkey hunting CDs and DVDs, purchased the same time that I bought my calls. If there is one way to be ready when you enter the woods, it is with these teaching materials. Being in the right place at the right time is great, when it happens, but it doesn’t usually happen when hunting turkeys. A lot of the achievement has to do with your preparation and doing your outdoor homework. Hunter’s Specialties / H.S. Strut can be reached at www.hunterspec.com or at (319) 395-0321.

Camo is something you have to become very well versed in when you hunt turkeys. If you know where you want to hunt and aren’t entirely familiar with the natural cover you will be trying to blend in with, go take a picture of where you are going to hunt before you go buy your camo then bring the pictures to the store. Try to make it look as much like your intended surroundings as possible. I sometimes mix and match my different camo clothing to help me break up a bit more. DK Flatwoods has a green palmetto pattern that hunters in Florida have grown to love. I am wearing it more often because of its versatility while I pursue wild hogs, deer and turkey. It only makes sense as 90% of the areas I hunt are saturated with palmetto patches and it blends in with anything green. DK Flatwoods can be reached at www.dkflatwoods.net or at (334) 308-CAMO. Your local outdoor store will have plenty of Mossy Oak, Realtree and other patterns. Don’t rush to buy something for turkeys. Try to find what matches the best for the area you are going to hunt.

Some of my useful Turkey hunting gear.

Last turkey season I had an awakening when it comes to guns for turkey hunting at the expense of taking home a turkey. I have always enjoyed using my old companions, the Mossberg 500 and my Ithaca DS. Over the years I have taken many North American game species with those two shotguns, but I learned the lesson of not carrying a true 3 1/2″ gun last year with my friend, Quaker Boy Pro Staffer Chad Hodge.

It was the day before the season ended in the Central Zone of Florida…

The ranch had been leased out for 4 weeks to an out of state outfitting company. The ranch we went to had been saturated with hunters and the count stood at 11 gobblers and a few jakes being taken, not to mention a few blown chances. The weather must have favored turkeys that year and the numbers showed it, but by the time we got there we knew the pickings would be slim. We knew it was not going to be easy…but Chad and I were up to the challenge.

Chad and I headed off as daylight approached to a spot where the rancher had recently seen a few birds heading out of the woods into a pasture. We walked a few hundred yards and set up in some oaks, we did see some hens, and Chad’s calling got the lead hen fired up—but no toms. We waited until they passed us and exited the field. We made a few moves and kept grinding it out, then finally moved again to another field where I had previously seen turkeys. Slowly creeping in the brush by a corner we watched a few turkeys exiting the back field entering an oak hammock. I figured Chad and I would cross and head the turkeys off at the adjacent field. To our dismay, the turkeys re-entered the field where they had exited 300 yards away. Immediately, we dropped to the ground and used the only cover we had…a seven foot wide palmetto clump in the field that was between us and the turkeys. We belly crawled to that palmetto cover and laid low.

Showing off my Beretta Extrema II at a two day Turkey Hunting workshop at Gander Mountain. I was there representing ThermaCELL but took along the Extrema to see what people thought of it. It may be a little pricey, but handling the gun and understanding its difference in firepower brought in a few converts that day I think.

Through the palm fronds I counted six jakes (1 year old fully grown turkeys) through my Nikon Monarch binos. Chad set up on the left and I set up on the right. I got into position and was ready to seal the deal. The jakes proceeded to walk across that open field diagonally, just over what we eyeballed at better than 50 yards out. The show was over.

There is an “ethical limit” to the range of any shotgun with the size shot you are using. At some point the pellets are more prone to wound than kill, and it is better to let a bird walk than wound it. I don’t consider it ethical to take a shot. My Mossberg 500 is limited to 40 yards of “ethical max.” The turkeys went by at fifty yards and we had to just watch them exit the field. That was when Chad whispered to me that we should not have left his 3 1/2″ gun in his truck. I could have used his shotgun which is effectively patterned out to 50 plus yards. Chad is a turkey nut. With all the new advances in shotguns, choke tubes, & turkey loads, the right combination can yield deadly results, but we left the right combination in the truck because it was my turn to hunt.

 

That was not the first time that I came up short, but I decided it would be my last. My dad always told me to get the best that I could afford or save up until you can afford the best. Well dad, you never told me about the part where if you are an outdoor writer and you write articles on hunting, people (mostly sponsors) sometimes give you stuff!

I have finally upgraded. My new turkey/waterfowl gun is the “do all” Beretta Xtrema 2 A391 MAX-4 bought for me by GunsAmerica in appreciation of working their SHOT show booth and helping to get this magazine going with hunting articles to inspire new and lapsed hunters to get into hunting. I hope I am succeeding at that and I thank you for all of your kind words last month, and look forward to your questions and comments this month.

Choices and options…we all love to have them. Now I have the “cream” of the “crop” gas powered semi-automatic that turns out 3-1/2 inch shells but does beat me and my shoulder to death the way that pump guns and inertia guns do. I also have the option of shooting 3” or 2-3/4” shells with flawless reliability. Turkey season is right around the corner and I am going to put the Xtrema 2 to the test. If you want only one shotgun that can do it all….this is it! Beretta can be reached at www.beretta.com or at (301)283-2191.

In order to pattern the gun properly, I have a few new H.S. Strut Undertaker choke tubes in high density ported and non ported to test out. The H.S. Strut choke tubes are inexpensive and available everywhere. I also purchased a Primos Jelly Head EF choke tube for comparison. I will also test this shotgun with Hevi-13 & other various companies’ shot loads. My goal is to have the shotgun effectively dialed in at fifty yards.

DK Flatwoods camoflauge from head to toe and Beretta Xtrema 2 A391 with H.S. V- Pod, H.S. S.U.V. Vest & H.S. Field Champion Box Call while using a ThermaCELL Mosquito Repellent.

It is my hope to have a successful harvest story using the Beretta Xtrema 2 in a future issue of GunsAmerica Magazine. Stay tuned. I will still take out that ole Mossberg & Ithaca that I cherish, but my old companions will be on LIMITED duty. Shhh…..I think I can hear the silent crying of loneliness coming from the other shotguns in my Liberty gun safe.

Since I am sponsored by ThermaCELL I will mention that living in a warm weather state, the most important piece of equipment for me has been insect repellent. It’s impossible to enjoy your outdoor experience when you are getting attacked by hungry mosquitoes. Not only is it irritating, but all that swatting movement will give up your ambush spot. Since I do not like putting chemicals such as Deet on myself or my children, I have chosen to use a ThermaCELL Mosquito Repellent. This has to be one of the best outdoor products on the market that actually does what it states. It is also approved by the EPA and rated superior by the U.S. Army. ThermaCELL works better than any insect control product that I have used in my twenty plus years of hunting. The ThermaCELL mosquito repellent can also be used in many other outdoor activities such as shooting, golfing, camping, fishing, RVing, barbecuing, lounging by the pool, or sporting events like soccer & little league baseball games. Just place it under the benches or picnic table and you and your family are no longer the main course. To find out more about ThermaCELL they can be contacted at www.thermacell.com or at 1-8-NO-SKEETERS.

Stay safe in the field,

Carlos M. Lopez

Side Note: Two books that I would recommend to all turkey hunters new and old alike are Hunter’s Specialties “PhD Gobblers” by John E. Philips and “Guide to Advanced Turkey Hunting” by Richard P. Combs. You’ll pick up a few tricks and it will be well worth it.

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Mike January 25, 2013, 5:49 pm

    Did I read this right didn’t you mean it “doesn’t” hurt you like the pumps and inertia guns do? Just checking..
    taken from article.
    “Choices and options…we all love to have them. Now I have the “cream” of the “crop” gas powered semi-automatic that turns out 3-1/2 inch shells but does beat me and my shoulder to death the way that pump guns and inertia guns do.”

    • Carlos M. Lopez July 24, 2013, 10:07 pm

      Mike,

      In a sense you are right…what I omitted from the article after the word “does” was the word “not”. I missed that, my editor missed it and so did the Administrator. We are definitely not perfect. Thanks for the correction…I now know that you were paying attention!

      Typos are a writers worst enemy…….CML

  • Carlos M. Lopez April 25, 2012, 9:41 am

    David,

    As long as we get to enjoy the great outdoors in any form….we all win. It sounds as if you could probably shoot that Tom on your property wearing pajamas….you are lucky!! Seriously, good luck this season and post a pic if you can, if you harvest that gobbler……CML

  • David F. Fowler April 16, 2012, 9:53 am

    Carlos,
    I am like Stephen in that camo is overplayed. We have turkeys here in western North Carolina and in fact I had pulled the truck into the yard to wash it yesterday and looked about 40 yards away near my garden and there was a tom scratching around. It stayed in the area the entire time I washed the truck. I see them, 3 hens 1 tom, every morning while having coffee. They cruise through my property 3 to 4 times a day. Our season opens this Tuesday and I will probably take the tom then. I just wish you could use a .17 to pop them in the head instead of pellets going all over. If I get him I will try to send a photo.
    Sincerely,
    David F. Fowler

  • Kyle Ray April 2, 2012, 2:21 pm

    Carlos,

    Just read your article and enjoyed it very much. I was a young kid when my Dad took my brother and I turkey hunting. Sad to say hectic schedules and the day to day grind has kept ume from enjoying the family time hunting used to provide. However I’ve made the decision to take my son Turkey hunting for the first time this coming holiday weekend. I’ve been looking up articles, such as yours, to get back into the swing of things. Wow things have change with all the specialized gear. I remember hunting as a simple thing. It was more a bonding time as I remember. I don’t know if we will go all out and spend the money for all the new gear or just go at it the old fashioned way I remember and just enjoy the time as Dad and Son. Thanks again for the great article.

    Kyle Ray

    • Carlos M. Lopez April 25, 2012, 9:33 am

      Kyle,

      Thank you and I am glad that you enjoyed the article. You definetly do not need all the gear, bells and whistles that now dominate every hunting show and articles. Just go afield like you used to do with your own Dad and your own son will have the same fond memories that you do.

      I am glad that my article has helped inspire you to get back outdoors hunting and also pass it on to your son ….that was my intention. It was worth every word now….Thank you!

      Carlos M. Lopez

  • eduardo hernandez March 5, 2012, 5:04 am

    quien puda alludarme vivo en new jersey me gustaria caza con uina compania seria aqui en usa

    • Carlos M. Lopez March 7, 2012, 7:57 pm

      Si quieres venir a la Florida a cazar pavo (Osceola Turkey) puedes llamar a Dwayne Powell quien es el dueno de Kissimmee River Hunt & Fish. El telephono de el es (863) 381-8040. El website de KRHF es http://www.kissimmeeriverhuntandfish.com. Yo mate un jabali en la ultima semana de Octobre del 2011. En senor es muy attento y me encanto el lugar. Me parece que la caceria esta garantizado….preguntale a Dwayne.
      Dejarme saber si te gusto el articulo……CML

  • Stephen W. March 5, 2012, 3:55 am

    When my uncle used to take me turkey hunting when I was a kid, we never wore camo, and we got 1 or 2 turkeys every year. We did sit in a partial blind, but it certainly didn’t cover us from head-to-toe, and my uncle would often flick a red bandana above the blind to “bring in the toms”. He also never used a call, but he would often “cluck” into his hands, and sometimes hit a baseball cap against his chest, and gobble loudly at the same time, to simulate fighting toms. Now-a-days, I see elaborate manual and electronic calling systems, ghillie suits, camo shelters, camo guns, and even camo shotgun shells. Did I miss something by hunting in bluejeans, or are many of you just being taken for a ride by the hunting sports store’s salesmen? Good luck this year, either way!

    • Carlos M. Lopez March 7, 2012, 11:03 am

      Stephen W.

      Your uncle hunted the way we all hunted back then and we all were probably just as successful as we are now. Some of the old timers that took me hunting wore jeans and red/black wool jackets, smoked cigarettes and had no fancy calls or gear because of lack of availibility or personal preference. Just like everything else, with technology and innovations in hunting and fishing gear, any advantage, edge or functionability that gives you a better sense of confidence in the field is a plus. Is it a neccessity…no…but we have the options to purchase products for our benefit. The bottom line is that we continue our hunting heritage and pass it on to our children and their children. As long as we enjoy the outdoors we all win whether we are “geared up” or not. I hope that you enjoyed the article and that it may have inspired someone new to try turkey hunting !! Also, I hope that it may convince someone that gave it up years ago to get back into turkey hunting. Good luck hunting this season in any form that you prefer…..CML

  • Carlos M. Lopez July 5, 2011, 1:55 pm

    Hi Sam,

    Sorry, I did not see this post until now but we spoke a few weeks ago. As for Chad, he lives in Wildwood, FL but came from PA originally. I will keep in touch & take care of yourself,

    Carlos……….

  • Sam Hodge January 5, 2011, 3:29 am

    Hi Carlos:
    Found your article and was wondering who your friend Chad Hodge was didn’t know we left any Hodge in Polk County. Ha!
    Was good hearing from you today and hope you and family have a great year in 2011.
    Warmest regards Sam Hodge

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