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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.