Turkey hunting is a great way to introduce kids to the outdoors. Photo by Jarrett Manek
Springtime Turkey Tips
PUTTING GOBBLERS TO BED
Locating the tree where a big tom roost at night is not just a good way to get a jump on him the next morning but it’s also just plain fun. Locating a gobbler’s roost will put you within call range come sunrise and help you bag a tom early before he gets henned-up which can make success rates plummet for the turkey hunter unless you have a backup plan.
The best way to find a roosting gobbler is to cover ground where you hunt listening for turkeys flying up to roost. You will know when you hear a flock of turkeys flying up to roost if you never have it is an obvious disruption to the still evening woods. Turkeys have a fly up cackle and the wings flapping as they settle into tree limbs are unmistakeable even if it is just one turkey but when a flock flies up it is very loud.
Once a gobbler’s roost is located it is important to get as close as possible the next morning. The gobbler will still be on the same roost if it wasn't disturbed during the night and getting close is vital. Survey the area around the roost and mark a good spot for your set-up before you leave because you will have to ease back in well before daylight to get into position to call to the gobbler when it flies down.
Once into position the next morning and the sun begins to light the horizon I like to give a few subtle clucks and yelps just to let the tom know where I am. He should respond with a gobble while still on the his roost. This is your sign that the gobbler has acknowledged your location and is interested. When this happens stop calling. If you call too much the gobbler might think the hen is on the ground and he will stay on roost waiting for her to cruise by. Get the gobbler to acknowledge you then just wait for the fly down before calling again. When you hear the gobbler fly down and hit the ground immediately give a cackle call while flopping your hat or a turkey feather to sound like a turkey flying down. More times than not this is more than enough to get the gobbler heading straight for your position where he thinks there is a hen waiting. Get your gun up and ready because a mature tom is looking for a hen and he will see any movement from where you called from and the hunt will be over.
FOOLING SUBORDINATE TOMS
With the turkey population at an all-time high across America, you have a pretty good chance of coming across a dominant gobbler traveling with hens, jakes, and subordinate gobblers. Even though it is next to impossible to call the dominant gobbler away from the flock, it can be pretty easy to call that flock’s subordinate gobblers into range. Subordinates are usually 2-year-old birds that have gotten beat up by the dominant gobbler a few times. To keep from upsetting the dominant gobbler these subordinate gobblers will rarely gobble but do yelp and cluck to keep track of the flock.
Whenever you hear a young gobbler doing this and it’s off to the side of the flock, slip in as close as you can and try to make the subordinate believe one of the dominant gobbler’s hens is calling to him by using a subtle yelp call. He will usually come in quick and confident with his guard down. Remember he thinks he is finally getting the attention he deserves but whatever you do don’t risk gobbling at this time because he will think the dominant gobbler is onto him and he will avoid the hen he thinks is just inside the wood line.
Some turkey hunters only hunt mature gobblers and that’s fine but for those that just want to fill their tag and put some fresh wild turkey on the table remember this tip and you might find a little more success when those big gobblers refuse to leave their hens. Calling to a subordinate gobbler or a jake takes a slightly different approach when the flock is all together.
INTRODUCING KIDS TO TURKEY HUNTING
If you plan to introduce a kid to turkey hunting this season make sure they have a shotgun that fits and feels comfortable. Buy a youth model or trim the stock on a full-size shotgun to get it to where the youngster can comfortably reach the trigger and look down the barrel. A 20-gauge is best for most younger kids and will take a turkey with a good shot placement. It is vital to practice with the youth so there is no anxiety about pulling the trigger. There will be enough nervousness to go around with a gobbler strutting within shotgun range and you don’t need to add the fear of shooting a big gun to worry your young hunting partner.
Before you take a youngster on an actual turkey hunt, be sure you teach them safe gun handling. The perfect time to do this is at the range where you should take the hunter to shoot and to pattern their gun. Teach them the importance of patterning their gun while teaching the safety. It is crucial to teach every aspect of turkey hunting and the importance of each step before hitting the woods.
During the turkey hunt, place the young hunter tightly by your side or inside your knees to help them align the shotgun on an incoming turkey. Before the hunt even starts discuss a signal for when to shoot. I like to just tell them when it is OK and to fire when ready. Tis is when the turkey is in range but I explain before the hunt to wait for a clear shot. You don’t want to be explaining for them to wait because there is another turkey too close or too much brush be sure they understand all this before you go to the woods.
If the youngster does get a turkey, they will be thrilled. Admire the bird with them, smooth its feathers, feel its beard and spurs letting them know it is OK to do this it is a great accomplishment and take lots of photos. Let them see how proud you are of the job they did even if they missed. Explain to them that missing is just part of it and get after another bird like it’s no big deal. If you keep the kid up he will remember the hunt forever but if they get down on themselves for messing up they may never turkey hunt again so keep an upbeat attitude no matter what happens and you might have a hunting partner for life.