If you live anywhere near a rural community, chances are you are surrounded by turkey hunters. Although these ponderous birds are mostly associated with the Thanksgiving table, they provide a popular sport for tens of thousands of hunters across the world. Turkeys are excellent birds for hunting because they’re relatively easy to track, ubiquitous to many areas, and most obviously, they’re delicious.
The issue is, turkey hunting can seem like an intimidating sport to enter for someone who lacks the turkey hunting basics. Maybe you’ve never thought about how to hunt turkey, or maybe you just need some turkey hunting tips. Thankfully, there’s no reason to be concerned. With just a few turkey hunting strategies, you’ll be tracking Rios, Osceolas, Merriams, and more in no time. Here’s what you need to know.
Start With The Scouting
Perhaps the most common mistake made by newcomers to the sport is thinking that you don’t need to carefully scout a location. After all, turkeys aren’t the brightest birds in the world, so you should be able to stand in any random field and bag a dozen of them, right? Well, not exactly. Successful hunts aren’t merely how to hunt turkey, you also need to know where to hunt turkey. Your personal turkey hunting journey will likely begin long before turkey season kicks off because you need to learn the favorite locations and patterns of your local birds.
Scouting turkey is a simple affair and can be quite fun in its own right. Most spring turkey tactics involve driving around farm country and keeping a keen eye and ear for local turkey populations. You should keep the radio low and a set of binoculars close at hand because you never know when you’ll be able to pick up a trail. Most turkeys are active from dawn to midmorning, and then again at night. If you find a hill with a clear view, take a moment to scout the surrounding land. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a strutting tom in full view.
By beginning this search before the hunting season begins, you’ll develop a sense of where to look once the moment is right. Of course, if you’re running out of luck, you can always ask around. Most turkey hunters are more than willing to share their second or third favorite spots with you.
Turkeys Are Creatures Of Habit
The best way to turkey hunt is to realize they are creatures of habit. All turkeys, but especially the male toms, will typically follow a similar path throughout the day. Studying this route – often called “patterning” – is a great way to gain insight into the locations and habits of your local turkeys. The precision of these patterns can be shockingly precise. I remember years back patterning a particular tom who had a more regular route than a city bus.
Every day he’d strut down a particular meadow just after dawn. From there, he’d take the east side of a tobacco field leading down to a small pond. After a jaunt around the pond, he’d make his way back up to the forest edge just before 10:00 am. You could almost set your watch by his progress.
Studying these patterns is a fantastic way of knowing where to be and win. In fact, these routes are a great method for streamlining your hunt. While decoys and turkey calls can be excellent additions to your hunting repertoire, these are all designed to attract the birds. Ultimately, you don’t need to attract a bird if you already know where it will be.
Roosters Aren’t the Only Birds Roosting
In addition to knowing their routes, knowing where a turkey goes to roost each night is powerful knowledge in your arsenal. Turkeys typically spend most of their days scouting their environment looking for food. However, when the time comes for sleep, they typically head towards their typical roost with incredible focus. The advantage of catching them in these moments is that their guard is typically down. Unlike during the day, when they’re focused on food or mating, a turkey returning to roost is hard to distract. This makes them easy to track.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to detect the patterns and find their roosts. If this is proving elusive, some careful observation can go a long way. Turkeys are large birds. Although they can fly, they cannot do so gracefully or quietly. Thus, when they ascend to their roosts for the night, you’ll be able to hear the distinctive “fwop fwop fwop” of a climbing turkey. Spend some time around dusk in a densely wooded area, and you’ll likely hear this sound guiding you to their posts. If you’re struggling, a well-placed bird-call of a predator like a crow or an owl can startle the turkeys, giving away their location.
Call and They’ll Answer
If you read any “how to turkey hunt for beginners” guide, you are likely to see a lot of importance assigned to turkey calls. Although this is an important turkey hunting strategy, I find it isn’t as crucial in how to turkey hunt as many make it seem. Turkey calls can attract the birds, but it can just as easily spook them. The primary mistake made by beginners is “over-calling.” If you lay onto a turkey call for fifty cycles, you are more than likely going to alert the birds that something is wrong in their environment. Discretion is truly the better part of valor here.
Another issue is that turkey calls might make a turkey scurry, but it is unlikely to come directly to you. If a turkey hears a call but doesn’t see another turkey, it will immediately detect danger and stop moving entirely. To circumvent this, one of the best turkey hunting tricks is to have a friend do the calling while you remain in position ready to take the shot. Have a friend call a turkey thirty or forty yards behind you while emulating the sounds of a turkey. Scratching the ground, moving back and forth, and generally being chaotic. Theatrics are encouraged here.
These noises and movements will cause the turkeys to stir, allowing you to take the shot. Always keep in mind that the caller should remain behind the shooter: you don’t want your friend to count towards your bag limit for the season.
“How do you hunt turkeys?” is never a simple question, because the strategies and methods will depend on your region, preferences, and skill. Even the time of day can have an impact, with evening turkey hunting methods differing sharply from morning routines. However, once you’ve passed Turkey Calling 101, you will quickly develop your own patterns, methods, and tricks. Turkey hunting is a fantastic and rewarding sport that encourages you to stay active, enjoy nature, and explore your environment.
Few types of hunting train you to be more in tune with your surroundings than tracking a turkey. Further, because of their relatively slow and predictable nature, they are a fairly simple and rewarding animal to hunt. It doesn’t hurt that they make for a delicious Sunday dinner. With just a few basic tips, you’ll be a turkey hunting pro in no time. Learn the basics, be patient, and have fun.