Essential Turkey Hunting Tips

The knowledge of how to successfully harvest a turkey often comes down to accumulating it over several seasons worth of blundered hunts and failures. Fortunately, hunters have this knowledge available right at their fingertips. With a quick google search, a hunter can learn this information in just a few short minutes. To prove this point, this article will cover several critical turkey hunting tips every hunter should know before chasing gobblers this spring!

Spring turkey hunting tips and tactics that will help you bag a bird come down to several critical elements:

  1. Knowing the effective range of your weapon 
  2. Having the right turkey calls in your vest 
  3. Knowing what decoys are effective 
  4. Using the correct decoy setup 
  5. Having patience and stamina in the field

Know Your Weapon’s Potential

As a hunter, it’s your ethical responsibility to know your weapon’s effective distance. When bow hunting for turkey, most bow hunters will not take a shot past 30 – 40 yards. If you’re using a guillotine style broadhead, this range is usually shorter. For gun hunters, the most crucial factor is a shotgun’s shot pattern. Knowing the results of your shotgun’s choke and ammunition combination will give you an idea as to your effective range and the distance to place your turkey decoys.  

Testing your shotgun’s true center and the pattern resulting from the ammo and choke combination can be done in one shot for an evaluation. Use a piece of paper that is approximately 30” x 30” with a marked aim point at the center. The best method for analyzing a shotgun’s true pattern is to shoot off a solid rest, aiming at the center mark on the 30” x 30” paper, placing the aim point so that it is floating just above the top of your bead on your barrel. If you are using another sight, such as a red dot or shotgun scope, you’ll need to first sight it in with your choice of ammo. Once this is done you can test the effective distance at 40 yards. Place one shot on the 30” x 30” paper, then evaluate the pattern. When using this method, the standard is 70% of the shot in a 30” circle at 40 yards. If this is not achieved try a new choke or load different ammo.

The goal of the combination between your selection of choke and ammunition is to obtain the proper constriction for the densest shot pattern. Every shotgun, choke, and ammo combination, regardless if they’re the same brand and type, is going to have a unique pattern. One mistake that many turkey hunters often make is using a choke that is too constricted. An extremely tight turkey choke can have a negative effect by adversely distorting the pattern quality. This is the result of the constriction causing the pellets to collide harshly, especially lead or softer pellets, which results in deformed pellets and erratic flight.

Have the Right Turkey Call

Having the right turkey call in the field doesn’t mean packing every call you own in your turkey vest. All turkey hunters have a favorite call or two; that call that sits in your hand perfectly or in your mouth comfortably. This call should allow you to get those resounding pitches, those perfectly cadenced clucks, or those tongue rolling purrs. Depending on the surface or materials calls are made from, or the type of cut for diaphragm calls, some can emit higher pitches and raspier tones. It’s an advantage to have a variety of calls that sound distinctively different in your vest. This will allow you to pique the interest of toms who may not be responding to one call or the other. It also keeps toms from learning what your call sounds like over the course of hunting one property repeatedly.

Keep in mind that pot, box, or diaphragm calls are not the only calls you should pack. Always make sure to pack a locator call, even if you find yourself using it only a few times during a season. Using an owl hoot in the early mornings or a crow call in the late morning or early afternoon can locate birds that may have gone silent. The most important thing to remember, and one all turkey hunters have been guilty of at some point, is the tendency to overcall! Overcalling can alarm birds and end a hunt before it even gets started.

Know Which Turkey Decoys to Set Up

The temperament of the birds in the area you’re hunting is going to be influenced by the timing of the season. Based on that information, using the right decoy combination will give you higher odds of success.

  • In the early season, dominant birds will be more aggressive towards other strutters in rivalry for their place in the pecking order.  
  • During the rise of the breeding cycle, toms will often run into the action regardless which decoys you use. Using a flock of hens can easily entice multiple toms into your setup because of better breeding odds. 
  • As the peak of the breeding cycle, toms and dominant birds can be easily enticed by a flock of hen decoys: feeding, standing/walking, and receptive breeding hen decoys are all good choices. 
  • During the downward cycle of the breeding cycle, toms will be less aggressive, often out of breeding mode, or uninterested in committing to a tom decoy or large flock of hens. During this time using a single hen decoy works well.

Many strutting decoys allow you to use a real tail. Using a jake fan in particular with these decoys will bear a resemblance to a submissive bird. Keep in mind that even mature toms can be intimidated by a full strut decoy so using a jake fan is a good option.

Set Up Your Decoys Correctly

The actual layout of your decoys and the distance of the decoys in relation to where you’ll be hunting from is important in strategizing your shot. You should be able to calculate how close or how far your decoys should be dependent on your effective range with your shotgun or bow. In a shotgun scenario, you don’t want to place the decoy(s) less than 15 yards, or further than 35 yards. This will allow you an ethical and effective shot if a tom hangs-up short of your decoys. If you’re bow hunting, close shots are favored. In this case, bringing the decoys in even tighter will present better-shot opportunities.

If you know what direction the birds will be coming from try to stake the decoys out where the birds will have to cross in front of you. This scenario allows a better opportunity as strutting toms face away from you while approaching the decoys. This allows movement such as bringing the shotgun up to your shoulder or drawing your bow back just before the shot. Be smart and creative with your decoy layout, but never set up decoys too close together; a bunched-up flock resembles insecurity and will alert approaching birds.

Being Comfortable in the Field  

Every turkey hunter knows that patience is a huge advantage and key for a successful turkey hunt. There is nothing that can ensure patience quite like being comfortable and having the right gear. Besides having quality hunting clothes, sufficient for the weather you will be hunting, there are other important items you should have available that will keep you in the field even on extended hunts. 

Turkey Vest: A comfortable quality turkey vest with numerous pockets and a harvest bag is important for stowing all your hunting gear in an easily accessible manner. Look for vests that can be customized to fit you perfectly without being constricting or flapping when you move.

Chair or Lounger: A comfortable, lightweight, easy to carry stool or turkey lounger that is low to the ground can keep you dry from the morning dew on the ground and keep your legs from going to sleep. A turkey lounger with a backrest makes it easy for you to set up comfortably anywhere, even for an extended sit. Most turkey hunting chairs come with a carry strap and can be carried without interfering with a shotgun or bow when carried on the shoulder. 

Hunting Boots: You never know where chasing a turkey will take you, or how far you may have to trek, so it’s important that your boots fit well and offer sufficient support and protection. Waterproof boots are key for areas where you could be crossing creek bottoms or ditches. If you’re hunting in the south, snake boots are ideal, especially in low swampy areas. Choosing the right sole is key; for flat regions or sandy terrain, a hiking style sole or less aggressive tread works well, whereas, a more aggressive tread will handle the hilly, rocky Midwestern terrain.  

Knowing these turkey hunting tips, instead of learning them from several season’s worth of failed hunts will help you knock down a bird this spring. As turkey season approaches remember to learn your effective shooting distance, practice with a variety of calls, strategize your turkey decoy setups, and prepare to take the right gear into the field. These tips, combined with the right turkey scouting tactics ahead of time will put the odds of a harvest in your favor.