Next-Level Turkey Hunting
Turkey hunting appears straightforward, but it presents a conundrum. After all, with basic gear and rudimentary skills, many hunters can kill gobblers in some situations. But after enough time on your buttpad, you realize that turkey hunting offers endless growth opportunities, and that upping your game can help you consistently fill tags during challenging circumstances.
That progression includes many facets, including experience, skill sets and hunting equipment. Consider these tips for climbing the learning curve.
Been There, Done That
Too many turkey hunters handicap themselves by using the same method again and again. Sometimes, that works. For example, setting a blind and decoys near a food source usually produces results. But what if turkeys aren’t using fields? What if they’ve seemingly disappeared from your area? How do you react when they won’t answer your calling?
Experience holds the answers. Seasoned, well-traveled hunters know there’s more than one way to tag a bird, and they’ve learned how to adapt when turkeys won’t play fair. That might involve glassing and repositioning on mobile open-country turkeys. Or it could require long sits and ample patience for tight-lipped timber gobblers. Bad weather? Veterans know how turkeys typically react to crummy conditions and can anticipate their location.
It goes deeper. Through untold chapters of trial and error, next-level hunters have learned when to call or shut up, when to move or stay put, and how to respond when gobblers inevitably throw curveballs.
Mentors can explain these skills, or you can learn about them through magazines, videos and other media. However, there’s no substitute for in-the-woods experience — including repeated failures. You must live it to learn it.
Next-level turkey geeks have a mad array of esoteric skills. They can duplicate a broad range of hen (and gobbler) vocabulary on multiple instruments. Further, they can imitate almost any other bird or animal in the woods. And they can slip silently through the timber or even crawl through ditches while avoiding the sharp eyes of turkeys.
Those abilities come naturally to some folks. Most hunters, however, must learn them through constant practice. That often prompts a question: Do you have to be a contest-level caller or Daniel Boone-esque woodsman to kill turkeys? No, but honing those skills to the highest levels you can achieve will never hurt you. And when dealing with tough, pressured birds, they might make the difference. And look at it this way: Practicing calling, woodsmanship and other skills year-round lets you extend turkey season far beyond spring.
Disclaimer: You can kill gobblers with old clothing, all-purpose shotguns and fairly generic shotshells — provided everything works out in your favor. Next-level turkey nerds hedge their bets with technical gear, including performance clothing, specialized shotguns, aftermarket chokes, precision aiming devices, high-tech loads and decoys that often look better than real birds.
For camo, boots and decoys, simple advice suffices: Buy the best you can afford. With guns, ammo and accoutrements, the puzzle is more complicated. Basically, you want a firearm that will function flawlessly during all conditions. And you want to accessorize that with a choke that produces a tight, even pattern. High-tech loads of harder-than-lead shot will help with pellet count and downrange energy. You should also set up this gun specifically for turkeys, as it will differ from waterfowl or clay-target setups. Shooting at turkeys involves aiming through a series of sights, much like shooting a rifle. An easy-to-use aiming system, such as an after-market red-dot, will help put shots on target. Finding the perfect combination requires time and effort, but the results are worth it when birds present tough shots.
Reaching the Next Level
Putting these elements together can be tricky, and the quest to improve often takes years. But each notched tag marks a step forward, and after a few notches, you’ll likely look back and realize how far you’ve come. Here’s the best part: The journey doesn’t end, as even the best hunters know they’ll never reach the apex. Turkey hunting is a course from which you never truly graduate.