Another turkey season is almost upon us, and all indications are that it’s going to be a great one.
Birds are back in numbers we haven’t seen in some time. Opportunities abound, and interest levels are at an all-time high. Success is sometimes said to be where opportunity meets preparation. What follows are a few tips that might help you get ready and hopefully make your season more successful:
• Scout. Preseason scouting is vitally important. Get out and find some birds. Then study their behavior and look for patterns. If left undisturbed, turkeys can become quite routine during the breeding season, roosting in the same trees at night and feeding in the same field or patch of woods during the day. Once you find a routine, you can plot your plan of attack.
• Scout some more. Routines can sometimes change. Keep watching the birds right up to the start of hunting season. Also be aware that other hunters may be watching the same birds. If they arrive before you on opening morning, you’ll want to have a backup plan or two.
• Practice calling. The basis of spring turkey hunting is calling a bird into range. Sometimes they’ll come willingly; other times, it takes some finesse. This can be especially true of early-season birds. Also, you’ll be in a fairly excited state and more likely to make mistakes. Practice to the point where calling becomes second nature.
• Don’t call birds before the season. Birds that otherwise might be receptive to your calling can quickly get turned off if they’re called to a lot. Your best chance to fool them might be the first time you call, and if the season’s not open yet, all you’ve done is educate them.
• Pattern your shotgun. This is important, whether you’ll be using the same gun as last year or not, but especially if you’re using a new gun. Things change. Maybe the sights got bumped, or you’re trying a new brand of shells. Don’t assume everything will be the same, or you might be unpleasantly surprised when the moment of truth arrives. Set up a paper target and take several shots using the same gun-load combination you’ll be hunting with. Then adjust your scope or sights — if you use them — to ensure that the densest portion of your pattern is hitting your point of aim. And take a few practice shots from the same sitting position you use while hunting. It could make a difference.
• Become familiar with the regulations. Can you shoot a bearded hen? Can you use a 10-gauge shotgun? What shot sizes are legal? Are magnified scopes legal? What about electronic game calls? Learn the laws so you don’t make a mistake or miss an opportunity.
• Become familiar with your quarry. Do you know how to tell the sex and age of a turkey? Males usually sport beards, but sometimes hens do as well. I’ve even seen hens strut, and heard them gobble. Toms and jakes have red heads, but the sun shining on an excited hen could make her head look a bit reddish, too.
• Be safe. Turkey hunting can and should be safe if you follow the rules and apply some common sense. Don’t try to stalk turkeys, and never shoot unless you are absolutely certain of your target and what’s beyond it. Don’t wear any clothing containing the colors red, white or blue. These are the same colors as a gobbler’s head and may draw fire from a careless hunter.
• Be courteous toward others. If you see a vehicle parked by the side of the road, assume it is another hunter and go elsewhere. If you hear another hunter working a bird, move on and find another bird. At best, you might spoil his or her chance of success. At worst, someone could get injured.
• Have fun. Hearing a distant gobble at dawn, then having a turkey respond to your call, can be exhilarating. Whether you ultimately bag a bird or not, a morning in the turkey woods is time well spent. And if you don’t, you’ll have plenty more opportunities in the weeks ahead.
Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be contacted at: