As you venture out into the woods or the local coffee shops and corner stores this spring, you’re likely to encounter two types of individuals in pursuit of turkeys.

There are people who hunt turkeys, and then there are turkey hunters. And there’s a big difference between the two, though it may not be instantly recognizable. The difference is based on things like experience, expertise and attitude. I once met a casual turkey hunter, but only once. If you’re not sure how to tell the difference, here are a few helpful hints.

One of the more obvious diagnostic characteristics is the person’s gun. If it’s wrapped or painted in camo, that’s a good indication they’re serious about the sport. Still, you can’t dismiss someone toting a plain old matte-finish and dull-wood-stock smoothbore that might also double as a duck gun. But if their fowling piece has polished blue metal and a bowling-ball finish, dismiss this person immediately or point them in the direction of the nearest gun shop.

Barrel length is another clue. If they’ve been at the sport long enough, they’ve figured out the shorter the better. It means more maneuverability in tight quarters and less weight to tote around. And that weight loss might compensate for the added weight of a scope. This can be a tricky one because a few traditionalists prefer to go old-school with just a single bead sight while most serious turkey hunters prefer some type of optic.

Action can also be helpful. Single shots are for kids under 16. If it’s a double barrel, the owner may be a world-class trap or skeet shooter but has very little turkey hunting experience. If they’re toting an auto-loader, they may be less experienced or merely younger. The turkey gun of choice among the older, more-experienced turkey hunters is the pump or slide action. And folks toting muzzleloaders are just plain showoffs.

Another obvious characteristic is the turkey vest. It’s a camo garment outfitted with numerous pockets on the front, and a large game pouch and seat cushion on the back. If the individual is wearing a turkey vest, you can conclude with (almost) 90 percent certainty they are a turkey hunter. If the vest shows excessive wear and fading, that goes up to 95 percent. If, however, the vest is new and stiff, there’s a distinct possibility this is not a turkey hunter but a person who hunts turkeys and wants to be a turkey hunter. And you have to give those under age 16 the benefit of the doubt. No vest doesn’t mean they’re not a turkey hunter but it certainly stacks the odds against them.

If you’re still not sure, footwear can sometimes be a diagnostic characteristic. Look first at boot height. Knee-highs are a good sign. If the fellow is wearing ankle-high boots I would not recommend asking him for any turkey-hunting advice.

There are also certain regional preferences to consider. Knee-high rubber boots are often preferred in Maine due to the abundance of wet places our turkey hunters must trod through. Here, well-worn, olive-drab Lacrosse Burlys are a good indication of a real Maine turkey hunter, though camo, neoprene knee-highs have replaced them in more recent years. Again, look at the wear, and whether or not the pants are tucked in. A person wearing pant legs over knee-high boots is not only not a turkey hunter, they probably don’t have much woods experience of any kind.

Now, if the person is wearing turkey boots – the knee-high, lace-up leather and camouflage Cordura type sometimes also referred to as snake boots – they are almost certainly a turkey hunter, and likely one that has experience in several different states.

In fact, if you encounter a person with a faded, tattered turkey vest, toting a camo-wrapped, 12-gauge 870 Express and sporting well-worn knee-high lace-ups, you may very well be in the presence of someone in a caste above the turkey hunter: the turkey sage. Don’t ask them direct questions but listen carefully to whatever they say, as it comes from the voice of experience.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]