Tune Up for Turkey

Don and his son with turkeys they harvested.

Asheville  – Last year NC saw a record turkey harvest. Many attribute that to the lockdown in the pandemic, giving hunters more time in the field. With many new hunters that may be the case again this year. It’s time to get ready. Youth week starts April 3rd and the regular season running April 10 – May 8.  If you are one of those first-time hunters that means you’ve just got a few weeks to get ready. Here are some things you need to do to prepare for opening day.

Like any other game, you hunt pre-season preparation is critical to success, and a key element in that is scouting. Just like in deer hunting, you can’t just walk out in the woods, sit down, and wait for the game to come to you. You need to know where they are. As the breeding season approaches flocks to break up as the hens prepare to nest and toms gobble and strut looking for breeding hens. Being in the woods as dawn approaches is a good time to locate favorite roosting trees and areas. Tom’s usually gobble on the roost before fly down. That’s what you’re listening for. Look for where they land when they fly down and in which direction they move when they hit the ground. That gives you a good idea of where you need to set up to call in a big tom.

Turkeys have great survival instincts. And the primary instinct they use is their superior eyesight. Most hunters will tell you turkeys have grown warier of predators to include humans. The one thing that will give you away faster than anything is movement. That is where the proper camouflage clothing gives you an edge. You blend in with the terrain and vegetation and reduce the turkey’s ability to see slight movements you make. Camo is important but some kind of screen or ground blind does even more to conceal movement.

Even though many manufacturers offer shotguns designed for turkey hunting, any shotgun will do (NC only allows shotgun and archery for turkey). What is important is the choke and shotgun shell. Most hunters choose a 12 gauge for the amount of shot it offers but doesn’t discount the 20 gauge which is gaining in popularity because of its lower recoil. A Full choke is the minimum needed or an Extra Full designed specifically for turkey hunting is even better. There are a couple of reasons for a tight choke. First, shots at turkey can be longer than normal ranges, up to 40 – 50 yards. Second, your target is the neck and head; an area about 10 inches long and 2-3 inches wide. You want to put as much shot in that small area as possible.

Don’t get stingy buying a turkey load. Many a turkey has run or flown away because of poor pellet performance. Inexpensive loads usually have lead pellets which can deform traveling down the barrel leaving holes in the pattern. Quality turkey loads are designed to reduce shot deformation and hold a tighter pattern than standard loads. These are usually nickel-plated or tungsten shot and although cost more, they typically pattern tighter and put more shot on target. They are worth the money. 

If you haven’t already, get turkey calls and start practicing. The two basic types and simplest to learn are the box call and push-pin. Start with one of those to mimic the most useful sound you’ll need, the hen yelp. Next up is the striker, slate, or pot call where you move a striker across a slate surface. The most difficult to master is the mouth diaphragm call. The main thing to get started is by the call and practice before the season starts.

To really close the deal on bringing in a gobbler, think about getting at least a hen decoy. These are usually made of some foam material so they can be rolled up for easy carry. The first thing a gobbler does when he hits the ground is looking for hens to breed. Your yelps in the vicinity of a decoy will at least get a Tom headed in your direction. Sounds like a lot of gear, right? That’s why you may want to look at getting a turkey vest to carry all of it. They usually have several pockets/pouches for shells, calls, and other needed accessories. A vest is a great investment. Time to get tuned up for an epic  turkey season!

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