Turkey Preparation: What you Should Be Doing Now
By Billy Pryor
If you are a turkey hunter then you probably already know that spring turkey hunting can be completely different than fall turkey hunting, but the fundamentals to prepare for either are going to be the same. Like any hunting, the key to success is hard work during the off season. You need to physically and mentally prepare yourself for the upcoming hunting season weeks or even months in advance. Here are a few chores you should be doing ahead of the season to optimize success during your spring turkey hunts.
It goes without saying that when and where to find birds is crucial to your success in the field. Before spring turkey season opens, take some time to observe the land that you will be hunting. Look for feeding areas in the morning, roosting locations during the evening and travel routes in between those times. You can basically do what you would do for deer, take note of high activity areas, and do as much scouting as you can from a distance. Use binoculars from atop a ridge or set up trail cameras near areas you think turkeys are traveling through. This will be a huge help in seeing what times and what directions the turkeys are moving. Knowing these patterns will allow you to find a hunting spot that will give you a decent shot at a turkey as he flies down from the roost, feeds, or heads home for the night. Keep an eye out for anything that may potentially get your bird “hung up”. Things like draws, creeks, rivers, trees, fences, buildings, or roads may stop a turkey from coming in towards your call. Another important task is while looking at the land and learning the turkey’s patterns, you may want to take note of the layout of the landscape itself. You may notice things like ravines, creek beds, fences, or terraces. Make sure that you know where YOU are going, so that way you do not find yourself in a rough situation while trying to make it to your sweet spot in the dark hours of the morning.
Practice – Practice – Practice! Working on your turkey calls before the season opens could help you bring in the big toms. If you want to call in an old and experienced bird, practice and repetition will keep you from making mistakes. It is a good idea to have and understand several different call styles like diaphragms (aka mouth calls), slate and striker, and box calls. Some turkeys will prefer one call over another, like a young hen or maybe an older and raspier hen. All calls are slightly different from one another, and some hunters will find that they have a preference for the sound of one type especially, just like the turkeys do. If you are going to be doing a solid amount of calling, then learning the quirks of each call type is definitely a useful task.
Whether you’re bow hunting or using a shotgun, one of the best ways to prepare for the spring turkey season is to practice with the weapon you will be using during your hunt. Get to the range as much as possible. Practicing too much is not a thing, unless you are considering the price of ammunition. If you are getting a new turkey shotgun, I recommend a 12 gauge with a matte or camouflage finish. Once you know what shotgun you will be using, take the time to pattern your shotgun and understand the abilities and limitations of that gun while using different chokes and loads.
Try shooting clay pigeons or paper targets. For bow hunters, I believe that extra practice is critical.
Turkeys have a very small “kill-zone” and they can be very difficult to take down with a bow. You should also practice shooting from a sitting position. Make sure you know where your arrow is going to hit every time. Trust me, chasing down a turkey with an arrow stuck through it is not a fun time.
Checking Your Gear
You may be ready to get out and start hunting, but that does not mean that your gear is. A hunter can only be as good as the equipment he is using. Checking all of your gear before opening day should be a priority when preparing for the season. Making sure to inspect, clean, and service your shotgun or your bow is the most important part of this tip, as it could be a life threatening mistake if you do not take the time to maintain your weapon. Check all of your gear for signs of wear and make sure all the components of your equipment are in working order.
Another very important piece of gear that turkey hunters need to inspect are their calls. If the diaphragm (mouth calls) were not properly stored, then they more than likely dry rotted over the winter and will need to be replaced. Check your slate and box calls for proper surface roughness and test their call quality after sanding.
Turkeys have extremely good vision and can detect the slightest movements. They also have excellent hearing. It is very important to have comfortable camo that will blend into the environment without making any noise. Check out the foliage in the area you will be hunting and find a camo pattern that matches well to keep you fully concealed. This will include covering your face with a mask, wearing thin gloves, all the way to a nice pattern on your boots. Keep in mind that spring weather is unpredictable. While you are checking the camo that you have in your closet, be sure to check if you have enough to layer on if it gets chilly. You can always take some off if it is warm but you want to stay camouflaged regardless. If you do not have leafy head to toe camo then a pop up blind offers great concealment and will not bother the turkeys at all. I have set my blind up on the morning of the hunt and it has never made them look twice. Either way, just make sure noise and movement are as slight as possible. Make sure that these items are ready and good shape for opening day.
Making a decoy visually stunning enough to fool most humans is no problem with the technology we have today. Maybe it is time to consider updating your decoys. Companies like Dave Smith decoys and Avian X offer some of the most realistic looking decoys on the market. Decoys will be a huge asset if they are placed properly. It only takes a couple of decoys strategically placed to fool a mature tom. I like to hunt with a jake and a hen. A simple setup is done by positioning your turkey decoys at a 45 degree angle from yourself on the opposite side of where you think the turkeys will come in from.
When a tom comes in you do not want him seeing a faded, unimpressive decoy. Now is a good time to get your old decoys out and check if you are due for an upgrade.
A lot of turkey hunters know that morning and evening hunts are important, but for completely different reasons. A great way to look at an evening hunt is solely to find out where the turkeys are roosting for the night. When the sun starts disappearing under the horizon, you should be able to hear the turkeys making a cackling sound as they fly up to their roosts. If you use these evenings to observe and gather information for your morning hunts then you can set up close and corner a tom at sunrise! Simply locate the areas in which you last heard the turkeys heading to the roost and make sure to be back in that spot on opening day before the sun comes up!.
UP BEFORE THE SUN
A scouting method that is not focused on, the lay of the land but is equally important is dawn and dusk times. Sunrise and sunset times are a very important thing to keep in mind because the cloak of darkness will be the best way to sneak into or out of an area that has turkeys roosted nearby without spooking them. You will need enough time to sneak in and get situated without being busted.
Basically, get out and get ready before the turkeys do. Make sure you have enough time to get your decoys set up and your blind positioned for daybreak. Knowing this information and the way it changes throughout the season will give you one extra advantage on those keen birds!
Off season preparation and extreme attention to detail will give you an advantage during any hunt.
Keep in mind, every action has an equal reaction and preparing for the upcoming season will give you better results. A lot of these seemingly simple tasks are often overlooked but they could easily be the difference between a trophy tom or two empty hands.