Turkey Hunting 101

Turkey hunting is a challenging and exciting pursuit that requires skill, patience, and a deep understanding of the birds’ behavior and habitat. Whether you’re a seasoned hunter or a beginner, there are many tips and techniques that can help you be more successful in the field. In this article, we’ll cover the basics of turkey hunting.

A little bit of turkey hunting history

The history of wild turkey populations in the United States has been one of decline and restoration. At one point, wild turkeys were on the brink of extinction, with only a few remaining in the most remote areas of the country. However, thanks to extensive restoration efforts, wild turkey populations have rebounded and can now be found throughout most of the country.

The decline of the wild turkey population began in the latter part of the 19th century and continued through the 1930s. The reasons for the decline were numerous, but habitat loss and overhunting were the primary factors. As settlers moved westward, they cleared land for agriculture and development, which destroyed much of the turkey’s habitat. Additionally, hunters killed turkeys in large numbers for food, sport, and feathers.

By the time World War II ended, the wild turkey population had dwindled to the point where it was in danger of disappearing altogether. However, in the years that followed, individual states, conservation groups, and hunters began working to bring the species back from the brink. These efforts included habitat restoration, captive breeding and release programs, and strict hunting regulations.

One of the most significant restoration efforts took place in the 1950s and 1960s, when the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) was founded. The NWTF worked to raise awareness about the plight of wild turkeys and to promote conservation and restoration efforts. The organization also helped to fund research on turkey biology and behavior, which led to the development of new management strategies.

Today, the wild turkey population is thriving, with an estimated 6.5 million birds in the United States. The population is made up of five subspecies, each with its own range and habitat preferences. The Eastern subspecies is the most abundant and is found primarily in the eastern half of the country. The other subspecies are the Florida, Merriam, Rio Grande, Gould’s, and Oscellated, each residing in specific regions.

Despite the success of restoration efforts, hunting wild turkeys remains a popular pastime in the United States. Many hunters enjoy the challenge of pursuing these elusive birds, which are known for their keen senses and wary nature. However, there is some debate about the use of specialized equipment and gear in turkey hunting. While some hunters swear by high-tech gear like electronic red dot sights and specially designed shotguns, others argue that such equipment is unnecessary and can detract from the experience of hunting in the wild.

Picking the right shotgun for turkey hunting

picking the right shotgun for turkey hunting

The art of turkey hunting requires the right equipment, and the shotgun you choose is one of the most important factors in your success. While some hunters may try to convince you that a new shotgun is necessary for turkey hunting, your trusty old 12-gauge may be all you need. It’s true that there are advantages to newer models, but let’s take a closer look at what’s truly essential before you shell out your hard-earned money.

Turkeys are known for their toughness and resilience, and it can take a significant amount of pellet energy and multiple shots to bring one down. The key to a successful hunt is to center your shot pattern on the bird’s head and neck, which are small and difficult targets. Your shotgun must be capable of placing as many pieces of shot as possible in these areas to ensure a clean and humane kill.

While some hunters may use shotguns other than 12-gauges, this caliber is generally considered the best choice for turkey hunting, and it should be choked full. A shotgun with a 3-inch chamber can provide a slight advantage over a 2-3/4-inch chamber, as it allows you to put more shots into the bird’s head and neck.

Shotgun shooting is not an exact science, as the broad shot pattern of the shotgun can result in some errors. However, as long as you can keep the head and neck of the turkey within your shotgun pattern at a reasonable range, you should be in good shape. You do not necessarily need fancy sighting options like scopes to be successful; in fact, they may be a marketing ploy to get you to spend more money.

When it comes to turkey hunting, the most important thing is to choose a shotgun that you are comfortable with, and that is capable of delivering a lethal shot. With the right equipment and a little bit of skill, you’ll be well on your way to bringing home a delicious wild turkey for your next holiday meal.

Picking the right ammunition for turkey hunting

When it comes to hunting turkeys, choosing the right ammunition can make all the difference. While everyone has their own preferences, my recommendation is to prioritize a larger shot charge over velocity. This means opting for a 2-3/4-inch chambered 12-gauge loaded with 1-3/8 or 1-1/2 ounces of lead shot, or a 3-inch chambered 12-gauge loaded with 1-7/8 ounces of shot.

Shot size is another important factor to consider. Some hunters prefer a larger number of smaller shots for more impact, while others prefer heavier and larger shots for deeper penetration. Shot sizes can range anywhere from #7s to #4s, but my personal preference lies somewhere in the middle with #5s for most hunting situations.

No matter what shot size you choose, it’s important to pattern your shotgun at about 30 yards in order to evaluate the pattern density as compared to the size of a turkey’s head and neck. This will ensure a clean and humane kill. Remember, turkeys are tough birds, and it often takes a lot of pellet energy and multiple impacts to bring them down. Choosing the right ammunition can increase your chances of success and make your turkey hunting experience more enjoyable.

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Should you use a decoy when turkey hunting or not?

Using decoys can be a smart strategy when turkey hunting for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the sight of the decoys can attract the birds, encouraging them to come closer and giving you a better chance for a successful shot.

Additionally, decoys can help distract the turkeys, keeping their attention focused on the decoys instead of on you. Turkeys have excellent eyesight, so having a decoy to draw their gaze can give you the opportunity to move and prepare for your shot without being detected.

You don’t necessarily need to invest in a lot of expensive decoys, as even just one or two can be effective. There is a wide variety of options to choose from, ranging from simple silhouettes to inflatable or full-bodied decoys. Personally, I prefer the lightweight blow-up kind, as they are easy to pack and set up.

When setting up your decoys, it’s important to choose an area within your shotgun range and with a clear view, so the turkeys can quickly spot them. Placing the decoys around 30 yards apart can also be helpful as a range indicator when a bird comes into view.

Remember, while decoys can be a useful tool for turkey hunting, they are just one aspect of a successful turkey hunt, and it’s important to also have a solid understanding of turkey behavior and hunting techniques.

Types of calls

Compared to the challenging art of duck and goose calling, turkey calling is often considered relatively easy to learn. However, one of the first things new turkey hunters will notice is the abundance of turkey call types to choose from. The most basic choices are the slate or friction call, the box call, the push-pull, and the mouth or diaphragm call, each with its own unique subtypes.

In addition to turkey calls, a locator call can also be helpful to have. Unlike other calls that mimic turkey sounds, locator calls produce unfamiliar sounds that may attract turkeys’ attention. A crow or hawk call is a popular choice for a locator call, but any loud sound may encourage turkeys to gobble, indicating their presence to the hunter. An amusing story highlights this fact: once, while preparing to hunt, an anti-hunter in a car honked his horn to disturb the nearby game. Instead, the turkeys began gobbling in response, leading the hunter in the right direction.

While all turkey calls have their uses, the mouth or diaphragm call can be the most challenging to master due to its uncomfortable feeling in the mouth. However, it is a hands-free option that reduces movement and is not affected by the weather. The push-pull and box calls, on the other hand, are the easiest to master and produce sound through a scratching movement. These calls are not ideal for wet conditions because they rely on wood and friction.

The slate call, while slightly more difficult to master, is a popular choice that includes a pot and striker. This call can produce various turkey sounds, including soft clucks, chirps, and loud yelps. By adjusting the striker’s angle, movement, and pressure, the hunter can create a range of sounds. Ultimately, each turkey call has its strengths and weaknesses, so hunters should choose the one that works best for their needs and preferences.

Learning to call

learning to call

Utilizing turkey calls can prove to be highly advantageous while hunting, and I strongly advocate for their use. As previously mentioned, mastering turkey calling is not an arduous task, and a comprehensive guide is often included within the call’s packaging. Additionally, there are numerous online resources available, including YouTube videos, that provide detailed instructions on producing the required sounds. I highly recommend taking advantage of these resources to improve your turkey-calling abilities.

Camouflage and field gear for turkey hunting

Turkeys are blessed with exceptional eyesight, making it crucial to remain hidden and minimize movements when hunting them. Most turkey hunters consider full camo, including a face net, mandatory rather than optional. While some hunters prefer face painting, I personally favor netting as it can be easily removed or rolled up when not in use. Regardless of the method you choose, it’s important to employ some form of camo to avoid standing out like a sore thumb.

Using a small portable blind can also be beneficial, but proper camouflage allows you to utilize the natural surroundings to conceal yourself. In addition, using a barrier to ward off moisture is essential. Many hunters carry a cushion, some of which can be attached to your belt for easy access. Although I haven’t used one, they appear to be quite comfortable, particularly when you’re leaning against a tree for support. I usually pack a backpack or fanny-style pack and keep a black garbage bag inside for this purpose. It’s also helpful for other purposes.

Carrying a pack is useful, but if you don’t have one, you can place your calls and other gear inside whatever you have available. Just make sure it isn’t a color that would attract the turkeys’ attention. While some hunters prefer a shotgun rest, I find it unnecessary while shooting. However, it can be a convenient place to rest your shotgun while you wait for the turkeys, keeping your movements to a minimum.


cabbage banner 250Turkey hunting can be an exciting and challenging outdoor activity that requires a combination of skill, patience, and the right equipment. From mastering turkey calls to employing effective camouflage techniques and staying comfortable during long hours in the field, there are many factors to consider when pursuing these elusive birds.

However, with the right preparation and dedication, turkey hunting can be a rewarding experience that allows hunters to connect with nature and test their hunting skills. So, if you’re looking for a thrilling adventure in the great outdoors, consider giving turkey hunting a try and see if you have what it takes to outsmart these wily game birds.

This article was submitted by Darryl Potter.

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