Hunting wild turkeys can be an exhilarating experience for any would-be meat eater, offering a sustainable and rewarding grocery trip. In this beginner's guide, we'll explore how to hunt wild turkeys, from understanding their behavior to mastering their calls and finding the perfect hunting spot.
Understanding Wild Turkey Behavior
Wild turkeys are incredibly tricky and wary creatures. Success hinges on you learning as much about them as you can. Turkeys are most active during the morning and late afternoon, but most hunters focus on the earliest part of the day. In fact, many states, like New Jersey, close hunting hours at 12PM, so be sure to check your regulations. At night they roost in the trees and fly down to the ground at dawn to search for food and breeding opportunities. Identifying these roosting areas can give you a significant advantage in your hunt. The best way to find the roosting areas is to venture out before dawn and listen for gobbling before hunting season starts. Male turkeys, known as Toms, tend to gobble the most while they're still up in the trees in the morning and sometimes become silent once they fly down.
Mastering the Art of Turkey Calling
One of the most essential skills in turkey hunting is learning how to call a turkey. Turkeys communicate through a wide range of vocalizations, including yelps, clucks, and purrs. As a hunter, learning to mimic these sounds to attract your quarry is crucial.
There are several types of turkey calls out there. The main ones are box calls, slate calls, and mouth calls. Practice with different calls to find the one that works best for you. Most people find box calls to be the easiest to learn as a beginner. The main tactic is to replicate the sound of a female turkey in order to lure a horny male into shooting range. The most common sound that we use is the yelp call, which is intended to sound like a female turkey that is lonely and looking for love. Be careful not to call too much, though. In the wild, when turkeys are calling to each other, the female yelps so that the male will gobble, and if she likes how he sounds, she goes to him. We're hoping to make the reverse happen, so the trick is to call just enough to make that gobbler curious enough to come try and find the girl he heard without calling so much that he figures she's not interested or she would have come over.
Get a Turkey Choke For Your Shotgun
In most states, hunting with a rifle for wild turkeys is illegal, and bow hunting for turkeys is extremely tough, so shotguns are the preferred weapon. To kill a turkey effectively and humanely with such small pellets, you need to them to come within 40 yards of you, and shoot them in the head and neck with pellets fired through a special choke known commonly as a turkey choke. A choke is an insert at the end of a shotgun barrel that does exactly what its name implies. It constricts the pellets on their way out in order to keep them tight, or not, depending on the quarry. For fast flying targets at close range, like grouse and quail, hunters use a more open choke that allows the pellet pattern to spread very quickly, increasing the margin of error for the shot. With turkeys, you're shooting a target that is small and sometimes far away, so you want the pellets to stay as close together as possible. That way, you can be confident that at least one pellet will strike the brain or spine and cause instant death.
Finding the Perfect Hunting Spot on Public Hunting Land
While private land may offer a more controlled environment, it is not always available. Public hunting land can provide an exciting and cost-effective alternative for the aspiring turkey hunter. Many states and regions have designated public hunting lands that are home to thriving populations of wild turkeys. The hard part is finding them and beating out the competition from other hunters.
When scouting public hunting land, look for signs of turkey activity like tracks, droppings, scratching areas, and feathers. Consider visiting the property multiple times to learn the landscape, locate some roosting sites, and select great hiding spots where the birds like to spend time.
Before venturing out, research the regulations and requirements for hunting in your area. Make sure you obtain the necessary permits and familiarize yourself with the local rules and guidelines, which can be very complicated in some states. Here in New Jersey, we have to buy permits that are specific to the week and the zone for turkey season.
As you embark on your journey to learn to hunt wild turkeys, it's important to remember that practice and patience are key. Turkey hunting is really hard. I think it is the most difficult hunt in the eastern US. You probably will fail many times before you succeed. All you can do is spend time studying turkey behavior, mastering the art of calling, and familiarizing yourself with your chosen hunting grounds, and try to make it happen. With determination and persistence, you'll soon become a skilled meat eater, adept at hunting wild turkeys and enjoying the fruits of your labor.