Walk on the wild side

Brad Harvey: Don’t miss out on those gobblers this season

April 7, 2013 

I can’t believe it’s finally here. Even though it’s only been three months since deer season ended, I’ve been hankerin’ to get back in the woods the entire time. No one was any happier to see turkey season open April 1 than this old boy.

For the life of me, I can’t understand why more deer hunters don’t turkey hunt. As opposed to sitting high atop a tree for hours on end as you await a single chance, turkey hunting is an interactive sport that can make your heart race with each and every answer of your call by an old gobbler.

The truth of it is, unlike hunting deer, chasing turkeys can be an absolute thrill – even when you never see one. Hearing one gobble in the distance or while still on the roost during the early morning darkness is enough to keep a hunter charged up about getting back out there as quickly as possible.

Some hunters haven’t jumped into the sport for silly reasons, such as not knowing enough about it and being too hardheaded to ask their friends who do. These types are always the guys and never the girls. The gals won’t hesitate to ask someone questions or how they could do better.

For whatever reason, most fellas have this hang-up about being seen by their peers as ignorant in regard to any type of hunting. That’s about as ridiculous as it gets, because I know some good deer hunters who are terrible at taking turkeys.

I also know incredible turkey hunters who limit out every season but have pitiful luck come deer season.

And, of course, there are some who excel in every outdoor arena. The first thing any of them will tell you is: When it comes to any type of hunting, there’s simply no such thing as mastering it. About as quickly as you start thinking you’ve got it all figured out, some critter you’re chasing will outsmart you.

So, if you’re not a turkey hunter but think you might like to give it a shot, here’s a peek into some of the basics.

What to shoot with

I could write a book on this. Some hunters use 20-gauge shotguns, but most opt for a 12. Whichever you choose, you’ll still need a good turkey choke with four-, five- or six-shot shotgun shells. The biggest considerations here are finding the best performing combination of choke and shell for your gun, and using a shotgun with the right length of pull to fit your body. Any hunting store can help you.

Buddy up

If you know someone who’s an avid turkey hunter, ask them to let you tag along. Just know that chasing turkeys begins way before first light, and even the nicest guy isn’t going to wait around if you’re late. It’s only a one-month season, so each and every opportunity to go is too valuable to waste.

Getting into the woods under the cover of darkness is imperative because one of the first lessons you’re going to get is all about how well those darned birds can see. Forget all of those things you heard about turkeys being dumb, too. The slightest twitch or sound can give you away in a hurry.

Cover up

Simply throwing on your camouflage shirt, pants and old hunting hat isn’t enough. You’ll need camouflaged gloves and a facemask so you’re hidden completely. Some opt for a full head covering; others choose a three-quarters mask that begins just below the eyes.

One of the funniest stories I’ve ever heard was a guy in the Lowcountry who couldn’t figure out why the turkeys were trotting off in the opposite direction every time they neared gun range. After a hunt with a friend, they finally figured out it was his socks that were alarming them.

Every time he would be set up in the proper manner, sitting on the ground with a tree behind him to break up his silhouette, his pant legs would ride up and show off his bright white athletic socks. Those things glared so brightly in the early morning light that it looked entirely unnatural, and the turkeys noticed it. After changing over to wearing black ones, he had no more trouble getting the birds within gun range.

Talkin’ the talk

The first thing you’ll need to know is what a real turkey sounds like. Try visiting the National Wild Turkey Federation’s website ( nwtf.org) where you can play recordings of all of the sounds turkeys make.

Using turkey calls to sound exactly like the real thing is an art and takes tons of practice. Just because you’re a beginner doesn’t mean you’re off-key efforts won’t entice those longbeards to come, though.

Anyone who has hunted turkeys for a good period of time has experienced a scenario where they thought another hunter was close because they were making some terribly bad sounding calls, only to have the real hen making those yelps to appear in front of them.

In reality, it’s over-calling that ruins more turkey hunts for the novice than the actual sounds they’re making. If you’ve made a couple of calls and had a gobble thrown back at you in response, shut up, put the call down and be patient. That bird knows exactly where you are and more than 70 percent of the time, he will show up. It may be 10 minutes or it may be an hour, but he’s likely to check things out before moving on.

This is when it pays to be hunting over decoys. As that tom approaches, he’s going to be looking for the hen that made those calls. The only way he’s going to ever get within the 30- to 40-yard range of your shotgun is if he sees what he’s looking for.

Now what?

The whole time you’re sitting there waiting, you need to be ready. The gun stock should be against your shoulder with the gun resting on your raised knee, pointing toward the direction where you last heard a gobble. If you’re sitting against a tree, this will put you nearly in position to take a shot with little movement.

Once you’re confident the turkey is well inside range – and you have a clear view of his head and neck – aim for the base of the neck where the feathers and bald skin of the tom’s head meet.

Remember to squeeze that trigger until it goes off and resist the urge to pull it. This will make you far more accurate and should put him on the ground.

The only thing left you’d need to know is carrying that heavy rascal out is all on you.

Good huntin’ – and good luck!

Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter: @BHarveyOutdoors.

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