It might be the smell of the fresh spring air, the challenge of coaxing in one of Ontario’s smartest game birds, or the sheer shock of a thunderous gobble coming from an intimate tom just before day break. Whatever it is, turkey hunting is one of the most exhilarating and enjoyable hunts you’ll ever experience. If you’d like to get in on the action, we cover everything you’ll need to get started once you’ve completed your turkey hunter’s safety course.
Because turkeys are so vocal and use sound to communicate, calls are essential when turkey hunting. There are several different types of calls on the market today: Box calls (below), slate calls, mouth calls, and push button calls to name a few. Each of these has a time and place in the woods when they really shine, but to start out with, the two main calls you should acquire a box call and a double reed mouth call. These will allow you to cover a wide range of pitch and volume, and allow you to stay fairly still when the birds get into range.
Once you have these calls, it’s extremely important to practice, practice, practice. The three calls you should learn on both your box and mouth calls are yelps, clucks and purrs. Learn how to use them in conjunction with each other and it’s more than enough to call in the wariest of toms. If you’re having troubles learning how perfect your calling, there are many instructional videos online that will demonstrate the proper mouth movements.
Although many people think of decoys when they think of turkey hunting, they are not a necessity the way calls are. In fact, sometimes I find them to be more of a burden than a blessing. That being said, there can be a time and place for them. If you’re going to put out decoys, I’ve found it’s best to put out a hen and a jake, or hen and a tom decoy. In my experience, if you simply use a hen decoy, the birds will hang out just outside of shooting range and wait for the lonesome hen to come to them. If you are going to get them, it’s also important to make sure they are of good quality, because turkeys have extremely good vision.
When it comes to the business end of your turkey-hunting gear, a waterfowl scattergun will suffice, but you will need to make a few upgrades. First off, if it’s not already camo, buy yourself a camo wrap (below) from your local sporting goods store. This inexpensive wrap can be invaluable when masking the glare of a nice blued-steel receiver and barrel from a sharp-eyed tom.
Next is patterning your gun. When you’re hunting turkeys, the kill zone is very small—from the bottom of the neck to the top of the head—so it’s important to have as tight of a pattern as possible. You achieve this by playing around with different turkey chokes and loads to see which combination works best with your shotgun. Ideally when you go to the range, you are looking for a maximum distance in which you can effectively kill a turkey. Take shots at a turkey silhouette every 10 yards from 20 to 50 yards. When you get fewer than 10 pellets in the kill zone you’ve found your limit.
If you’ve been hunting for any length of time, you probably have all the right clothing already. As mentioned before, turkeys have extremely good eyesight, so full camo is a necessity in the turkey woods. Personally, I prefer a camo pattern with lighter tones like Realtree AP, which I find blends in better with the forest floor. When turkey hunting, you’re going to have a lot of items that you need to carry and be able to access quickly and stealthily.
For this, I highly recommend picking up a high-quality turkey vest (above). These vests are designed specifically for turkey hunting and have pockets that will not only fit all of your gear, but also make it extremely accessible.
In preparation for the upcoming spring season, now is the time to start scouting for turkeys. For three key tips to finding the turkeys, see this post by field editor Rocky Crawford, who outlines everything from timing to signs indicating that birds are in the area.
Now you’re ready for a safe and enjoyable first season. Remember to respect property owners and other hunters, and I guarantee you, your first spring chasing toms will be one you remember!