Spring Turkey Hunting 101 Luke Clayton Ten Tips to successful spring turkey hunting! After mulling the subject around a while, I discovered I could easily come up with ten times that many tips and tricks that I have seen put to use in the spring turkey woods. While getting an old long beard in close is never a given on any turkey hunt, there are several things one can do to up his or her odds. Three opinions are always better than one, especially when the opinions come from sources with knowledge gleaned from years of study. My outfitter buddies Kerry Joy and Sam Henderson own adjoining ranches out on the western edge of the Edwards Plateau in Schleicher county, not far from Eldorado. Ive hunted with these fellows for years and have learned much about the sport of duping a love sick gobbler in the springtime from them. Both Kerry and Sam grew up on their ranches, smack dab in the middle of some of the best turkey hunting in the state. These guys have the opportunity to study turkeys on a year-around basis, not just a few days out of the year while actually hunting them. Another good friend, outdoors writer Bob Hood, has been hunting turkeys well over 30 years and has amassed enough turkey savvy to fill several books; hes also harvested enough gobblers to fill the beds of several pick ups. Bob and I enjoyed a great hunt last spring with Kerry and Sam on their ranches in Schleicher County. Photo by Luke Clayton After much discussion, the four of us each compiled a list of ten tips to bagging a spring gobbler. Surprisingly, our lists were very similar. Following is our final edit. Hopefully, this information, gleaned from a total of more years than any of us would like to admit, will help you put your trophy gobbler on the ground this spring. LOCATE THE BIRDS FIRST- Even in excellent turkey country, chances are good the flocks of turkeys will be fairly concentrated, especially early in the spring season. Turkeys use the same general areas for roosts sites year after year, provided these areas are not over pressured. If you dont know where the birds are roosting, get out the day before your hunt and find them. Use an owl hoot or crow call late in the afternoon, stop every few hundred yards and call. Gobblers are very vocal, especially in the spring, and they will respond from their roost with a gobble. CHOOSING A SPOT TO SET UP- Once you find the birds, look the terrain over closely and develop a plan to set up and hunt them the next morning. Make sure and stay well away from the roost so as not to spook them. Unless you have the opportunity of watching the direction turkeys usually head when they fly off their roost, its next to impossible to guess which way they will travel. Look the lay of the land over closely and set up to call in areas that afford the birds an easy travel route to food and water. Choose openings in the terrain such as a draws or the edge of wood lines. Use natural barriers that the birds would have a tough time traversing such as large ponds, creeks, fence lines, canyons or areas of very thick cover to your advantage. These barriers can actually help you pattern birds. They serve as funnels that, once you learn to read them, will be a big help in deciding where to set up to call. CALLING- Every turkey hunter likes to be in the woods before sunup, set up and ready to attempt calling a gobbler in after the birds fly down off the roost. Sometimes its possible to call a gobbler away from the hens he roosted with but not always. Around mid-morning, when most turkey hunters are back in camp, is one of the best times to trick an old gobbler. This is about the time the hens head to their nest and the gobblers are left by themselves for a few hours during mid day. I have taken 75% of my mature gobblers around mid morning, during the period of the day they are by themselves, away from hens. If you are new to spring turkey hunting and have watched many turkey hunting videos, chances are good you might think that its necessary to make all the little subtle cuts, purrs and clucks in order to be successful. When gobblers are hot and looking for love, they will come to the call. When they are not, all the expert calling in the world will not get them in close. The basic five or six note hen yelp will get the job done in most situations. Its nice to learn to make all the other variations and they can be helpful when a gobbler hangs up just out of range, but if you cant make them, dont think for a minute you cant be a successful spring turkey hunter. During the peak of the breeding season, its easy to be a turkey calling hero. I remember a couple of gobblers I had strutting twenty yards in front of a buddy I was calling for a few years ago. I was using a box call and dropped the call accidentally on the ground. Rather than spook the two gobblers, the banging sound of the call hitting the ground resulted in a resounding gobble from both birds. When birds are really hot, they respond best to loud calling, other times its soft plaintive calling that gets them in close. Its important to listen to the birds and mimic their calls. Mature gobblers sometimes will sound off every time they hear your series of hen yelps, other times they will sneak in and just appear in front of you. You have to be ready for either situation. DECOYS- Turkey decoys have become very popular during the last decade and for good reason: they will help you tick a wise old gobbler into closing the distance! While a single hen decoys will often work well, weve found that a couple of hen decoys in conjunction with a jake decoy will often turn the most wise of old gobblers into raging idiots, ready to defend their turf and claim their hens. It stands to reason that multiple decoys are easier to spot for gobblers approaching your calling. Its a well known fact that mature gobblers are very possessive of hens. Ive watched, on several occasions, as gobblers come in to my calling at a trot and headed directly for the jake decoy. When purchasing turkey decoys, make sure your jake is very durable, chances are good they will take some very rough treatment from gobblers before their useful life is over. Ive watched gobblers peck, spur and flog jake decoys. On one occasion, a big old gobbler actually pecked one of my jakes on the head, held on and dragged it for several yards away from the hens. Add motion to your turkey decoy and you really have a gobbler magnet. Hunters Specialties offers a stake that raises and lowers the decoy via a pull string. I used one of these with very good results last season. When the string is pulled taunt, the hen decoy is in the raised position, lower the string and the hen decoy squats into the breeding position. This suggestive movement really helps close the deal with a reluctant gobbler that hangs up just out of range. PATTERN YOUR SHOTGUN- Take time to pattern your shotgun before the hunt. Remember, when hunting with a shotgun, its pellets in the turkeys head or neck that will put him on the ground. The heavy wing feathers make shots to the body ineffective. I like to use a large piece of butchers paper, or newsprint in a pinch, and draw a turkeys head and neck in the center. For a rough outline, you can use your hand and forearm as a pattern. Place your thumb in the center of the tips of your other four fingers and turn your hand at right angles to your forearm, then use a marking pencil to trace the outline or, you can purchase a paper target. Set your target up and step back thirty yards, center the bead of you shotgun about half-way down on the turkeys neck and fire. Check the target and see where the center (most dense area) of your pattern strikes the target and adjust your aim accordingly. You might have to hold a bit high, low or to either side to insure your pattern is centered on the kill zone. GOBBLERS WITH A BOW- During the past few years, I have hunted turkeys with my bow. If taking gobblers with archery equipment sounds like a feat best suited to Robin Hood, let me assure you anybody with reasonable good archery shooting skills can regularly harvest turkeys. It is next to impossible to set up to bow hunt turkeys in anything but a concealed blind. The motion necessary to draw the bow makes shooting turkeys while backed against a tree or brush, out of the question. Ive tried it and it doesnt work for me. A pop up tent blind does work very well. Ive found these lightweight little blinds to be very portable and quick and easy to set up. Turkeys pay little attention to a pop up blind, on several occasions; I have harvested birds from a blind that I set up minutes before the bird actually strutted within bow range. When hunting from a ground blind, make sure and close the windows behind you so that the birds will not silhouette you and spook because of movement. I have had excellent success using Vortex 125 grain expandable broad heads for turkey. These big points open to a full 2.75 inches and shots centered on the body will usually anchor the gobbler. I either set the sight pin just below the junction of the wing and body or, if the gobbler is facing away from me, at the base of its tail. Either shot, if executed properly, will drop even the biggest gobbler in his tracks. After the shot, make sure an nock another arrow, just in case a follow up shot is necessary. DRESS FIT TO KILL- Of all the game animals and birds in the state, turkeys definitely possess the best eyesight. Even if the birds eyes were not nearly as sharp, consider this: turkeys have the innate ability to pin point the origin of sounds with amazing accuracy. I have watched gobblers approach my set up from several hundred yards, even after I stopped calling. When an old long beard finally gets within shotgun or bow range, you can bet he is looking HARD, and looking precisely in your direction, in efforts to find his hen. It is imperative to be covered from head to toe in good camo that blends with the environment. Camo patterns designed for spring turkey hunting have a bit more green in the patterns than camo intended for, say, deer hunting in the fall or water fowl hunting. Pay close attention to details, wear dark color socks and keep your face and hands covered. MAKING THE SHOT- Many opportunities to harvest smart old gobblers are lost by hunters that move way too much during the last few seconds before the shot. When youre calling and your gobbler sounds off, assuming he is still out of sight, shift your body position so that you are facing in the general direction you expect him to appear. Get your shotgun up to your shoulder; use shooting sticks or at least rest the stock on your knees. It might be several minutes until the bird closes the distance to your position and you will need something to help steady and keep the shotgun immobile during the wait. When the bird does appear, move EVER so slowly until you have him in your sights. Some of Lukes favorite spring turkey hunting ranches: Robert Hodges, Memphis, Texas 806-867-3121 Kerry Joy, Eldorado, Texas- 325-650-2294 Sam Henderson, Eldorado, Texas www.mesquiteriveroutfitters.com Listen to Lukes Outdoor radio show at www.catfishradio.com.