Rule the Roost: Prepping for Turkey Season

Sam Ubl

Daylight is stretching later into the days, trees are budding, and the ground has finally thawed enough to promote life for plants that have remained dormant since November. It’s springtime, and to many hunters across the nation, it’s a time for harvest.

Turkey season is a fun time to get out and hunt. The weather is bearable, unlike late fall and winter time in the upper-Midwest. Plus, it cures the itch to get back into the game after a few months off.

Depending on where you’re from, turkey hunting is generally broken into two seasons – spring and fall – however, if you’re like me and dedicate the autumn months to chasing whitetails, these tips might help you regroup before tip-toeing under pre-dawn darkness as you move in on the roost.

Calls that Make Turkeys Gobble

Whether you like to set up in a ground blind along a field edge, or run-and-gun from one group of birds to the next, you’re going to need a call or two. I like to hunt with two calls in my pocket, a diaphragm mouth call and a friction call, like a box or slate call. The reason I like to carry these two types of calls with me into the field is because I’m at an intermediate level of calling. In other words, my abilities are limited with respect to each type of call and I’m more comfortable using one call over the next to make certain sounds. Determine your calling skill level and use whatever you’re best at. Any call will do the job, so long as you know how to use it.

Turkey hunter using a box call A box call is one type of call many turkey hunters will tote around in their vest.

While I much prefer roosting birds the night before a morning hunt, the work-life balance doesn’t always lean in favor of spare time traded in for putting birds to bed the evening before spending more free time in the field on the actual hunt. If I’m unable to roost birds the night before my hunt, locating birds with an aggressive call, like a coyote howl, or an owl hoot, is usually enough to generate a shock gobble response from roosted birds before the sun comes up. Locating birds just ahead of daybreak can be exciting because it puts you in the game with a sustained rush of adrenaline before you even move in on the source of the gobbling. Crow calls, owl calls, and coyote calls are some of the most common locator calls on the market, and are always a must-have in my bag of tricks for spring turkey hunting.

How to Dress for Turkey Hunting

While my favorite strategy for hunting turkeys is to stay active and run-and-gun different groups of birds, I’ve killed a fair share of birds under the cover of a pop-up blind. While it’s not a do-or-die technique, wearing all black and using black face paint is a better image concealment strategy than wearing brighter camo patterns and leaving your face exposed to natural light. Sure, questions will come up regarding the photo of you kneeling behind a heavy strutter with a paintbrush dressed in all black – but just explain that you were in full “ninja mode” and they’ll have to understand.

I’m a lots-of-layers type of guy, it allows me to shed some skin as the sun creeps higher in the sky, or, if I’m increasing my body heat when actively pursuing a bird on-foot. Even if I’m hunting in a concealed blind I’ll wear layers in case I need to cool down as the sun creeps higher in the sky. Remember, spring is a weird time of year, the weather and temperature is unpredictable and there’s no sense in being too warm, or too cold. Consider layering up with thinner layers so you’re ready for whatever mother nature throws at you, and if you’re not hunting in a concealed blind, for heaven’s sake, wear good camouflage – turkeys have excellent vision. A versatile camo pattern on a button-up shirt like this Big Game Buck Camp Flannel is a turkey hunter’s best friend, as it allows you to unbutton and dump heat when you need to, and conceals you when they’re in close. . .spittin’-and-drummin’ close!

Using a Bow or Gun for Turkey Hunting

Some hunters prefer a shotgun over a bow, while others prefer a bow, but not just any bow – a traditional bow, like a recurve, or a longbow. No matter the weapon you pick, make sure you pick it up and wipe the dust off it, that weapon will be your instrument in battle with a fanned out and puffed out strutter as he closes in on you scratchin’ and spittin’.

Pattern your shotgun before the hunt to understand your effective range and how the gun/choke/ammo combination performs together. Doing so will also help build confidence. 

If you’re a shotgun hunter, don’t forget to change out your choke unless turkey hunting is all the gun is used for. I’ve killed turkeys with every choke I have, and not by design, either. If you’re lousy about remembering the simple things, like swapping out a choke at the end of your barrel, you may end up missing a solid opportunity because your pellet pattern didn’t jive with the distance between you and the bird. As a rule of thumb, choose a choke that centers most of your pellet pattern within a twenty-inch circumference. Do a little research to find out what turkey chokes other hunters are using with the same model shotgun as you and test it out. I usually test the pattern of my chokes at distances of twenty yards, thirty yards, and forty yards to determine my effective range. Remember, most waterfowl chokes have wider patterns and can turn your day upside down if you take a reasonable shot beyond the reach of the effective twenty-inch circumference pattern margin.

RELATED: Setting Up The Ultimate Turkey Gun

Bowhunting turkeys is fun, but it’s also more complicated for many reasons. First, to draw your bow, you’ll need a range of movement. Whether it’s cramped quarters in a ground blind or if you’re in the open leaning up against a tree, it’s not going to be easy to get drawn back and settled on the bird without the potential of being seen. Remember, a turkey can see you blink from a good distance away, so drawing a bow may hinder your ninja style some. For more tips on bowhunting turkeys, read our Guide to Bow Hunting Turkeys.

hunter practicing shooting his bow for turkey huntingSince you’ll likely be sitting in a blind, practice shooting from a seated position.  

Traditional archery equipment relies on a quick draw, aim, and shoot series of actions, so you can be effective with your stick and string if you set up for it. Times and places, I’ve seen traditional archery equipment perform it’s best with turkeys takes place in open fields by hunters who’ve closed in extremely close to a strutting Tom by using a large fan decoy, like a turkey reaper. In these instances, the hunter waits until the right moment to quick draw their bow, aim, and shoot all in an instant.  One place I would not consider using traditional archery equipment is inside of a ground blind due to space confinement and low ceilings. You’d be better off throwing on a ghillie suit and looking for a big deadfall or stack of hay bales to hide behind or blend into.

A hunter stalks a turkey behind a reaping umbrella with a traditional bowHiding behind a turkey fan or turkey fan look-alike has become a popular and exciting way to have crazy-close encounters with toms.

Other Miscellaneous Turkey Hunting Must-haves

Most serious turkey hunters are equipped with a turkey vest, backpack, or a shoulder bag, containing their essential items. A vest or bag provides you storage with easy access to necessities, like a camera, knife, binoculars, water bottle, snacks, and ammunition. Plus, with a bag, you’ll have somewhere to stuff your layers into as you shed them throughout the day.

Don’t wait until the day before your hunt to start digging out your gear from the year before. Give yourself enough time in the days leading up to your hunt to collect the essentials, get your weapon tuned up and sighted in, and maybe you’ll have enough time to roost a bird or two the night before your hunt instead of staying up late searching for your flashlight.

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About The Author
Using a canoe to deer hunt unpressured areas | Big buck in a canoe

Sam Ubl

Sam Ubl is a Wisconsin native with a passion for outdoor writing, videography, and film production. He balances a 50/50 trade-off between time on the water and spent in the deer woods. If he’s not casting for musky in the summer, he’s off chasing giant whitetails in the places most aren’t willing to go. Sam is a freelance writer for a long list of print and online media publications and is a co-founder of the Huntmore App and Fishmore App. Sam is also the owner and co-founder of Chase Nation, the reality hunting YouTube and CarbonTV film series, along with his partner, Brad Werwinski. Check out the Chase Nation web page here and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

  Fisherman with a big musky in Wisconsin

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