Male Turkey with Bright Colorful Plumage

Photo provided by iStock

Consider these tips for a successful spring turkey hunt.

Time of Day - Many hunters are in the woods before dawn, and most turkeys are killed before 8 a.m. However, turkey hunting after 8 a.m. can be rewarding. Most people leave the woods by 10 a.m. If you have the patience to stay late, there are fewer hunters in the woods competing for available birds.

Location - It is important to start your hunt from a good location. Be careful not to hide too well. You want to be able to see in every direction in order to spot approaching hunters. Consider any movement in the woods to be another hunter until you can positively identify the object.

Attracting a Bird - Hooting like a barred owl or cawing like a crow usually encourages a turkey to gobble, and are preferred ways to locate the birds early in the morning. Hooting and cawing may get him to gobble without making him look for you.

Various Calls - Variations of the yelp are the most frequently used calls. Most spring turkey hunters yelp from three to seven times — it’s not critical how many times, but rhythm is important. It really does not matter whether you are raspy or smooth, or using friction or diaphragm calls. Rhythm is the most important feature of effective calling. Pre-recorded tapes of turkey calls can help you learn the various calls and associated rhythms.

  • Tree yelp— a very soft yelp that should be used when the gobbler is still on the roost. Turkeys hear much better than humans. Before the hen comes off the roost, she calls softly. After you get in position, try giving a tree yelp while the gobbler is still on the roost.
  • Cluck —Turkeys frequently cluck while feeding and moving around undisturbed. You can make the clucking sound on any of the calls. This is also one of the easiest calls to learn.
  • Cackle — is a series of excited clucks that hens sometimes make as they fly down from the roost. The call gets faster and faster as she pulls off the limb and flies to the ground, then tapers off and slows down as she lands.
  • Cutting — is a sound turkeys make that is similar to the cackle. Cutting consists of excited, fast, short, sharp clucks and is frequently made by adult hens.
  • Purr — is the contented, soft call of the hen. Purring and clucking are the calls that will bring turkeys in the last few yards.
  • Putt — is a sound both sexes make, typically consisting of a series of hard, short, loud clucks, which serves as the alarm call.
  • Whine — is a soft, high-pitched, drawn-out call of the hen, usually used in combination with putts and clucks.
  • Gobble — can be imitated with your voice, a box call, a diaphragm call or a shaker-type of call designed specifically for gobbling. Beware of gobbling during legal shooting hours, because you might attract other hunters.
  • Spit and drum (or thrum) — is done while displaying for the hen. The drum sounds like a giant rubber band vibrating in the woods. It is a very soft call. If the drumming gobbler is hidden by brush, it can be difficult to pinpoint his location.
  • Lost call or assembly call —is a series of pleading yelps that tend to get louder and more pleading.
  • Kee-kee —is the whistle of a young turkey. The kee-kee run is the voice of a young turkey changing from a whistle to a yelp and is usually heard in the fall.

It takes Practice! Sometimes you can use every call in the book and you still have trouble getting the gobbler to come in those last few critical yards. Possible reasons and solutions:

  • A physical barrier, such as a woven-wire fence between you and the turkey or another hunter or predator may have caused him to abandon you for the moment.
  • You may have called too loudly. Generally, turkeys only call loud enough to be heard by another turkey. When your call is too loud, the gobbler assumes the hen is close and he begins to strut and display.
  • Try turning your head to project the call behind you and the gobbler may move closer.
  • Be patient, you may be able to wait him out. If the gobbler has hens with him, eventually the hens may leave and your periodic calling will start working on the gobbler’s mating urges.
  • How often and how loud you want to call varies with the situation and will come naturally to you with more experience.
  • Keep the turkey interested. If he loses interest, he may move out of the area or go to another hen. Remember, the gobbler responds to stimuli and to lure him in, you must emit the strongest, most seductive stimulus while interacting with him.

 

EQUIPMENT

Proper equipment can make the difference between an enjoyable or miserable hunt. A good idea is to develop a checklist, especially if you are traveling a great distance to hunt. Be prepared for the unexpected.

Shotgun Selection -  A 12-gauge shotgun is the standard among turkey hunters. Smaller gauges, particularly 20 gauges, are a great choice for young hunters.

  • Shooting at a turkey at more than 40 yards is not recommended, regardless of which gauge shotgun is used.
  • Your choice of choke may make the difference between a clean kill and a crippled bird. The most popular is an extra-full choke, which gives the tightest pattern. A tight pattern is important in order to strike the vital head-and-neck area.
  • Many hunters now use shorter-barreled shotguns, which are lighter and easier to maneuver. The most common shot sizes are No. 4, 5, and 6. Pattern your gun with several sizes and select the load and shot size that pattern best. Missouri regulations prohibit the use of shot size larger than No. 4 for turkey hunting.

Bow hunting - Bow hunting for turkeys is challenging. Use a broadhead design that inhibits full penetration, which generates more impact and kills a turkey more quickly.

Turkey calls - Another important piece of equipment is a turkey call. There are a variety of calls on the market but basically they fall into two categories–friction calls and air-operated calls. Friction calls are probably the easiest to use. Two surfaces are rubbed together, creating friction that produces sound. Box and slate calls are examples of friction calls. Air-operated calls create sound when air is passed through or over the call. The three basic air-operated calls are the yelper, the tube call and the diaphragm call. All of these calls require practice to become proficient. Your best bet is learning from an experienced caller and from the turkey. Audio and video tapes may also be helpful.

General Equipment - Other equipment you may need for the hunt includes: a knife, compass, topographic maps, rope, first-aid kit, insect repellent, rain gear, camera and your turkey-hunting permit. Camouflage clothing, including hat, gloves, face paint or mask, can be helpful and are considered essential by some hunters. A blaze-orange hat or vest is recommended when moving in the woods, and another vest or orange sash is suggested for wrapping your turkey when carrying it out of the woods.

Physical Preparation - One other important consideration before the hunt is yourself. Missouri turkey hunting can be physically demanding. Prepare yourself for the long walks, steep hills and adverse weather conditions. Pre-hunt scouting will help you get into shape.


This content was produced by Brand Ave. Studios in collaboration with the Missouri Department of Conservation.  The news and editorial departments of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had no role in its creation or display. For more information about Brand Ave. Studios, contact tgriffin@stltoday.com.