How to Hunt Wild Turkeys

techniques for hunting turkey in North America

A large tom turkey with tail feathers fanned. Note the beard on the front of it's chest.

The Wild Turkey is probably one of the most challenging and exciting animals to hunt in North America. The wild turkey was hunted to near extinction starting in the first half of the 20th century. Fortunately, due to careful and creative wild life management it was re-introduced to Canada and the Northern United States by breeding and transporting original flocks which had since migrated into the mid-United States.

A Brief Biology

The Wild Turkey is originally native to most of Southern Canada and the United States. The bird’s large size and abundance made it a popular animal to hunt for many years. Unfortunately, due to over-hunting and poor wildlife management the species nearly became extinct in Canada and the northern United States.

The wild turkey will start looking for a mate a soon as the weather warms up in the spring. Often around the middle of April until the end of May the male (tom) and female (hen) turkeys can be heard calling for a mate and will travel a fair distance to meet one another. Once two turkeys find each other, the male will fan his tail feathers in an attempt to show off and win over the hen. If another tom happens to respond as well to the hen’s calling or a younger male (jake) comes along, the turkeys will fan their tails and compete to win over the hen’s affections and the privilege of breeding with her. Male turkeys are not monogamous and will fertilize the eggs of many hens in one year.

The turkeys have several strut zones where it will spend it’s time walking in a figure eight pattern while waiting for a female to come along. This figure eight pattern can be found in grassy areas or woodlands near open fields. Often a turkey will start his day strutting in the woods and as the day warms up, it will move to sunny hillsides to strut and soak up some sun.

A wild turkey will grow in size to between 20 and 40lbs with the average being around 30lbs. They nest in the tallest trees next to open fields and fresh water sources. They will fly up to the roosting trees just before sunset and fly down just after sunrise to start the day looking for food and to strut.

Yep, contrary to popular belief turkeys can fly-very well in fact. The turkey’s take flight with a loud fluttering lift-off which if you aren’t expecting it will scare the bejeezzers out of you. A wild turkey has few natural enemies except for owls and occasionally fox or coyotes when on the ground. The turkey’s main line of defense is a spur made of bone located on the back of its legs just above the foot which can cause serious injury to whatever gets scratched by it.

The Wild Turkey has excellent vision. It can even see into the spectrum of ultra-violet light. This allows the bird to see predators well in advance. The natural colorings of the turkey allow it to blend in with the environment also protecting it from predators.

Hunting turkeys with shotgun or bow

A shotgun or bow can be used for turkey hunting.

Hunting Techniques

Hunting wild turkey is relatively simple. Once you determine where they strut and feed. Due to their excellent vision, the hunter must wear camouflage clothing that closely matches the environment where you will be hunting. Mossy Oak, Real Tree, and Advantage Timber are all popular patterns to help conceal you from the turkeys. Many hunters even use grease paint on their faces to hide their skin from the birds. A camouflage “ninja” mask also works well to conceal the face but still let the hunter see. It is important to disguise your human form and to blend in with the surroundings. A guile suit can help to break-up your human shape as well.

Once the hunter has found the strut zone, either build a hunting blind out of brush, assemble a tent-style blind, or simply sit on the ground against a wide tree. The use of a blind or a wide tree and camo will allow the hunter to conceal their presence from the turkey and blend in to the surroundings as much as possible.

Once you are in position place a decoy about 25yards from your blind and start calling. Use a box, slate, or mouth call to attract the turkey. Call once then wait for the wild turkey to respond. If there are any turkeys in hearing range they will respond. If you haven’t heard any replies after twenty minutes or more call again and see what happens. If you still haven’t heard a reply after that, move to another hunting site. It is a good idea to practice using your turkey calls before heading out into the field. There are many different samples of turkey sounds available on the Internet for your listening pleasure and to learn the different call sounds and what they mean. Be aware that many regions prohibit the use of electronic calls while hunting.

how to hunt turkey

The wild turkey has excellent vision. Wear camo clothing to blend in with the surroundings when hunting

Decoys are a necessity when turkey hunting. Try using two or three different decoys that imitate both male and the female birds. Set them up about 25 yards from your blind or tree. If you use more than one decoy, place them at 20, 25, and 30 yards from where you are sitting. By marking ranges in this manner, you give yourself an added reference point of distance which will help aiming if you are bow hunting.

Turkeys can be hunted with either a bow or 12 gauge shotguns. The relatively small vitals on a wild turkey make it a challenge to bow hunt but it can be done. A shotgun is faster but a turkey choke or at widest a full choke are recommended to prevent pellets from ricocheting off trees and possibly causing serious injury.

The wild turkey is one of North America’s most unique birds.  They are a fun species to hunt and the added discipline required to hunt them make it all the more worthwhile. We are fortunate to have had them successfully re-introduced in North America and hope they continue to flourish.

Copyright 2016 Mike Wilson

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